Expressive | Art Therapy

This Cold Hard Floor: II, watercolour and ink painting by Diedré M. Blake, 2006

This Cold Hard Floor: II, watercolour and ink painting by Diedré M. Blake, 2006

Frequently Asked Questions

What is expressive therapy?

Expressive therapy can be defined as the use of art, music, dance/movement, drama, writing, and play within psychotherapy, counselling or any other mental health or general health care services.  Expressive therapy is also known as expressive therapies or creative arts therapies.

Non-specialized expressive therapists use an intermodal or combined approach using the above-mentioned artistic forms. Specialized expressive therapists, such as music therapists or dance therapists, may predominantly use the form in which they are primarily trained.  Thus, dance therapists use dance/movement, art therapists use art, music therapists use music, etc.  Specialized expressive therapists may choose only refer to themselves primarily be their area of specialization, i.e. art therapist, music therapist, drama therapist, etc.


What is art therapy?

As follows from the above description of expressive therapy, art therapy uses all manner of art to facilitate psychotherapy or counseling.

Art therapist Cathy A. Malchiodi states that art therapy “uses art media, images, and the creative process, and respects patient/client responses to the created products as reflections of development, abilities, personality, interests, concerns, and conflicts.  It is a therapeutic means of reconciling emotional conflicts, fostering self-awareness, developing social skills, managing behavior, solving problems, reducing anxiety, aiding reality orientation, and increasing self-esteem.” (Psychology Today)


Are expressive therapies real forms of psychotherapy?

Simply put, yes.  Expressive therapies, however, do not rely solely upon “talk therapy” as a means of communication between client and therapists.  Instead, expressive therapies allows for communication to occur and develop through various artistic modalities.

Of course, there are still those who do not appreciate the value that having a multi-modal approach to therapy can provide.  Many, however, have seen the profound impact that expressive therapies can have on the lives of others, particularly in the case of the children who engaged in art therapy in the aftermath of 9/11.


Who benefits from using expressive/art therapy?

Any and everyone.  Expressive therapies can be made accessible any population, and has been shown to be effective in the treatment of diverse populations, from clients with eating disorders to cancer patients to prisoners.


What should I expect when working with an expressive therapist?

Each therapist, regardless of specialization, has his or her unique approach to meeting with clients.  Thus, it is impossible to say exactly what to expect.  If you have been in therapy before, then the first meeting may feel similar: discussing your reasons for beginning therapy, your history, your goals for being in therapy, etc.

The only difference may be that the expressive therapist may discuss the use of expressive therapy within counselling and may engage in an expressive directive, that is, give you a task to do.  Some art therapists may use a standardized art assessment, such as the Silver Drawing Test.

Many therapists, regardless of specialization, may have used the following book as a foundation of their assessment training: Where to Start and What to Ask by Susan Lukas. So, if you are really curious about what you might experience, take a look at it.


What type of therapist are you?

I am an expressive therapist, specialized in art therapy, and a mental health counselor.  It’s a bit of a mouthful, but I think it describes me best. In general, I use an eclectic approach to therapy as I do not believe that there exists one therapeutic approach that works for every single person and in every single situation.

To me, therapy is a journey towards personal freedom for all involved, and thus limiting oneself as a therapist is also choosing to limit the scope of the client’s journey.

I use all forms expressive modalities, but see art therapy as my foundational approach.  Although art therapy has a psychodynamic history, beginning with Margaret Naumburg’s psychodynamic art therapy or dynamically oriented art therapy, I do not often take a psychodynamic approach to my use of art therapy.

I have studied and worked with more cognitive behavioral approaches to therapy and utilize the approaches found in dialectical behavior therapy by Marsha Linehan.  The closest I get to psychodynamic therapy is my interest in psychodynamic existentialism or existential psychotherapy (combining psychodynamic therapy, humanistic and existential psychologies).


Are you licensed?

I am.  However, my license needs to be renewed.  Over the past four years I have been living in Italy and have not had occasion to complete the required in-person continuing education credits, and thus am not eligible at this time for renewal.  I will renew upon my return to the U.S. in the next year.

Regarding licensing, my license (#7733) as a mental health counselor was issued by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and has been subject to renewal as of December 31, 2013.


Are you a registered or board certified art therapist?

No, I am neither, but am close to finishing the necessary hours required for registration.  Being a registered/board certified art therapist is a personal decision and useful for legitimization of one’s standing within therapeutic communities.  In essence, it is a stamp approval for others to know that the work that you do can be trusted.


Do I think registration and board certification are important?

Yes, if they are important to you and if you intend to make art therapy your main career goal. Having ATR-BC is pretty neat, too! 🙂

In the latter part of 2010, I shifted away from the life that I had been living in favour of something new, and I am glad for having made that decision.  Thus, expressive/art therapy has not been the focus of my life for almost four year.

Regarding registration and board certification, I may complete my hours in the future.  I am, however, currently satisfied with being Diedré M. Blake, MA, AT, (L)MHC.


What are your areas of interest beyond or within expressive/art therapy?

There are many.  My research interests have been trauma, familial sexual abuse, repressed memories, eating disorders, body image, self-esteem development, self-injury, codependency, narcissistic and borderline personality disorders, gender and sexual identities, racial and cultural identities.


What is your population of interest?

Well, I suppose I am more inclined to work with females than males.  Over the years, I have worked primarily with adolescents and young adults.

I have been called a therapist who likes to work with clients who have difficult challenges to work through in their lives, particularly related to personality and identity.


Are you available to work or for consultation?

As mentioned above, my license is needing to be renewed.  So, no, I am unavailable for independent, private work.  I am also unavailable, at this time, for supervised work (i.e. working for an organisation) due to current studies.

Regarding consultation, I welcome all questions and will do my best to assist in what ways I can.  I remain connected with the expressive therapy community in Massachusetts and have access to colleagues throughout the U.S. and in other parts of the world, if you are seeking referral.

I consider my expertise to be in the areas related to eating disorders, trauma, gender and sexual identity, racial/multicultural identity, and overall self-esteem


Where can I learn more about expressive/art therapy?

Luckily, the field continues to grow and there are undergraduate and graduate programs available for studies.  I attended Lesley University, which is one of the oldest expressive therapies program and has both an undergraduate and graduate (including doctoral) programs.

There are various online resources such as IEATA (International Expressive Arts Therapy Association) and AATA (American Art Therapy Association).

You can also check out my Resources page for more links.

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