I wanted to address a very important topic in the expressive therapies: how to engage a client in a creative process if they are uncomfortable with it? I first want to affirm that there are many understandable reasons why people are uncomfortable with creative expression, not the least of which is a socialized insecurity about artistic skills, product value, or any deviation from normative behavior. Even more sensitive may be the cultural stigma of mental health treatment, including the feeling of defeat that some feel when seeking services. Expressive therapies can appear infantalizing in the way they may resemble childhood activities, adding insult to injury.
My goal as an expressive therapist is not to make someone become creative in some arbitrary way that I deem appropriate, but to find out how my client is already creative and help them to grow in that area of strength. Most people are creative in some area of their lives already. It reminds me of the theory of multiple intelligences, where we learned not to ask, “Are you intelligent?” but “How are you intelligent?” Similarly, rather than ask, “Are you creative?” we should ask, “How are you creative?”
For example, some people modulate their fashion by using different colors or styles to express how they feel or want to feel. Some select home or garden furnishings by making altars, decorative walls, or creating distinct environments in their home or yard to create a certain mood. When cooking and baking, a wide range of intentions can be expressed through the selection of foods, the rhythm of combining ingredients, and the presentation when the food is served. Any craft or trade that involves personal preferences can express feelings and desires, such as woodworking or knitting.
Probably the easiest way to engage in a creative process with a client is through the vicarious crystallization of feelings through the creative work of another. Clients can respond to favorite songs, poems, art, or films from their own aesthetic sensibilities. Video games have become a ubiquitous form of recreation whereby countless hours are spent in a fantasy world. Some games have an objective to subvert authority while others are aimed at serving and protecting others. Some games incorporate mythical figures and supernatural forces while others reenact historical events. All of these themes are relevant for a client’s imaginal world as fertile ground for further discovery.
Dreams and visualizations are non-performative and unintimidating ways of bringing creative imagery into a session. Clients can be invited to listen to music with guided imagery to visualize scenes associated with different feeling states, either from their memories or through imagination. Clients can be gradually given greater leeway to select and create their own images during the visualizations with opportunities to depict or explore the images further through art or dialogue with the images. This affords the clients total privacy with their creative process happening within and can be a gateway to taking greater risks with creative processes in the future.
I hope this is helpful, and I welcome your feedback or questions. Thanks again for your interest in the expressive therapies, and thank you for your service!
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