The Expressive Arts in Counseling
By Samuel T. Gladding
Art has played a part in the helping professions since ancient times
(Fleshman & Fryrear, 1981). As early as 500 BC, the Egyptians utilized
concerts and dance in the treatment of the mentally ill. Likewise, the Greeks
used drama as a way of assisting the disturbed in purging their repressed
emotions. The Hebrews relied on music, and other arts, in restoring and
promoting mental health too, the most famous example being David who played his
harp to soothe a distraught King Saul. Literature was seen by the Romans as a
specific way of helping too. Lucretius thought poetry could disperse the
"terrors of the soul" (Coughlin, 1990, p. A6).
In recent times, there has been renewed interest in the use of the arts in
counseling, especially art forms that are considered "expressive." Informed
counselors can assist their clients in developing their potential through
concrete and abstract verbal and nonverbal art forms that inspire, direct, and
heal. Therefore, it is important that counselors know how the arts are used in
helping. This type of background enables them to make informed decisions based
on the type of treatment available. It can also give them more versatility in
the services they provide.
WHAT ARE THE EXPRESSIVE ARTS?
The expressive arts consist
of verbal and nonverbal ways of representing feelings. They allow individuals
options in conveying their emotions. Expressive arts usually take the form of a
unique creation, such as a song or painting. However, they may appear rather
mundane as well. The common denominator they share is the utilization of silent
insight and natural abilities. The most well known verbal arts are drama and
literature, while the best known nonverbal arts are music, dance/movement,
imagery, and visual expression (i.e., drawing, painting, or sculpting).
Generally, verbal and nonverbal arts complement each other and there is
considerable integration of them in many artistic expressions. For example, the
production of a play usually requires verbalization, directed movement, music,
and visual effects such as scenery and costumes. Thus, the expressive arts may
be utilized by themselves or combined (Gladding, 1992).
HOW THE EXPRESSIVE ARTS ARE USED IN COUNSELING
ways exist to utilize the expressive arts in counseling. The needs of clients,
the skills of counselors, and the nature of the problem(s) are the main
considerations in employing them. Expressive arts are used on primary,
secondary, and tertiary levels of prevention in all forms of counseling (Caplan,
THE ARTS IN COUNSELING: PRIMARY PREVENTION
prevention focuses on modifying environments and teaching life skills so that
individuals maintain or enhance their mental health. A major emphasis is on
instruction. The expressive arts are excellent tools to use in teaching. They
are usually innately interesting to participants. Also, their attractiveness
helps individuals remember lessons.
On an individual level the school is a natural setting for primary prevention
to occur through the use of guidance. For young children, toys, puppets, and
drama are effective in modeling and reinforcing appropriate prosocial behaviors
(Irwin, 1987; James & Myer, 1987). Music is also a powerful medium for
helping children remember guidance lessons. This is especially true if children
have fun in the process (Bowman, 1987).
Drama and music may be helpful for adolescents and adults, too, but often
individuals in these age groups are more attuned to the language arts (e.g.,
literature). For this population, specific stories that illustrate how choices
are made in different life stages are appropriate (Lerner & Mahlendorf,
THE ARTS IN COUNSELING: SECONDARY PREVENTION
prevention is the process of working with specific high risk individuals or
groups to forestall or reduce problems due to psychological crises. The focus is
on minimizing dysfunctionality. The expressive arts can be utilized for
children, adolescents, and adults. For example, these individuals can soften
their pain and make their feelings more concrete and understandable through
painting/drawing, writing, playing music, or displaying body movements. Often
persons who are worked with on this level express themselves best through
engaging in semi-structured, open-ended artistic exercises, e.g., drawing, or
decorating (Adelman, 1988).
THE ARTS IN COUNSELING: TERTIARY PREVENTION
prevention is aimed at reducing the impairment that occurs as a result of
psychological disorders. This type of intervention is what most people consider "counseling." On this level the concentration is on healing and wholeness.
The expressive arts come into play at this time through the relief and
concreteness they provide clients. For example, persons on almost all levels can
keep a journal of their feelings or find and discuss with their counselor
photographs of life experiences. Thus, emotions are released in a way that
leaves a reminder. An inspirational example of the use of art on a self-help
basis for the treatment of depression is the story of Elizabeth "Grandma"
Layton, an 82-year old grandmother from Kansas who used the contour method of
drawing portraits of herself to overcome depression and start enjoying life at
age 68 (DeAngelis, 1992).
USING THE EXPRESSIVE ARTS IN COUNSELING--STRENGTHS AND
There are many reasons to employ the expressive arts in
counseling and some cautions to take. Among the major strengths of the
expressive arts in counseling are:
The arts help clients create and improve their self-concepts.
The arts enrich the lives of clients and counselors and help them see new facets
of the world they may have previously missed. This new or renewed view of life
is often energizing.
The arts help clients focus on what is troubling them and to gain direction.
Through verbal and nonverbal means the dynamics underlying old problems become
clearer and insight grows.
The arts are a natural way of conveying feelings and are socially acceptable.
Emotions that are released through artistic expression are often therapeutic on
The arts promote flexibility and change. Clients who use the arts learn to stay
open to new possibilities in their lives. The limitations of using the arts in
counseling are tied to the persons and processes involved.
drawback to using the arts is that some individuals resist doing anything that
is creative because they fear that artistic expression is only for the very
second limitation of using the arts is the ineffectiveness of them for persons
who work as artists, who are concrete thinkers, or who are mentally disturbed.
In such cases there is resistance and little insight is gained.
third limitation of using the arts is they may be misused by unskilled
The ancient wisdom of the past about the use of
the arts and healing is being rediscovered. The expressive arts in counseling
are becoming better known and more utilized. They are an effective way of
helping many clients prevent and resolve problems. They are also a means of
enriching the lives of all involved and making the change process in counseling
more noticeable. Whether in the form of music, drawing, movement, writing, or
acting, the arts play a vital role in counseling.
ERIC Identifier: ED350528
Publication Date: 1992-06-30
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Personnel Services
Ann Arbor MI.
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teen survivors of sexual abuse. Paper presented at the American Association for
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DeAngelis, T. (1992, June). Healing power of art helps Kansas woman. APA
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No claims are made as to the reliability of any of the information provided or linked, sources often disagree. None of these pages are meant to be a replacement for professional help, but a resource that enables one to be a more intelligent consumer. You can learn a lot by becoming aware of different opinions. Don't be afraid to ask questions when it comes to your health, physical or emotional.
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