The Expressive Arts Experience - Yvette Lyons, Ph.D., Expressive Arts Therapist

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   With Pintrist on the forefront of public awareness, there are many art projects and craft projects being pinned and repined.  As an Expressive Arts Therapist, it is my job to help others use the creative process for healing, self-awareness as a therapeutic intervention.   

 I work with adolescent girls.  They are very interested in doing crafts.  As an art therapist, I have to admit, I cringe slightly inside when the weekly request to do a craft project arises.  One of my girls made the request this week to make, “Matchbox Monsters”.   OK, I now have to ask myself,  “What is my goal with these girls?”  What do I hope to accomplish by bringing them art each week?  My answers to these questions have a lot to do with my willingness to bring a ‘seemingly’ crafty project that could ~~ on the surface appear to be devoid of therapeutic content.  

 My goals with this population are multi-faceted: 

 1.)  I want them to all be able to sit together at the same table without verbally threatening each other (another weekly task). In other words, being able to coexist at the same time in one place without exploding into chaos. 

 2.)  I want them to be able to use effective communication skills and good coping skills.  This is a lot to ask of this group.  They are used to exploding first, yelling at each other walking off and slamming a door, or simply to refuse to engage in the group. 

3.) I want to give them a place to channel their energy and talk about things that need to be expressed.   

4.)  I want them to gain insight about themselves so they can make healthier choices in how they react and respond to the world around them. 

5.)   I want them to become aware of the idea of giving back and working together on a task for the greater good of the community. 

6.)  I want them to enjoy the process of art making.   

The art making process brings us to a place of self-understanding and self-awareness, but it also helps with the practice of good coping skills, communication skills.  The art making process helps us to channel tension and negative energy trapped in our body/mind into the art so that there is a more relaxed feeling within us after we engage in making art.    

So, the group wants to make ‘Matchbox Monsters’.  My task now is to take this cute crafty project, and turn it into something that can be used therapeutically with the population I am working with, in this case adolescent girls.    

I bring the materials for this project, and they are all excited.  As a result of my hearing their request, and responding to it, they feel heard and are eager to join me at the table for group. Goal # 1. ~~ Accomplished!   

Next, I lay out the felt, the glue, the ribbon, the material and the bows,  along with some pictures I downloaded off the internet to give them a visual of the project.  One of the girls see small hearts and yells out, “CAN WE PUT LITTLE HEARTS INTO OUR MONSTERS?”  “Of course you can!” I reply.  They are all at the table now, and eager to get started.   

As the girls begin to reach across the table, I can remind them that positive communication skills will get them more of what they want in the world than not, so please use good communication skills when you need something that is across the table from you.  This reminder sets the stage for my expectation of their interactions should be. Goal # 2. ~~ Accomplished!   

As they become fully submerged in the creation of their little monsters, I then begin a conversation with them, I ask: “WHAT MAKES YOUR LITTLE MONSTER FROM WITHIN COME OUT?”  A simple question!  The girls begin to talk about what things frustrate them.  We can then look at the similarities with what this population is triggered by in their daily life.  After they each have time to discuss their frustrations and things that trigger their little (inner) monsters, I then ask: “WHEN YOUR LITTLE MONSTER IS TRIGGERED, WHAT HELPS YOU FEEL BETTER:”.  The conversation goes round again.  Each one expressing what they need to help them feel better and calm down after they have been aroused.  Here we get to see how each other responds to the world around them when they are upset, and equally as important, what they want/need from other’s when they are in such a state.  Some of the girls want to have “space”.  Others want to feel “heard”.    

As the art therapist, I then point out for the girls their similarities as well as their differences.  I try to engage them in a conversation about how although we may react to similar stimuli when becoming upset, we all have various needs that help us to deescalate and calm down. Goal # 3. ~~ Accomplished!     

Now it is just about time to end the group.  After some closing statements and comments by all, I ask the girls to help me clean up the materials.  Some eagerly begin to help, other’s give excuses and attempt to walk away.  I mention about the process of doing your part in any environment to make the group experience good for all involved.  Then with minimal rebuttal, they all chip in and help with clean up.  
Goal #4. ~~ Accomplished!     

Well, did I accomplish what I needed therapeutically from this group?              
* They all came to the group willingly.             
* They all used good communication skills while engaging in the group.            
 * They were all able to  talk about their process when they become angry and how they react to the world around them.  They can see how they are similar to others as well as how they all have different needs.             
* They were able to work together in clean up for the community.             
* They enjoyed the process!   

One last thing I would like to point out.  I subscribe to the saying, “HOW WE DO ANYTHING IS HOW WE DO EVERYTHING”.  To me this means that how we talk about ourselves and approach an art directive will follow suite with how we approach other projects in our world as well as how we view ourselves in general.  So during my little matchbox monster group I hear one of the girls mutter, “MINE IS UGLY.” Or “I DON’T LIKE MINE, AND I WANT TO STOP.”  As the group facilitator, I can address these individual statements and delve more deeply into that PROCESS.  Because, remember in art therapy it is NEVER about the ART PRODUCT,  but ALWAYS about the ART PROCESS.   

ANSWER:  How you present it, how you approach it and how you talk about it.  What you discuss during and/or after the art-making process.  You must always know your clientele and their needs. As an Expressive Arts Therapist, you must always have a therapeutic goal for the project and do your therapeutic goals meet the needs of your clients.    With these elements in place, any art or craft project can be an art therapy project by meeting the therapeutic needs of the client.  



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