What Is Transformative Art Therapy?

Transformative Art, sometimes called Expressive Therapy, refers to any of the arts which facilitate therapeutic progress in emotional/mental issues. The term was originally coined in 1915 at the Walden School in NYC, citing the importance of the educational, psychotherapeutic, and psychoanalytic values during the creative practice of the arts. This means that the very act of creating was now valued as a beneficial experience, whether it resulted in a finished work, and personal insights were observed during and as a result of creation.

Art has long been used as a process of expression by people. Anthropologically, we can deduce that the cave drawings of primitive man were more than a means of recording history, but also as a healing ritual of itself, and that the dancing and story-telling depicted are also means of human expression, nonverbally (before the evolution of language), to transcend early human’s everyday experience. In recent times, art is considered playtime for children and is seldom valued by non-professional crafts persons or artists. This trend, of science before art, is a detriment to us culturally and perhaps regretfully portends the need for Transformative Therapy. There is very good evidence that engaging in art and music is beneficial to coping and recovery from stress and illness. Recently, our medical establishment has caught up with the wisdom of the ancients, recognized and put into practice the idea of Therapeutic Art, according to the Society for the Arts in Healthcare; more than 2,500 hospitals invest in arts programs to serve their patients – 79% use the arts to create a healing environment, 70% employ arts coordinators, and 50% partner with community art agencies. In many treatment disciplines, there has currently developed a consensus of the value of practicing art as a healing influence, as science has come to study the neuro-chemical changes within the body and specific parts of the brain affected by such practices.

As a psychotherapist who employs Transformative Art routinely in her treatment of sleepless, depressed, anxious, adults affected by addiction, trauma, and/or chronic pain, an understanding of Transformative Art is important. Many adult clients have expressed terror or incredulity at the suggestion we move to the art table, refer to popular film or books, listen to music, make basic movements, participate in guided meditations, or role-play. They frequently say, “I am a terrible drawer!”  as I urge them to pick up a crayon and depict their current situations or feelings. Adults often have developed a fear of the creative process, which is foreign to children. When one can permit themselves to get past this “imprinted editor”  inside of themselves and allow the flow of enjoyment in simple pleasures – .many blockages can be opened which one has been experiencing in other/all areas. For reference, I recommend the writings of authors Julia Cameron, Betty Edwards, Frederick Franck, and SARK among many, many others to open themselves creatively.

If you are considering mental health treatment or counseling/life coaching for issues which are impacting your life, I highly recommend practices which encourage a freeing of the creative self. It is not the entirety of the nature of mental health work, but when it is well established therapeutic model by a majority of hospitals and treatment centers in the United States, you can come to expect it in your one-to-one work as well. Gail-Elaine Tinker, MS, RM, CH, NCC, LPC is a solo practitioner in Bethlehem, PA with a general practice, specializing in trauma, addiction, grief, and chronic pain and utilizes many aspects of Transformative Art with her regular clients because it serves them very well. It gets better results, cuts treatment time, and satisfied clients are happy clients. For further information regarding Transformative Art and Psychotherapy, feel free to contact Gail-Elaine Tinker of Tinker Psychotherapy at ge@tinkerpsychotherapy.com or 610-216-4319.

…clients, there is a large, bright art studio at Tinker Psychotherapy for clients, students and groups to use.