"It may look like a craft class, but art therapy is a serious technique that uses the creative process to help improve the mental health of clients...based on the belief that the creative process is healing and life-enhancing...a skilled therapist can use the client's works of art...as springboards to help her gain personal insight, improve judgment, cope with stress and work through traumatic experiences." (Psychology Today website)
I have found that through the use of expressive arts, my clients have been able to make wonderful breakthroughs in therapy because it has allowed them to let go of their natural defenses that come along with traditional talk therapy. You do not have to be an "artist" to be able to benefit from Art Therapy. In fact, the benefits of Art Therapy have more to do with the process than with the final product. For instance, I was working with a child who struggled with excessive worries. I invited him to draw his worry and then write a story about it. This allowed him to externalize his worry, name it, manipulate it and gain control over it. The art process gave this child the tool to better understand his "worry" and feel less threatened by it.
"The humanistic method takes a positive view of human nature and emphasizes the uniqueness of the individual. Therapists in this tradition-who are interested in exploring the nature of creativity, love, and self-actualization-help clients realize their potential through change and self-directed growth. Humanistic therapy is also an umbrella term for gestalt, client-centered therapy and existential therapy." (Psychology Today website)
My role as the therapist is to facilitate my client's own personal journey of self-exploration and self-actualization. But since the ultimate goal is for my clients to gain empowerment, it's important that I not simply lead their journey. A metaphor I often use with my clients is that we are taking a journey into their dark cave together; they are not alone and this comforts them. I provide a flashlight, so to speak, which illuminates areas that may have been overlooked or unfamiliar to them. However, they ultimately take charge of their expedition so they can move on with confidence and comfort beyond the dark cave. When working with young children, I involve the parents when deemed appropriate since they are the primary leaders in their child's well-being.
"Generally for children ages 3-11, play therapy is a form of counseling that relies on play to help therapists communicate with children and diagnose their mental health. Because children develop cognitive skills before language skills, play is an effective way to understand a child. The therapist may observe a child playing with toys-such as a playhouse and dolls-to understand the child's behavior." (Psychology Today website)
A child's natural way of expression is through play. A child who has experienced psychological trauma is more apt to express their internalized struggles through re-enactments and play. I use both play and art therapy as tools in assessment and also to help the child process threatening and scary events in a non-threatening and familiar manner.
Family Systems Therapy
"Family Systems therapists view problems within the family as the result not of one particular member's behaviors, but of the family's group dynamic. The family is seen as a complex system having its own language, roles, rules, beliefs, needs and patterns. The therapist helps each individual member understand how their childhood family operated, the role within that system, and how that experience has shaped their role in their current family." (Psychology Today website)
The Family Systems approach is beneficial not only when engaging in family therapy, but in individual therapy as well. Understanding the roles that we have played in our families of origin helps us understand the relational dynamics we sometimes struggle with in our current relationships. Before we are able to change dysfunctional dynamics, we must first understand them.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
"CBT...is based on the belief that thoughts, rather than people or events, cause our negative feelings. The therapist assists the patient in identifying, testing the reality of, and correcting dysfunctional beliefs underlying his or her thinking. CBT is a structured collaboration between therapist and client and often calls for homework assignments. CBT has been clinically proven to help clients in a relatively short amount of time with a wide range of disorders including depression and anxiety." (Psychology Today website)
CBT allows one to focus on the "here and now" and map out a correlation between one's belief system and one's actions. For example, while facilitating an Anger Management Group for men, I asked the participants to map out the early, middle and late stages of an incident that ultimately led to an explosive and hurtful conclusion. Mapping out these different stages (i.e.: physical feeling, physical behavior, thoughts, feelings, actions...) showed them a pattern and taught them to understand when they began to lose insight and self-control.
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