In 2022, I applied to be a registered expressive arts therapist. As part of the application process, I was required to submit an 10 page Expressive Arts Therapy Philosophy Statement. I am choosing to share a selection of that statement, in which I explored, "Who Owns Art as a Healing Modality?" This is an important topic for all expressive arts healers.
Expressive Arts have been a part of every human culture since the beginning of time. We see evidence of it in cave paintings, mask making, ceramics, temple walls, spiritual ceremonies, and more. Its uses have been multiple: expression, mapping, healing, communion, spiritual, and more.
Expressive Arts continues to be a part of cultures throughout the world today. We see it in architecture and design, drumming circles, psychedelic dance parties, crafting groups, tattoos, slam-poetry readings, greeting cards, traditional outfits, fashion design, and more. As our cultures “advance” and we become increasingly connected through the internet, the use of Expressive Arts continues to develop. Some individuals use the arts to gain attention, popularity, “likes,” and influence. Some companies use it to sell merchandise, prints, stickers, and more in the hopes of making money. Some people create it for personal expression or healing. Some individuals feel called to a career in the arts. Some cultures honor their history, connect to their ancestors, and heal intergenerational trauma through art.
In the 20th century, we witnessed the development of the Art Therapy EAT professions. Professional bodies were formed, graduate programs created, governing boards and regulatory bodies founded, and more. Does that mean EAT therapists are the only ones allowed to use art as a healing modality? Are we the only ones “trained” enough to facilitate healing through art? Absolutely not. The Expressive Arts will always belong to people and cultures. People will always have the right to access art for whatever purposes they desire, including healing.
EAT is the use of multiple art modalities within a therapy relationship. A therapy relationship is a protected, delineated, structured, and transactional relationship. It is a protected relationship in that the therapist guarantees confidentiality (with exceptions for mandatory reporting) and protected space. It is a delineated relationship because the expectations are clearly defined and agreed upon in initial consultation, intake/consent paperwork, and the intake process.
A therapeutic relationship is a structured relationship in that either party is assigned roles. The client understands that therapy is focused on their needs and goals. The therapist’s role is to facilitate the therapy session, provide presence for the client, and create an environment that is conducive to that therapeutic experience. Further structure is provided through time expectations. The therapist and client decide how long therapy sessions will be, how frequently they will meet, and for what period of time.
The therapeutic relationship is a transactional relationship because a transaction takes place. A client may pay for services in exchange for time with the therapist. Even when a therapist donates their time pro bono, it is transactional in that both client and therapists are giving their time with expectations. The client expects to be the participant in the therapeutic process and the therapist expects to be the facilitator or co-journeyer.
These unique facets of EAT are why it is necessary to have a regulatory body. In a therapeutic relationship, there is an imbalance of power. One person is “paying” for a service from another (whether that paying is direct or indirect, such as through insurance). The therapist is typically more knowledgeable about EAT. The client is in a far more vulnerable position as they share the most personal parts of themselves. Therapists must hold values and ethics that honor the vulnerability of the client and the imbalance of power. Regulatory bodies help ensure that an EAT therapist has the proper education, experience, and values to hold such an important role.
Thus, while everyone will always have the right to use art as a healing modality, it is EAT therapists who have the right to use EAT within a therapy relationship.
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