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What is Expressive Arts Therapy?

What is Expressive Arts Therapy?

At some point in our lives, we have all been at a loss for words to express how we are feeling. For those experiencing emotional, mental or physical trauma, this can often be a constant reality. Even traditional forms of therapy can fail to achieve the personal growth and healing needed for such individuals to be healthy, fully-functioning members of society.

Expressive arts therapy is an interdisciplinary, arts-based approach to counseling and psychotherapy that integrates various art disciplines to assist individuals in self-expression and self-discovery. Expressive arts therapy is a welcome alternative or complement to traditional psychotherapy. It integrates the creative process with psychology to achieve healing by using the arts to discover and express feelings in a safe, non-judgmental setting. This therapeutic process facilitates the innate desire to create in an effort to foster emotional release, self-understanding, and the tools for change. 

How Does Expressive Arts Therapy Work?

Professional counselors with Expressive Arts Therapy licensure utilize a wide array of creative outlets to help clients express their inner thoughts and feelings. These can include multi-sense art forms such as:

  • Journaling
  • Playing, listening to, or writing music
  • Theatre
  • Reading or writing poetry/fiction
  • Drawing, painting or sculpting
  • Dance or creative movement
  • Photography or videography
  • Drawing life maps.

Non-verbal expression such as finger painting is often used with children, while more sophisticated methods may be used with adults. The goal is the same, however – to help clients articulate their experiences and stories through art and use them as a springboard for exploration, communication, and healing. Counselors are able to evaluate the process of creating, observe clients behaviors and artistic outcomes, make educated deductions, and nurture the articulation of inner feelings that were previously unavailable by simply thinking or talking about them. Expressive arts therapy can be used individually or in groups to help guide self-discovery and healing interactions for deep personal and community development.

How Do You Become an Expressive Arts Therapist?

Practicing professionals can become licensed professional counselors in Expressive Arts Therapy, usually by adding a concentration to their Master of Arts in Counseling (MAC) degree, such as the one offered by Ottawa University. A certificate of advanced graduate studies (CAG) can also be earned to complement current licensure. The Expressive Arts Therapy concentration within Ottawa University’s Master of Arts in Counseling program is now available to all students regardless of where they live. Courses are offered using Zoom video conferencing with faculty members in Expressive Arts Therapy.

The Expressive Arts Therapy concentration curriculum teaches principles and techniques for clinical practice of expressive art therapy in residential, outpatient and private practice settings; the use of artistic experiences to aid health, healing, human growth and development with a wide variety of populations and ages; the integration of counseling foundation course work and art applications and approaches; and the theories, techniques and applications of play, art, music, dance and other expressive therapeutic approaches.

Students desiring to pursue an expressive arts therapy concentration as part of Ottawa University’s MAC program must submit an application, have an interview, submit and receive approval of their portfolio, complete 12 semester credit hours of studio arts courses, as well as 18 semester credit hours in the MAC degree program.

Required courses within the concentration include:

Master of Arts in Counseling Program Goals

The goal of the OU’s Master of Arts in Counseling program within which the Expressive Arts Therapy concentration is housed is to graduate well-qualified, competent, caring individuals who are prepared to:

  • Achieve professional licensure as a licensed associate counselor (LAC) in Arizona or as a professional      counselor in training in Wisconsin
  • Understand and follow ethical guidelines for professional counselors
  • Practice only at their level of competence
  • Have basic diagnostic skills
  • Have an understanding of various treatment options relative to diagnosis/client needs (including multicultural sensitivity)
  • Offer an understanding of resources and referrals to meet client needs
  • Model healthy personal and interpersonal behaviors
  • Demonstrate professional communication skills
  • Continue professional development through life-long learning
  • Have basic skills for management and practice development
  • Be a contributing member of their community

Advanced graduate study prepares individuals to perform more effectively in current areas of service and to qualify for positions of greater responsibility. Independently licensed counselors may work in educational/university, health care, business, mental health agency counseling, and private practice settings, and/or may provide consulting, supervision, and training services.

Expressive Arts Therapy Certification Requirements

Requirements for art therapy certifications/licenses vary state to state. Students are responsible for checking the requirements for their respective states. All the programs offered in Ottawa University’s Master of Arts in Counseling are designed to meet the education requirements of the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners in Professional Counseling and the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services, Professional Counselor section. Final decisions regarding licensure rest with a respective state’s licensing Board. Students interested in certification in a specialized area, such as expressive art therapy, are responsible for requesting updated information from certifying bodies about current certification requirements in order to plan their graduate coursework. Post-graduate individuals with a master’s degree in professional counseling or equivalent, which does not fulfill all the course/training requirements to meet eligibility for licensure, may complete such requirements through Ottawa University’s certificate in advance graduate studies (CAGS) program. Also, professionals who are already licensed and wish to expand their expertise into new areas of specialization may do so through the CAGS program.

Learn More about Expressive Arts Therapy

Ready to add Expressive Arts Therapy to your professional credentials? Get more info today!


Posted: 05/09/2023
Updated: 05/09/2023 by OU Online
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