Expressive Arts Therapy

Expressive Arts Therapy For Children & Youth

By Lore Caldwell LCXMHC, ATR-BC, © Copyright 2008.

Expressive Arts Therapy Has Helped Kids With

  • Anxiety
  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD)
  • Behavior disorder
  • Depression
  • Migraine headaches
  • Rage

Expressive Arts Therapy Can Help In The Following Areas

Spirit: It fosters the child’s natural spirit and expressiveness.

Body: It is used in the medical field to facilitate healing, recovery and to explore pain.

Mind: It helps the child to better focus on the present.

Emotions: It helps the child express their feelings and emotions without words.

Social: The child is able to practice social skills through role-play in a non-threatening environment.

Brief Description Of Expressive Arts Therapy

  • Expressive Arts Therapy uses art and creativity to help children connect to their problems, give voice to their emotions, and learn techniques to heal.
  • It uses a variety of techniques including art, drama, movement, music, poetry, puppetry, and sand play.
  • Through the experience of Expressive Arts Therapy, the child’s individuality and self-esteem are supported and enhanced.

Success With Expressive Arts Therapy

  • Sam was a 7 year old boy with control issues. He felt that he always had to have things his way, and if he didn’t, he would “tantrum” for hours. Using sand play, the games Sam created frequently involved power struggles. He agreed that from now on the opposing players could ask questions before beginning play, or if power struggles developed. Practicing this skill helped Sam learn to compromise. His behavior at home improved, and he explained to his parents that, “Sometimes we can all get our way, but just a little different”.
  • Roger was an 8 year old boy who experienced angry outbursts in school. Through role-play, using puppets for demonstration, Roger was able to master the technique of breathing deeply for a count of ten to stay calm. Roger’s school and his mother began to encourage the use of the technique at school and home. His outbursts decreased significantly.
  • A 15 year old girl named Jane came in one day after several weeks of Expressive Arts Therapy. She began to draw with great intensity because other students had sexually harassed her after school that day. By the end of the session Jane had gotten all her emotions out through drawing and felt quite calm. She integrated this process into her life at home, and now uses the techniques whenever she needs them. Using art helped give her a voice and confidence in sharing her feelings.

Expressive Arts Therapy Is Appropriate For Ages

  • Three years through adolescence

Children & Youth’s Reactions To Expressive Arts Therapy

  • They show enjoyment.
  • They show enthusiasm.
  • It feels natural.
  • Some children fear Expressive Arts Therapy because they believe they are not “good enough” at drawing, singing, dancing, etc. These fears are put to rest through the non-judgmental stance of the therapist.
  • They begin to take techniques they have learned into their home life.
  • The child is demonstrating enjoyment or excitement in going to therapy.
  • The child may begin to verbalize more about their feelings and problems.
  • The child may begin using the expressive techniques at home to help themselves.

Extra Care Is Needed

  • Care is needed when a child remembers a traumatic event for the first time.
  • Therapists should always allow adequate time to process the meaning of a “piece” the child creates.

Contraindications: When Expressive Arts Therapy Should Be Avoided

  • A child is threatening to hurt herself/himself or others.


  • From the early 1970’s, therapists, social workers, and medical professionals began to document improvements in clients and patients who used Expressive Arts.

Basic Concepts And Components Of Expressive Arts Therapy

  • When people are in pain or under stress, words are often unavailable to express their depth of emotion. They often turn to some form of art or drama to express these emotions.
  • Often children don’t have the language skills to verbalize their problems. Expressive Arts Therapy taps into the right brain where the language of images, ideas, and creative expression exist.
  • There is a natural yearning in all of us to create without judgment.
  • The therapist will explore with the child his or her interests.

Description Of A Typical Session

  • The first session is for information-gathering about the child and family, including such things as: the child’s strengths, family strengths, goals for treatment, family history, developmental history, social and school experiences, mental status, and harm to self or others.
  • The following sessions are conducted using modalities in which the child has demonstrated interest. For example: The child may be asked to draw the family doing something together and to discuss it with the therapist.
  • The techniques used will be designed around each individual child.

Major Differences Of Opinion Between Practitioners

  • None

Fees/Costs In 2007 (Average)

  • $75.00-$150.00 per session, depending on practitioner’s experience and geographical location

Average Time Per Session

  • 50 minutes to 1 ½ hours

Recommended Length Of Time Between Sessions

  • One to two weeks

Estimated Length Of Time Before Improvements Can Be Expected

  • Depending on the child, in as little as three to four weeks after the first information-gathering session

Suggestions To Make Expressive Arts Therapy More Effective

  • Parent and/or family can be involved in the therapy sessions if appropriate, and may be asked to do a project during sessions, or for homework.
  • The therapist is exploring all the different modalities to find the one that works best for each child.
  • Collaborate with other people familiar with the child (school, friends, family outside the home).

Other Methods That Are Similar To Expressive Arts Therapy

  • Drama therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Both of these modalities can be included in Expressive Arts Therapy.
  • Art Therapy

Other Methods That Complement Expressive Arts Therapy

  • Discussion or talk therapy
  • Drama therapy
  • Narrative therapy
  • Art Therapy

Nature And Length Of Training To Be A Practitioner

  • Both Master’s and Doctoral programs are available in Expressive Arts Therapy.
  • In most states, licensed therapists have completed at least 60 credits in graduate school and have received a Master of Arts degree in psychology and counseling or a Master of Social Work degree.
  • Other routes to become an Expressive Arts Therapist are: psychologists, social workers, and counselors.
  • Therapists interested in Expressive Arts Therapy can take courses in that field.

Special Training Needed To Work With Children & Youth

  • Course work in child/human development
  • Child and adolescent psychology is very beneficial.
  • Expressive Therapy Course
  • Internships or practicums with children
  • Workshops and conferences in Expressive Arts Therapy on an ongoing basis

Certification/Licenses Held By Practitioners

  • Therapists are licensed on state and national levels.
  • Some receive certifications from Expressive Arts Therapy associations.

Professional Associations To Contact For Names Of Local Practitioners

  • American Art Therapy Association, Inc.; 5999 Stevenson Ave.; Alexandria, VA 22304;
    888-290-0878; Website: www.arttherapy.org; E-mail: info@arttherapy.org
  • National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations (NCCATA); c/o AMTA; 8455 Colesville Rd., Ste. 1000; Silver Spring, MD 20910; Website:www.nccata.org
  • The National Expressive Therapy Association (NET); Website:www.expressivetherapy.com
  • International Expressive Art Therapy Association; P.O. Box 320399; San Francisco, CA 94132; 415-522-8959; Website: www.ieata.org; For names of registered therapists, Email:reat@ieata.org

What To Look For When Choosing The Best Practitioner

  • Ask your Pediatrician or school guidance counselor for names of Expressive Arts Therapists in your area.
  • Contact Expressive Therapy Associations listed in this section.
  • Ask for references from the therapist you consider and check them out.
  • Ask therapist for the names of parents who have found Expressive Arts Therapy beneficial in their families.

Leading Clinics, Centers, Practitioners

  • Expressive Therapy Institute, founded by Natalie Rogers; Website: www.nrogers.com
  • Society for the Arts in Healthcare; 2437 15th St., NW; Washington, DC 20009; 202-299-9770; Fax: 202-299-9887; Website: www.thesah.org; Email:mail@thesah.org

Research Papers

  • Brooke, Stephanie. “Art Therapy: An approach to working with sexual abuse survivors.”
    The Arts in Psychotherapy 22, no. 5, (1995): pp. 447-466.
  • Group Art Therapy with mothers of sexually abused children. Hagood, Marilyn M. MFCC ATR, Arts in Psychotherapy. 1991, vol.8: #1.


  • Allen, Pat. Art Is a Way of Knowing. Boston: Shambala Publications, 1995.
  • Lewis, Penny and David Read Johnson, (Editors). Current Approaches in Drama Therapy. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas Publisher, 2000.
  • Dossick, Jane and Eugene Shea. Creative Therapy: 52 Exercises for Groups. Sarasota: Professional Resource Exchange, 1988.

Helpful Tips For Parents

  • Once a technique has demonstrated its usefulness in a therapeutic setting, it can be repeated at home.
  • If a child is having a difficult time expressing their feelings, they can draw how they are feeling, and that can help facilitate the communication.
  • Oftentimes, an Expressive Art Therapist will give homework assignments for the child, and occasionally the parents.

Biography Of Lore Caldwell, LCMHC, AT, RDT, Author

  • Degrees: Bachelor of Science from Springfield College, School of Human Services; Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology from Antioch New England Graduate School; CAS in Art Therapy from Springfield College
  • Currently in private practice in Littleton, New Hampshire as a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor, Registered Art Therapist and Registered Drama Therapist
  • Recently employed as an adjunct professor at Springfield College and Lyndon State College
  • Experience: 18 years working with children using art and drama as a pathway to healing
  • Approximate number of children & youth: 8-15 per week

Lore Caldwell LCXMHC, ATR-BC’s Personal Statement

I am an artist and therapist specializing in combining art and drama therapy to facilitate healing and personal growth with my clients.

The effectiveness of art therapy, sand tray therapy, play therapy, puppetry, and mask-making is evident as I observe both adults and children begin the process of healing in their own personal way, each one using her or his own medium which feels most comfortable and safe.

To Contact Lore Caldwell, Who Contributed This Chapter

Lore Caldwell; 15 Main Street; P.O. Box 661; Littleton, NH 03561; Ph: 603-444-8830

Marie Mulligan’s Comment About Expressive Arts Therapy: There can be additional benefits when people get involved with Expressive Arts practitioners who are licensed in other healing modalities. I wish I had access to Expressive Arts therapy when I was a child & youth.

Rick Geggie’s Comment About Expressive Arts Therapy: Expressive Arts of any kind can be healing. Joining good therapeutic practice with the Expressive Arts is a powerful combination. Children learn through creating and expressing, which is why play is so vitally important. They also heal the same way. Creating and expressing themselves helps them rid themselves of painful and non-productive patterns. It helps them create new ways of being who they are.

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