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Why Expressive Therapy? Explore the Link Between Creativity and Mental Health

Children are naturally creative. But when they are up against academic pressure, social challenges and emotional upheavals, they can draw into themselves or find unhealthy outlets to cope. When mental health treatment is necessary, expressive therapies offer a unique and effective way for children to explore and express their emotions, thoughts and experiences through creation. 

KVC Health Systems understands this important link between creativity and mental health, and our team of trauma-informed professionals aims to help young people develop self-awareness, promote self-expression and develop healthy coping mechanisms through a number of creative mediums. Let’s explore how creativity impacts mental health, why KVC incorporates creativity into the healing process and how different types of expressive therapies foster emotional growth and healing.

What are Expressive Therapies?

Expressive therapies combine psychology and the creative process to promote healing and mental health. It’s so much more than a simple arts and crafts activity! Creativity helps to connect the heart and mind. It can be an emotional outlet that allows children to express themselves in a positive and healthy way. 

Many of the children who are served at KVC struggle with feelings of control. With minimal autonomy over what’s happening in their world, expressive therapies can be a therapeutic game-changer! With expressive therapies, children can then turn their emotions into art.

Creative expression positively impacts children’s mental health cognitively and socially too. Cognitively, it promotes stimulation in both the left and right brain. And socially, it encourages children to work together and gain some team working abilities! Ashton Johns, the Expressive Program Manager at KVC, shared that some of the children served by KVC are currently developing an artistic mural. As a part of that project, each person must work together to figure out what they want the mural to represent. Then how will they display that through their art and who will be responsible for creating their piece! This creative work engages children in numerous ways. 

Each type of expressive therapy brings different elements for different children. “There are materials at KVC that the children haven’t been exposed to before,” says Erin Uppman, an Art Therapist with KVC. “They can open up and really explore and freely express themselves,” 

Integral to creativity and expression is empowering children through these engaging activities, explains Recreational Therapy Intern, Zoey Harvey. “Part of our work is guiding children through teamwork and emotional management exercises and focusing on finding leisure activities that appeal to each child,” she shares. The variety of expressive therapies allows children to move toward what feels best throughout their healing process. 

Why Does KVC Integrate Creativity Into the Healing Process?

KVC incorporates a variety of therapies — including recreational therapy, music therapy, art therapy and horticultural therapy — to meet the ever-changing needs of the youth that are served. “What’s really cool about what we do is that we get to work with different therapy modalities on top of traditional talk therapy for kids to express themselves and gain the added benefits that come with expressive therapies,” Johns says.

Traditional mental and behavioral talk therapy is ideal to help children and families along their journey. “But some children express emotions through art that they don’t even consciously know they have,” Uppman notes. “The unexpressed feelings of children can come out using art or another expressive method as a medium. The therapist is then able to subtly talk through and ask questions to get to the bottom of the emotion or issue.” 

Creation has the ability to touch our senses in a way that talk therapies may not engage.

“Although it’s a different kind of creativity, recreational therapy opens up an opportunity for children to see and understand other parts of themselves,” Harvey says. “And they can do this in a safe environment where they sometimes don’t even realize they’re learning a new skill or working on a mental aspect.” In this way, recreational therapy allows youth to work on their cognitive abilities as well as develop problem-solving skills, enhance social skills and learn to express their emotions healthily while exploring challenging situations. 

What Types of Expressive Therapies Does KVC Offer?

The expressive therapies offered through KVC allow differing creative mediums to help children find solace in a safe and nurturing environment. This allows them to start developing self-awareness, enhancing communication skills and processing trauma. Each type of expressive therapy explores ways to empower children to unleash their creativity while fostering emotional growth and healing. 

Music Therapy

Music therapy helps youth harmonize emotions with music. Either by learning to play instruments or by creating music of their own, like songwriting. Though the two methods seem very different, they both have their place in their ability to help heal. 

“Music as therapy is self-expression through music,” explains Hope Romero, a Music Therapist with KVC. “Writing songs and making music, while music in therapy, happens while the child is learning an instrument and might get frustrated or have difficulty with negative self-talk.” These methods provide a powerful outlet for self-expression, as you can hear in this inspiring song written by a 17-year-old youth who recently served with Romero at KVC.

Recreational Therapy

Recreational therapy includes finding and using what a child enjoys doing as a leisure activity and combining it with therapy. This type of therapy allows youth to explore healthy activities to engage in and improve their coping skills. Furthermore, expressive therapy pulls real life experiences from the activities and then helps children process behaviors in retrospect. 

Art Therapy

Using art therapy is a way to get into a child’s brain by allowing artful creativity to flow. Art connects kids to what is inside of them. And by giving them a safe place to explore and let loose, they can express feelings from deep inside. With the use of painting, drawing, sculpting, collage or other art forms, a youth’s innermost feelings can be communicated without relying solely on words. This type of therapy encourages self-reflection, problem solving and healthy coping mechanisms. 

What Can Caregivers Expect from Expressive Therapy?

Expressive therapies are proven to be an effective method in the treatment of mental health. As traditional therapies rely on a more straightforward approach, expressive therapies differ in their applied exercises. This means sometimes expressive therapies don’t look like traditional therapy. But that’s often why creativity is so impactful for mental health. While engaging the senses and allowing expression to flow freely, emotions and behaviors can be processed with authenticity.

Expressive therapies will not always look the same. They are based on where the child is drawn and what might come up during a session. No matter what a session looks like from the outside, the therapist is always looking for insights and opportunities to engage in cognitive and behavioral exercises. 

If you’re a caregiver of a child in expressive therapies, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Take time to discuss the methods or progress with the child’s expressive therapist. And if you’re concerned, or want to see how these experiences come to life, ask to join a session and experience the process and benefits for yourself. 

Expressive therapies provide children with powerful tools to navigate the complexities of their emotions, thoughts and experiences. These therapies offer a safe and enjoyable space for children to explore their creativity. Additionally they also empower them to build resilience, develop skills for emotional regulation, and cultivate a positive sense of self. As a way to embrace the value of expressive therapies, Romero reminds us that, “It’s not just about the end product, it’s about the process.”

Getting Mental Health Support

If you or a child in your care could benefit from expressive therapies, or if mental health support could help, KVC Health Systems is here. We offer a wide variety of resources, including parenting resources, children’s mental health hospitals, individual therapy, group therapy and support groups. Explore the wide variety of resources available through KVC

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