By Sophia Maggio

For clients who completely lack an artistic background, the process of rekindling your childlike creativity can be equal parts frustrating and enlightening. Childhood memories of Elmer’s glue, finger paint, and spontaneous collage creations are accessible to most clients, but preconceived notions about our artistic abilities can induce anxiety and self-doubt in the context of expressive arts therapy.

In response to the self-proclaimed “non-artist”, the following strategies target clients who are likely to benefit from expressive arts therapy, but struggle to fully engage in and identify with the process and culture of art making.

1. Start with doodling or coloring books.

A 2017 study found that among participants who were asked to recall their saddest life event, coloring and drawing nonrepresentational designs promoted greater mood improvement and creative “flow”, compared to drawing to express the sad event. As this and other similar studies have suggested, coloring books and basic doodling can serve as a gateway into more involved creative outlets. And, as with many things in life, the most simple and mundane things are often the most profound: even the elementary art of doodling has been shown to improve focus, memory, and stress levels. Simply doodling on separate pieces of paper with your client while talking can promote mental clarity and relaxation, particularly with clients who shy away from the stereotypes of the art world.

2. Create comic strips with clients.

When used as a form of “narrative therapy”, comic strips can help clients externalize their life circumstances and narratives. Because comics can range from simple stick figures to elaborately detailed scenes, they are conducive to hesitant creatives, children, and any other client who is struggling to articulate or perceive their personal narrative.

3. Incorporate the client’s hobbies or interests into the session.

Expressive arts therapy does not have to be limited to the visual arts. Encouraging your client to find songs or writing that resonates with their circumstances as a “homework assignment” may better suit their interests and comfort level. If your client practices another creative hobby with therapeutic benefits, you may even think about integrating this hobby into a session: for example, encouraging a client to knit or crochet during a session, especially if it improves their focus or ability to verbalize their thoughts. Incorporating your client’s creative interests reinforces their personal strengths and grants them to power to guide the course and outcomes of their sessions.

4. Cultivate your own artistic practice.

As a therapist without formal training in expressive arts therapy, you may be equally reticent to dive into the realm of paint, pencils, pens, glue, and other daunting (and messy) mediums. Taking time to practice creative strategies with yourself outside of sessions can better inform the time you spend with clients. We can all use moments for unfiltered creative expression, regardless of whether these moments are facilitated in a formal therapy session. Intentionally incorporating small doses of creativity into your daily routine is a reasonable goal for most people: for example, writing or drawing in a creative journal for 10 minutes each morning, drawing one object or person each day, or carving out nightly dance sessions with a friend – or with yourself.

Check out these 10 tips for more ways to exercise creativity in your everyday life.

By reassuring clients that being an “artist” is not necessarily a fixed identity or a skill, a person’s individual reservoir of creativity becomes more readily accessible: whether this creativity manifests as an urge to doodle on every available sheet of paper, a love of poetry, or witty humor and wicked dance moves.

Attending our workshops is an excellent way to continue developing these strategies and supporting your creative journey as a therapist and individual.