An introduction to the range of creative arts therapies and how they are used in counseling.

What are Creative Arts Therapies?

Creative arts therapies, also called expressive therapies or expressive arts therapies, are therapies that introduce action and imagination into counseling and psychotherapy (McNiff, 1981; Malchiodi, 2005). The “action” introduced can come from a variety of creative sources including: art, dance and movement, music, poetry and writing, drama, play, sandtray or any combination of these.

Used in conjunction with or independent from talk-based counseling, the creative arts therapies offer individuals of all ages and abilities a variety of ways to express and process feelings. As every individual experiences life uniquely, creative arts therapies honor the broad range of expression styles and focus on an integrated approach–working with and acknowledging all parts of a human: physical, social, emotional, cognitive and spiritual (Malchiodi, 2005).

art therapy

As defined by the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy is an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families and communities through art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory and human experience within the psychotherapeutic relationship.

Art therapy is practiced by trained professionals to bring appropriate art-based interventions to individuals in session for a board range of age groups and concerns. No art training in required for an individual to participate in art therapy.

dance therapy

Founded on the understanding that the mind and body are interdependent, the American Dance Therapy Association defines dance/movement therapy as the psychotherapeutic use of movement to further the emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration of an individual.

Trained at the Masters level, dance/movement therapists use a variety of body-based interventions to meet the needs of individuals of all ages (yes, even infants and elders) and all abilities. No experience in dance is needed.  Sessions may include full body movement and/or subtle movement interventions such as breath or sensing one’s body awareness.

The North America Drama Therapy Association states, drama therapy is the intentional use of drama and/or theatre processes to achieve therapeutic goals. Through drama processes a person’s inner experience can be actively explored and interpersonal relationship skills can be enhanced.

Drama therapy is facilitated by Masters level therapists who work with groups, families, classrooms or individuals through drama therapy interventions. Preforming in front of an audience is not required to participate in drama therapy, nor is any acting experience. Drama therapy is used with a variety of populations and ages groups.


Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional (American Music Therapy Association).  Research in music therapy supports its effectiveness in many areas including physical rehabilitation and facilitating movement; increasing  motivation towards treatment engagement; providing emotional support for clients and their families and providing an outlet for expression of feelings.

Music therapy is practiced by Bachelors and Masters level trained clinicians who work with a wide range of populations and diagnoses. Music therapy interventions can include (but are not limited to) experiencing music, creating music and responding to music to meet clinical goals.

play therapy

The Association for Play Therapy defines play therapy as the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained play therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.

Play therapy is not merely adding toys to the counseling room, but is a way of interacting with children that honors their developmental level while speaking their language–play. Play therapy is practiced by licensed therapists with specialized training who can assist children, ages three to 12, with a variety of challenges and encourage emotional expression.

The National Association for Poetry Therapy states, poetry therapy is a specific and powerful form of bibliotherapy, unique in its use of metaphor, imagery, rhythm, and other poetic devices for the use of healing and personal growth. Poetry therapy uses both written and spoken word to promote progress in counseling.

In addition to facilitating expression, poetry therapy also aims to strengthen communication skills, release tension, increase coping skills and heighten awareness and understanding about oneself (Gorelick, 2005).

intermodal therapy

Focusing on the interrelatedness of the arts the multi-modal approach, sometimes referred to as intermodal, uses two or more of the creative arts therapies to foster awareness, encourage emotional growth and enhance relationships (Malchiodi, 2005).

A multi-modal approach typically begins in one of the creative arts (dance, art, music, etc.) and then transfers to another form to add depth and clarity to the process for the client. As with the other creative arts therapies, no formal training is needed to participate and multimodal approach therapists tailor sessions to uniquely meet the ability and need of a client or group.

Creative arts therapies provide an integrative approach to individuals of all ages and abilities and invite clients to be active participants in their counseling process.

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