Expressive Arts in Therapy

By Amanda Réhel and Maria Zeyada Salih



Amanda: Ethan is in high school. He lies on his bed, scrolling through his Facebook page. He notices that one of his friends posted a saying, “When life’s got you feeling like there’s nowhere to go. Talk. To anyone. You’ll find out that you’re not the only one. You’re not alone”. Ethan stops and stares at the post, a little annoyed. Because he doesn’t want to talk to anybody. He needs another way. Talking is just too hard.

And Ethan’s right. Talking is hard. There are some people that just find it too difficult, too intimidating to form your pain into words. Most of the time, they just can’t express what you truly feel. And that’s how I felt. For a long time I was too scared and intimidated to see a therapist. And when I finally did, I wasn’t very comfortable being there. But I now know I didn’t have to feel so uncomfortable, I could’ve gone to art therapy instead.


Amanda: My name is Amanda

Maria: And I am Maria. Our focus today is about expressive arts therapy. It’s important to know that there are alternative routes to therapy. What’s best is that expressive arts therapy may be more suited to you than traditional talk therapy.

Amanda: This is exactly what happened for me. Art therapy helps people create connections between life and art. It presents a more vulnerable way to express yourself. It really helps you open yourself to the situations in your life. Canada’s cultural policy foster’s “its country’s cultural expression” (Library of Parliament). It expresses that “The arts are the very foundation of this expression” (Library of Parliament). One of the most important parts of art therapy is that it heals with the human connection between the psychoanalyst and the client.

Maria: A psychoanalyst essentially uses theories and therapies for the treatment of mental disabilities. (Oxford Dictionary) Now, traditional talk therapy can create some boundaries between the psychoanalyst and the client. (rowesa talk about walls). Words can’t always completely express the complex spectrum of human emotion. “We are very adept in talking, we can put up a strong protective parameter and the arts take us so quickly under that” (Rowesa 19:40)

Introduction to Rowesa Gordon and create Institute (21:46)

 IT IS RISKY AND VULNERABLE. Part of the experience of art making (20:10) It’s about being with yourself and the images (6:58).

Maria: Before entering Rowesa Gordon’s home studio for expressive arts therapy, we traversed the path towards her studio entrance and came across her backyard. There was a small sandcastle resting on a stand. We knew this was the right place.

Amanda: The room is cozy. We are seated in rocking chairs. There are toys and art materials in every corner. The atmosphere is very playful and I feel very at home.

(20:35) Bg: expressive arts therapy she got lonely working on her painting and drawing studio by herself, it wasn’t easy to earn a living. Her therapist suggested a program called creativity and self, which was the first year. A way of exploring different arts, modalities. And she what was there. A year course program where she goes every week for 3 hours.

How it helped her find her sense of self.

Maria: Amanda and I walked around York University’s campus, asking people about art therapy. We wanted to know what they knew about art therapy. If they didn’t know what it was, which was often the case, we explained it. We also wanted to know whether they preferred art therapy or traditional talk therapy.

Amanda: Most of whom we asked either didn’t know much about art therapy or were intimidated by the thought of art. People believed they needed to be skilled in art in order to use it as a platform to heal.

Maria: When people envision art therapy, they think of a therapist asking them to draw specific emotions like anger or fear. (10:35)  Rowesa explains that they might feel this way because they their lack of belief that they are capable of going to art therapy and using these mediums of art. (9:00)  But that’s not how it is. It’s up to the client what art form they want to use. And they have total control on how they use it. (Rowesa gives example: client lies under a table)

Amanda: In art therapy, the actual image is the least important thing. The most important part is the connection between the therapist and the client. The second most important thing is the act of doing the art, rather than the art itself. The art is not interpreted. What’s interpreted is what you feel while doing the art and how it connects to your life (5:15 – 5:38).

Maria: Art therapists describe clients artistic self-expression as their experience of art making and it’s reflection in your life. She gave an example of writers in which they figure out where they’re going as they right (6:20)

Amanda: Rowesa tells us that in the CREATE institute they focus on teaching methods of low skill high sensitivity. This is so that students don’t have to be necessarily skilled in art but are skilled in human connection and awareness to human emotion.

ROWESA 4:36 in between space – 4:58 building relationship with clients

Maria: So what exactly happens in an art therapy session?

 (14:47 – 15:35) Architecture of the session – filling in- client telling us what’s happening with their lives what they’re struggling with and their challenges then we. Amanda: The architecture is not lateral. It doesn’t always follow an exact pattern. de-centering WE GO To art making and then an aesthetic analysis rather interpretive analysis, we base on the art what works what helped it work what were the challenges. Amanda: What happens to you while you’re doing the art or challenges you face as what’s happening or has happened in your life. Like what resources make you continue on even when you’re uncomfortable. (17:04)

Maria: Next, they go into what’s called harvesting. They see what the art offers them. From their experience of it and what it means for the issues the client is going through. Understand the images and distinguish between what has been given to the therapist and what the client was thinking about. They have to realize the lens, so the perspective, that both the client and the therapist are looking through.

Amanda: It’s very important how a therapist bridges from one section of the session to another. That being said, not every session follows this architecture exactly. The three sections may be of different length depending on the client… many things change between clients. (19:00)

Maria: Why art therapy?

Maria: Knowing what you now know of art therapy, I hope you feel more inclined to try it if need be. It doesn’t matter if you lack proficiency in art…

Amanda: Any art.

Maria: Skill is not what matters. What matters is having the drive to seek the solution to your problems. The Interest in healing with new forms.  And being open to vulnerability and human connection.

Amanda: Now, how to choose methods of therapy? There are a few aspects to look at. For those who are in the lower household income bracket, art therapy may be a better alternative. Since the average household income, according to Statistics Canada, in 2014 in Ontario was $78, 790. Generally speaking art therapy costs less than traditional talk therapy studios, though prices differ between studios. For example, group art therapy in Cher Curshen’s studio cost $200 for 6 weeks after an initial deposit of $80 (Bigheart Integrative Arts Studio). On the other hand, group talk therapy in The Mindfulness Clinic is $100 for 8 weeks after an initial deposit of $175 (The Mindfullness Clinic).

Maria: However, that being said, one is not better than the other. Whichever form of therapy you choose depends entirely on what you feel most comfortable with. It also depends on which therapist you choose. In any form of therapy human connection is most important.



Work Cited

·         Curshen, Cher. “Bigheart Integrative Arts Therapy Studio”. Web. You can access the link here.

·         Jackson, Joseph. Lemieux, Rene. “The Arts and Canada’s Cultural Policy”. Political and Social Affairs Division. Library of Parliament. Parliament of Canada. December, 1993. Web. You may access the website here.

·         “Median Total Income, by Family Type, by province and Territory (All Census Families)”. Statistics Canada. N.p., n.d. Web. You may access the website here.

·         “Psychoanalysis”. Oxford Dictionary. Web Ed., 2016. You may access the website here.

·         Rowesa Gordon. The CREATE Institute. Interview, Nov. 23rd, 2016.

·         “Schedule & Fees”. The Mindfulness Clinic: Combining Psychotherapy with Mindfulness to Help You. Web. You may access the website here.

·         Social Affairs Division. Library of Parliament. Parliament of Canada. December, 1993. Web. You may access the website here.

·          “The CREATE Blog”. The CREATE Institute. Web. You may access the website here. The regular website can be accessed here.


Recommended Resources

·         “AGO: Collaborations and Essays”. AGO. Web. You may access the website here.

The AGO: Collaborations and Essays is a page on the AGO’s website where they publish essays by artist that can explain what their art and other artist’s art means to them, and/or society.

·         Buday, Kathleen M. “Engage, Empower, and Enlighten: Art Therapy and Image Making in Hospice Care”. Progress in Palliative Care. May, 2013.

This article introduces the field of art therapy and expresses the benefits it can offer to support the emotional, psychosocial, and spiritual well-being of hospice patients. When art therapy exists as part of an interdisciplinary hospice team, it can enhance the holistic continuum of end of life comfort care.

·         Choe, Sunjin “Nancy”. “An Exploration of the Qualities and Features of Art Apps in Art Therapy”. The Arts in Psychotherapy. April, 2014.

This essay explores the pros and cons of digital art in art therapy and identifies 3 distinct desirable qualities for art therapy as well as six concrete desirable qualities for art therapy use. 

·         Muller, Robert T. “The Trauma and Mental Health Support”. York University. N.p., n.d. Web.

The Trauma and Mental Health blog is published weekly out of York University in Toronto. It is mental-health based and its purpose is to publish research-based knowledge on interpersonal trauma with members of the community and it focuses on treatment, prevention, and the meaning of trauma to society. One of the treatment methods is art therapy. 

-     Pryma, Pattie Ann. Graveline, Fyre Jean. Weinberg, Tzafi. Resilience, Recovery & Art Therapy – A Collection of Articles. Halifax, NS, 2015. E-Book.

“This eBook “Resilience, Recovery & Art Therapy - A Collection of Articles” is a product of the love and effort of many committed individuals (art therapists and a music therapist) in Canada and around the world. Collectively we have dedicated many hours to practice, write, research, and gather together, to share the various ways of working therapeutically with art." (Dr. Fyre Jean Graveline, Dr. Pattie Ann Pryma and Tzafi Weinberg)

·         Smeijsters, H. Cleven, G. “The Treatment of Aggression Using Arts Therapies in Forensic Psychiatry: Results of a qualitative Inquiry”. The Arts in Psychotherapy. January, 2006.

This article describes the knowledge of arts therapies in forensic psychiatry based on recent practice, theory and research. It gives an overview of observational details and effects, among other things, about drama therapy, music therapy, art therapy, and dance-movement therapy in the Netherlands. It shows that arts therapies can help to decrease recidivism and 31 arts therapists are involved by semi-structured questionnaires, interviews, and focus groups.

·          Treadon, C. B. Rosal, M. Wylder, V. D. T. “Opening the Doors of Art Museums for Therapeutic Processes”. The Arts in Psychotherapy. January, 2006.

Art therapists are using museums as mediums for incorporating art objects into new arts therapy practices. Museums are also looking to widen their populace base to attract more non-conventional populations. An art therapy pilot program is described in which an art museum was used to help middle school students to increase their understanding of family.



            Credits: Beginning photo -, Last photos - Maria Salih, Music - Maria Salih

           We would like to thank Director Rowesa Gordon from the Create Institute for being so welcoming and participating with our podcast with so much enthusiasm. Her help was incredibly useful and informative. You really brought our podcast together.

            We would also like to thank Keith, our T. A., for helping us build our podcast. His advice helped us accomplish our tasks for this Passion Project. His humour made the semester fly by.

            Lastly, we would like to thank Professor Stephanie Bell for her patience with her students and her incredibly detailed lecture slides… That she posted on Moodle! 

 Maria on the left, Rowesa in the middle, and Amanda on the right.

Maria on the left, Rowesa in the middle, and Amanda on the right.

 Rowesa's studio.

Rowesa's studio.

 Rowesa's studio.

Rowesa's studio.

 Rowesa's studio.

Rowesa's studio.

 Rowesa's studio.

Rowesa's studio.

 Rowesa's studio.

Rowesa's studio.