What Is Expressive Therapy And When Is it Used?

Updated February 23, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Guilbeault

Expressive therapy is a unique form of treatment which is not talked about as frequently as other forms of the therapist. In a nutshell, this type of therapy involves the use of creativity, the arts, and psychology to encourage healing and emotional development. Expressive therapy can be applied with both kids and adults, individually or in groups. The idea behind this creative type of treatment is that each human being possesses an innate desire to create something. Generally, expressive therapy involves the use of the arts, such as dance, music, poetry, etc.

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A Closer Look At Expressive Therapy

Expressive therapy strives to aid patients in finding clarity, purpose and inner peace within their lives. This can be done in various manners, and while one person may benefit from journaling or singing in expressive therapy, another patient may find that music creation or artistic work speaks to them. In expressive therapy, it is not uncommon for a patient to employ multiple creative outlets and achieve the desired results from various forms of creativity.

The process of expression and creativity is where the central focus of expressive therapy lies. In other words, it is the journey which carries the most weight and not the destination. Patients who are going through the process of expressive therapy should embrace the process of creativity and the multitude of psychological benefits which come along with it. Expressive therapy is especially geared towards the patient's senses and the growth of the imagination.

The Role Of The Expressive Therapist

As the patient is undergoing expressive therapy, their therapist who is working with them should be monitoring growth and progression. The therapist also has the responsibility of determining which creative outlet is most suitable for the patient.

Sometimes, writing may work for certain individuals while other patients are most helped through the process of painting or drawing. If the expressive therapist feels as though the patient is ready to embrace additional creative outlets or wanting to switch to a different form of expression, then they would guide the patient along this path. There may be certain points in which a change is in order. Depending on the nature of the therapy, the patient may be assigned "homework" outside of sessions in which they are encouraged to partake in the given creative activity when they are at home.

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The Creation Of Content

Expressive therapy is all about creation, although there is much more to this process. Not only does the expressive therapist have the responsibility of guiding and observing the creative process, but they must work with the patient after the content has been created. Now, depending on the given creative process, this can happen in a variety of manner. The expressive therapist may ask the patient questions about what the content represents, why certain shapes, sounds or colors were chosen. They may also request for the patient to tell a story about the content which they brought to life.

This is a critical part of expressive therapy for so many reasons. Firstly, the work and content which a person generates are very indicative of who they are, where they are, and which inner emotions and feelings are present. Sometimes, it takes a longer amount of time for an expressive therapist to bring this out of a person, but with time, effort, and patience, it can be done. After all, the creation on the outside is a manifestation of internal emotions and states.

Discovery And Development Of Self

Going through the process of expressive therapy can be a very peaceful and enlightening experience. When someone is given the privilege of creation, they get to learn which patterns, designs, colors, or words speak to them. This allows the patient to learn about themselves and release various pent-up feelings or emotions which they were not even consciously aware of. Getting to discover and develop oneself is another massive upside which comes along with expressive therapy

Where Is Expressive Therapy Most Impactful?

There are a plethora of areas in which expressive therapy can reap various benefits and growth for patients. However, in certain cases, expressive therapy has been proven as an extremely beneficial form of treatment. Reviewing these areas is important for understanding the process and how the healing process works.

Low Self-Esteem

Individuals who are struggling with low self-esteem will find expressive therapy to be particularly beneficial. Not only does this encourage creativity and expression, but it also helps the patient find something which they enjoy doing. A person who partakes in fingerpainting may soon realize that they possess a knack for choosing color combinations. Likewise, another patient who turns to write may learn that they are great at content creation and expressing themselves through the written word. When you know that you are talented and when you are aware of your strengths, it's much easier to rise above low self-esteem and feel better about who you are as a human being.

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At its core, stress is generated by feeling overwhelmed, out of control or otherwise helpless to stop a troubling situation in one's life. Stress is especially dangerous because it can fester and increase if it's not dealt with appropriately. Furthermore, there are kinds of health issues which are linked to habitual stress. It's normal to feel overwhelmed from time to time, but when stress is ongoing, that's a sign that some type of change is in order.

Expressive therapy combats stress in a series of ways. First and foremost, it gives the patient a healthy escape. This allows the patient to temporarily remove themselves from the situation which ails them and subsequently put their energy into expression and creation. The process of creating something is also great for clearing one's head. This can allow the individual to later return to the situation with a sounder mind and better equipment for finding the appropriate solution.


When someone is subjected to trauma, it can have some serious and potentially dangerous impacts on them. Depending on the extent of the trauma and the specific events which took place, the healing process can take a very long time and require extensive treatment. This is where extensive therapy comes into play; by providing patients with an outlet, they can use art and creation as a form of expressing themselves and releasing the pent-up feelings and energy within them. Trauma in and of itself can be very toxic, but keeping your emotions and feelings inside is one of the most unhealthy things ever. Letting it out is one of the beginning steps of healing.

Eating Disorders

Many people believe that eating disorders are about food, but in actuality, they're not. Instead, food is merely used as a tool. Individuals who are afflicted with eating disorders generally feel a lack of control over their lives and have therefore turned to food as the one area which they can have control. The adverse impacts and deadliness of eating disorders are extremely well-documented which is why expressive therapy is so impactful in this area.

Expressive therapy allows the patient to not only partake in the creation of something new, but it also helps them begin to develop a healthy sense of control. Now, any form of treatment takes time to run its course and yield the desired results; however, expressive therapy plants a healthy seed and helps patients realize that they can have control over the trajectory of their lives without turning to healthy management of food.


Depression is a very dark place. Patients who suffer from depression will certainly find benefit in expressive therapy. This manner of treatment allows the patient to find solace in something which makes them happy and brings meaning into their life. Positivity and having a healthy outlet is one of the initial steps towards overcoming depression and regaining feelings of purpose, happiness, and fulfillment.

Like other mental health issues, it's important to note that the existence of depression will not automatically go away in the instant that a patient begins undergoing expressive therapy. Depression takes time to develop, and it will take time to go away. However, taking the initial first step and introducing a healthy, creative outlet into the patient's life is always advantageous even if the results take time to materialize.

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A Final Word

We all go through challenges and tough times in this life. Ultimately, the goal is to equip ourselves with the proper tools and skills to get through these hurdles without allowing them to destroy us. It just so turns out that one of the best ways to do this is by having a great support system.

If you are interested in reaping the benefits which come along with therapy, then you have come to the right place. Here at BetterHelp, we have a team of amazing specialists and therapists who would be more than thrilled to work with you. Regardless of who you are or where you come from, you should never feel as though you are alone and without anyone to turn to.

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