My Experiential Journey Into Expressive Arts Facilitation
My journey into facilitating the expressive arts has been mostly experiential. I was lucky to be able to learn on the job.
Ten years ago, I had a vision of pushing an “art cart” in a hospital. After a year of running my own community art studio for adults with acquired brain injuries, I had the rare opportunity to work in a well-funded art studio program for Canadian veterans. So indeed, my art cart did materialize! And, my art cart became my beloved travelling companion for nine years!
On a personal level, I also spend time experientially immersed in expressive dancing, drawing, collaging, writing and painting. I love the healing power of the creative process, and I am devoted to creating something new every day.
I created my online business, Expressive Art Workshops on evenings and weekends while working full-time as an arts facilitator in healthcare.
Support for Expressive Arts Facilitators
I left my government-funded art studio work in 2015 to build my online teaching practice. Just recently, upon earning my designation as a REACE, I felt inspired to create a larger community of support for expressive arts facilitators than I can provide. I get many questions from people asking me how to facilitate the expressive arts, what kind of education is required, how to work with different populations, etc.
In order to provide diverse answers outside of my own experience, I started a Facebook group called, “Expressive Arts Facilitation.” The sharing of resources on the group is generous and inspiring. I love witnessing facilitators, artists, teachers and therapists of all cultures and educational backgrounds respectfully connecting online, sharing ideas non-hierarchically, and encouraging each other in their facilitation practices.
What is an Expressive Arts Facilitator?
An expressive arts facilitator designs and initiates spontaneous creative processes for people, and may or may not be trained as a therapist. Expressive Arts Facilitators might be intuitive/expressive artists, counsellors, academics, psychologists, social workers, teachers, nurses, and other helping professionals, such as non-profit workers and volunteers.
The Art is the Therapy
Creating spontaneously encourages honest self-expression that might have been restricted by social judgments in the past. Expressive arts practices generally facilitate a safe, normal and natural emotional release. When we express ourselves honestly in a social setting, it is common to interrupt self-criticism and invite surprising new possibilities for emotional healing.
Expressive Arts Facilitators that do not have therapy training tend to focus on providing strength-based, hope-inducing art directives and do not offer therapy. Therapy involves working with a therapy professional to resolve problematic behaviours, beliefs, feelings, relationship issues, and/or somatic responses.
The aim of the expressive arts facilitation is to provide a space for people to experiment with spontaneous art, poetry, dance, sculpture, music and more. Critiques are never made about the aesthetics or meaning of the art. Participants are invited to express their honest thoughts and emotions, as they relate to their creative self-expression, in an atmosphere of unconditional acceptance. The facilitator witnesses and encourages the participants in their creative process.
What is an Art Therapist?
Art therapists are professionals trained in both art and therapy. They are knowledgeable about human development, psychological theories, clinical practice, spiritual, multicultural and artistic traditions, and the healing potential of art. They use art in treatment, assessment, and research, and provide consultations to allied professionals.
Art therapists work with people of all ages: individuals, couples, families, groups, and communities. They provide services, individually and as part of clinical teams, in settings that include mental health, rehabilitation, medical and forensic institutions; community outreach programs; wellness centers; schools; nursing homes; corporate structures; open studios and independent practices. Cited from the Art Therapy Blog.
What is an Expressive Arts Therapist?
An Expressive Arts Therapist has similar academic training as an Art Therapist, but they offer a multi-modal approach - often including music, drama and dance, as well as art and writing within a therapy session.
What Should I Call Myself?
I call myself an "expressive art facilitator."
Do not call yourself an art therapist or an expressive art therapist if you have not completed a recognized training program in your country. If you live in the USA - the American Art Therapy Association offers some good guidelines HERE.
Where Can I Ask Questions about Therapy Schools?
If you would like to ask questions about art therapy education, this is a good Facebook group to join: Art Therapy Network for Continuing Education.
If you would like to ask questions about Expressive Arts Therapy Education, this is a good Facebook group to join: Expressive Arts Therapy.
Do I Need a Designation To Facilitate the Expressive Arts?
No, you do not need a designation to facilitate expressive/intuitive/spontaneous creative processes for people.
However, you can choose to partake in Expressive Arts Facilitation training, and there are many certificate programs available. And, you can document your unique combination of experience and education, and apply to become a Registered Expressive Arts Consultant and Educator through the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association. The guidelines for becoming designated as a REACE are HERE.
Is it Safe to Facilitate the Expressive Arts Without Therapy Training?
We are all welcome to facilitate spontaneous art processes that invite authentic self-expression. Emotional expression through authentic art-making is a normal human process.
Spontaneous/intuitive art-making inherently releases stored emotions as we are designed to heal ourselves. Most people are resilient and can handle their own emotional responses to a spontaneous art-making process.
Often when subconscious thoughts and emotions come up for a natural release through creative expression, no risk management, diagnosis or referral is needed. The expressive art-making process itself does the healing and release work.
When unhealed trauma arises within a creative expression group, (which is sometimes a fear for facilitators) a participant can be referred to a therapist who has more tools and training.
What Kinds of Academic Training Should I Pursue to Facilitate the Expressive Arts?
Many people ask me about the types of formal education they should pursue in order to be "allowed" to facilitate art for other people. We are all welcome to express and facilitate spontaneous creative processes for others. Art is a universal way to express our unique personhood. Creativity is our birthright.
Some expressive arts facilitators are artists who have an innate and experienced sense of how to support people to self-express creatively. Some come to this work as intuitive healers and wise souls. Based on my own experiences of finding my way intuitively, I always say to people who want to give to others through their creative nature, "Your originality will lead you to the right books, training, and experiences that you need in order to express your gifts fully."
Boundaries, Ethics, and Safety
If you are unsure about the safety, boundaries, and ethics of running an art facilitation group it is best to seek professional training. I feel great respect for the therapeutic standards of care elucidated in formal academic education, and I also see that what we love expresses our particular form of genius. Academic expressive arts and art therapy education can only contribute to our genius when it supports us to express and actualize our unique gifts.
How Did You Become an Expressive Arts Facilitator?
I started out as an expressive arts facilitator - ten years ago - by creating an expressive art studio program for adults with acquired brain injuries. After that, I worked in Canada's largest therapeutic art studio for adults at the end of life with dementia and/or physical and cognitive challenges for 9 years. I am a counsellor, and I have logged over 11,000 direct client art facilitation hours in the studio. I feel blessed to have worked with hundreds of clients over the years from all walks of life in this creative capacity.
I presently live in Canada and I work full-time as an online counsellor and expressive arts facilitator. I facilitate a wide variety of expressive/spontaneous arts courses online via my website Expressive Art Workshops. I offer lots of free resources for arts facilitators.
And, I have also written two guidebooks on Art Facilitation:
Expressive Art Facilitation for Groups and How to Facilitate Art for Older Adults
What is an Expressive Arts Workshop?
In 2014, I was part of a collective of arts facilitators and art therapists that hosted monthly "pop-up" spontaneous creativity workshops in Vancouver, Canada.
We provided spontaneous art-making opportunities for all ages in various community settings. We supplied a wide range of creative materials such as textiles, collage papers, paint, recycled items, and objects from nature to encourage freedom of self-expression.
We encouraged self-expression without the requirement of a specific end product. Loose guidelines were provided and spontaneous experimentation was encouraged.
Creating together on individual and collective art projects offered a warm and inviting atmosphere to self-express amongst community and individually. In contrast to the perception of art as elite and expensive, we offered art opportunities as a natural expressive outlet for all.
Click HERE for many more photographs of these community workshops!