What does the painting mean? – Expressive Therapy: I am not an artist
My colleague, Im May and I were talking about the common questions we get from clients during our expressive sessions the other day.
“I drew this, could you tell me what am I thinking?”
“Look at this colour, does it mean I am very depressed?”
“Does the colour in my painting suggest I have serious trauma?”
“My child drew this, does he has a violent tendency?”
Well, here is our answer: Unfortunately, we don’t know what it means when you pick up that colour. We can’t read your mind by looking at your painting. So, what is expressive therapy then?
Expressive therapy is a unique method in psychotherapy, where the practitioner is able to adapt different approaches such as art therapy, play therapy, sandplay therapy, or use of sandtray, clay, dance movement, music, drama, poetry, drawing etc. Depending on the therapist’s training and personal preferences, the choice of tool(s) or modality will vary. When you are in the therapy session, the therapist may simply begin with a quick scribble, stretches, simple movements, or humming a familiar tune as a warm up, before introducing the session’s chosen modality. Sometimes, the expressive approach may be used simply as a form of relaxation.
Why expressive therapy and How?
What if, you are not good at art-making? Let me share a secret with you: ME TOO! I am also bad in art-making. My art teacher in primary school was probably crying when I submitted my art homework (sorry, my teacher). I am not an art teacher. We are not required to have any artistic talent or experience in expressive approaches. I often tell clients, it is not about the end product, but the process. My job is to ensure you have the freedom to express yourself in any way you like and facilitate the process to help you make sense of the experience. There is no judgement or grading towards the “art”. Okay….I lied. There might be a little bit of judgment and it is often coming from you – you will be the judge of your art.
While expressive therapy may have some techniques for conducting assessments, the approach is focused on the process to make sense of what is happening in your life, and gain awareness of your inner world. It helps to connect and express the part of the self that is hidden inside of you. Using art as a medium to tells your story in a non-intrusive manner. Often, the role of the therapist is a “container”, to contain your emotions, memories, fears, and to accompany you to achieve your healing.
You will decide what does the creative process means to you, and you will tell me what the colour represents. Sometimes, you will not know at the time and that is just part of the process. Hmm, if is still sounds stressful to you, I often say that expressive therapy is like you and I going to visit a gallery. Your story, emotions, memories, and experiences are the ART in this gallery. You are the artist that created the art pieces and we will make sense of the ART-of-Yourself together in this gallery. My wonderful clinical supervisor once said “Nothing is random in the session, it’s just that it may not make sense at the time, but it will come to you”.
Would you like to learn more about Sand Therapy?
Friedman, H. S., & Mitchell, R. R. (2002). Sandplay: Past, present and future. Routledge.
Kalff, D. M. (2003). Sandplay: A psychotherapeutic approach to the Psyche.
Malchiodi, C. A. (2020). Trauma and expressive arts therapy: Brain, body, and imagination in the healing process. Guilford Publications.
Turner, B. A. (2017). The Routledge international handbook of Sandplay therapy. Routledge.