Extended Arts Therapy

 Also known as expressive arts therapy or creative arts therapy, is the use of all the creative arts (visual, motion, performance, media) as a form of therapy.   Unlike traditional art expression, the process of creation is emphasized rather than the final product. 

The philosophy of Extended Arts Therapy is based on the assumption as well as experience of many that people can and have healed through the use of their imagination, mind, body, and spirit and do express themselves in various forms of creative expressions that eventually contributed to their well-being. Extended arts therapy is the practice of using imagery, storytelling, dance, music, drama, poetry, movement, dream work, and visual arts together in an integrative way to foster, promote, and stabilize growth, development, and healing. 

Creative expression through utilizing the imagination enables the person to examine the body, feelings, and emotions as well as his or her thought processes to stimulate an environment of self-healing.  Expressive arts therapy, or extended arts therapy, is its own unique therapeutic discipline, an inter-modal discipline where the therapist and client move freely between drawing, dancing, music, drama, poetry, even story-telling, etc.

“In traditional therapy, it is often difficult for the client to express or identify the roots of the psychological problems when he or she is in the midst of anxiety or distress, Art as therapy offers an effective alternative by allowing the client to express through images and colors without boundaries, thus giving the person tremendous freedom of expression.  Through symbols, rather than words, art is an effective way for an individual to get in touch with his or her feelings.  When a client is in the process of creating, he or she reaches into the unconscious right side of the brain which does not analyze or think.  Art can be abstract or figurative, which gives breadth and depth to the information that needs to be interpreted and analyzed by the therapist.  Through images, the information becomes multi-dimensional and multi-faceted.  Symbols are very powerful visually, so it is easier to know what is familiar to the client.”  Pauline Santos, Artist & Writer

As a holistic approach to therapy,  our extended arts approach is intermodal, using expressions in general, rather than a specific discipline to treat clients, altering approaches and strategies based on the clients’ changing needs, or through utilizing multiple forms of expression with the same person to aid, enable, and empower the person’s deeper and more holistic exploration.

It is an effective approach is to reclaim the innate, natural human capacity to communicate creative expressions of individual and collective experiences in artistic forms.  (Appalachian Expressive Arts  Collective, 2003, Expressive Arts Therapy:  Creative Process in Art and Life. Boone, NC: Parkway Publishers).

As pain is a subjective response to an insult of any kind, there are countless ways to manage it as there are different perceptions of it. Under certain circumstances, the norm is a self-help strategy. The theory of self-preservation provides the most natural explanation why certain people survive their pain more than the others. It is their inherent built-in reflex for survival, their own human nature belief that there is no better way to manage it than the way they know themselves. However, there are factors within the environment surrounding the human nature that affect this belief and therefore affect the way some people manage survival.

One mother’s pain: Some battles are of the spirit

This is the story of Sheela, my friend from Kerala, India. She came to America with all hopes to share life with her son, Shibu. Few days later, Shibu had a vehicular accident and was in coma for a month. Stranger to New York, Sheela dealt with a pain she never expected: adjusting and finding her way around as well as helplessly looking at her sick son in bed.

She was teaching in the seminary in India prior to coming to America. Although she had no friends in her adopted home at that time, she was not alone. She was in constant communication and prayers with the priests and seminarians through the great distance across the Pacific. She was strong and never lost hope.

As a young adult, his heart was healthy to sustain the injuries and finally recovered after a long course of hospitalization and rehabilitation. He got out of the hospital and returned to his life halted by the accident. And it was no longer the same. He did not know where to begin and pick up the pieces. He ended up not finishing college and his trips to Atlantic City became more frequent.
Sheela met me in a strange place, a bus ride to a theater called Sight and Sounds in Philadelphia. She told me her story and sought me for help. Shibu and I come from different cultures. Though I am a nurse, I did not know how to break Shibu’s silence and I failed.
After all these years, Sheela took the courage and faith, until she called me lately and said that her hopes are gone. She no longer believes in false hopes, that her son Shibu is in essence gone.

This is the pain that is hurting Sheela. She felt no pain when she had hopes that Shibu will get well, but now, there is no longer hope and she hurts every time he does not come home.

How can I help Shibu? He has no dream within his reach but an obsession to a wrong gratification.

How can I help Sheela, when her hopes have apparently faded? What can we do when battles are from the spirit? They must try one more time and harder, and a lot of help from their friends.