From a Professional: Expressive Arts Therapy, To Be Seen in a Different Way

 Artwork was created by Eleanor Hagert and is the sole property of the artist. It may not be used or reproduced without the artist's permission.

Artwork was created by Eleanor Hagert and is the sole property of the artist. It may not be used or reproduced without the artist's permission.


Eleanor Hagert ATR-BC, LCAT is a registered and board certified Creative Arts Psychotherapist licensed in the state of New York.Eleanor is also a visual artist and dancer, who has experienced the empowerment that is born from creative expression. 


Being a visual artist and dancer, I am drawn to the idea that there is transformative power in the act of creative expression. In nurturing this idea of growth and awareness through art, I became a licensed and board certified creative art psychotherapist. There were phases in my life where I found myself using art in a healing way, even though I had not intended to. While drawing, I felt as though I was releasing parts of myself that were emotionally painful. When I would look at the finished piece, I would be amazed that I had created something so intriguing. As I began to draw more, a new identity formed as my confidence grew.

In my practice, I use traditional psychotherapy techniques alongside creative expression during sessions. No artistic experience is necessary, as I believe we all carry an innate ability to create as an extension of ourselves. In my sessions, I generally allow the individual to make their own decisions regarding materials and subject matter encouraging them to trust their own intuitive choices.

There is a common misconception that art therapy is only used with children. Most of my experience as an art therapist has been working with adults who are struggling with substance abuse, as well as men who are incarcerated in correctional facilities. Most people are surprised to hear that the majority of my clients are adult men. While some of my male clients have been initially apprehensive to artmaking (mostly driven by societal views of masculinity), they have become prolific artists who express pride in their creations. In my experience, art therapy allows us to access unconscious emotions that may be difficult to express with words. It allows us to be seen and heard in a different way. Sometimes we as humans walk around with unresolved wounds and art gives us an opportunity to discharge and process some of our experiences. Artmaking is also beneficial in increasing self-esteem, frustration tolerance, and creating a sense of calm. All images have meaning with color, line, and texture choices telling the viewer a story of who you are. Especially for substance abusers, or others in recovery, I believe that art allows you to tell a new story, to create a new identity, to envision a new future, and to change the script and outcome of your treatment.

People often ask me if there is a way to use art as a meditative practice. There are many ways for us to get in touch with our innate creative sides and practice self-care on a regular basis. All of these self-exploratory activities can provide a relaxing and healing experience. However, without the guidance and presence of a licensed and board certified art therapist to create a safe and supportive space, you are not practicing art therapy or gaining the full benefit of the therapeutic process.

To access your creativity, I suggest creating your own mandala each day, using a large circle template on a blank sheet of paper. When people are feeling self conscious about their artistic abilities, I suggest creating daily collages with magazine images or colored paper. Also, repetitive work like knitting, beading, or even doodling can be a soothing experience if you are feeling anxious or physically agitated.

One of the most important aspects that I see in expressive therapies is the relation to and usage of the physical body. I have found that I use movement, exercise, and dance to ground my body when I feel overwhelmed with stress or emotions.

When I am working on a creative project, I feel that it is important to allow yourself to experiment with different materials and not get attached to the outcome of the perfect image. Stay in the moment and enjoy the process. Sometimes the organic nature of the materials and the process lead us to create imagery that we could never have imagined. I believe that this same type of open-minded attitude can equally apply to moving through life and recovery.


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