Expressive Art Therapies

"Art is a way of knowing"

- Pat Allen

What is Expressive Art Therapy?

Expressive art therapy is not art making, it does however involve creation and non-verbal expression which are both powerful tools in trauma recovery.

Expressive art therapy is the use of different art mediums, such as drama, dance, music, writing, creative journaling, painting and drawing as therapy. Clients can choose, alongside an art therapist an art form that they feel can best express what and how they feel.

Art is inherently creative, non-verbal (i.e., a client doesn’t need to have the words or ability to express themselves for it to help with their recovery), and non-invasive (i.e., it is gentle and does not involve confrontation). For people that have experienced trauma, expressive art therapies are often ideal tools for healing and recovery.

“Art is a little subversive, very subversive; it gets underneath the surface and reveals what is there; it is a Geiger counter for truth.”
-Pat B. Allen.

Why Expressive Art Therapy?

Many of the women and girls we work with are sold into sex slavery because their family environment is unsafe. In many cases these families cannot afford necessities like food and water; selling a daughter into slavery therefore alleviates some of this pressure, albeit temporarily.

Many girls and women therefore suffer from complex trauma and have lost, or not developed the capacity to express themselves through language. It is also common for these women to struggle to regulate their emotions and build trusting relationships with others. Traditional talk therapies like counselling can be re-traumatising and unhelpful for these women and girls.


Expressive art therapy is therefore the perfect tool for supporting these women and girls to begin to process feelings and experiences. Through the challenging process of expressing difficult feelings in a safe, relaxing environment, women and girls can begin to build resilience, confidence and a healthy relationship with their emotions: one in which they are not being controlled but rather, in control.

Expressive art therapies also help these women and girls to begin to imagine new possibilities for their futures.  For many of the women and girls we work with, it is not safe for them to return home to their families as they face discrimination and being re-sold into slavery. Being able to imagine creative solutions and possibilities for their futures is vital for supporting these women to create a new narrative for themselves, one free from slavery and exploitation.

“Our imagination is the most important faculty we possess. It can be our greatest resource or our most formidable adversary. It is through our imagination that we discern possibilities and options… imagination is the deepest voice of the soul and can be heard clearly only through cultivation and careful attention. A relationship with our imagination is a relationship with our deepest self.”
– Pat. B. Allen.

A Trauma Informed Approach

Our expressive art therapy and educational programs are informed by several different approaches to trauma recovery:

Dr Bruce Perry’s Neurosequantial Model of Therapeutics,

Somatic Experiencing TM,

Narrative Therapy

Focus Orientated Art Therapy

Attachment and Developmental Theories

We have an interest in the relationship between the brain and trauma, and how expressive art therapies can support neural healing to take place.

Our trauma informed approach also takes into consideration the following:

  • The mind and body’s response to traumatic events
  • The recognition that behaviours are an expression of underlying trauma, not pathology
  • Cultural sensitivity, community empowerment and building resilience to promote growth and healing
  • The connection between the brain and personal narratives about traumatic events

The expressive art therapies are used early in the care of women and girls to ensure that their nervous systems have the time and resources needed to effectively process and recover from trauma.

Mental Health and Modern Slavery

“Imagination gives us the opportunity to envision new possibilities—it is an essential launch pad for making our hopes come true. It fires our creativity, relieves our boredom, alleviates our pain, enhances our pleasure, and enriches our most intimate relationships.”
― Bessel A. van der Kolk

Arts Based Research

At Art to Healing, we constantly evaluate all our programs. We undertake quantitative and qualitative research using an action based research model to understand what approaches to trauma recovery are most effective.

This commitment to evaluating and refining our therapeutic approach enables us to build a resource bank of tools and learnings for other health professionals working in this area, as well as the women and girls who themselves are impacted by sex slavery.

“Art is a vehicle that allows us to transcend linear time, to travel backward and forward into personal and transpersonal history, into possibilities that weren’t realised, and those that might be.”
– Pat B. Allen.



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