Emotional Expression

By | Art Therapy, Emotions, Updates | No Comments

Emotional expression is something most of us do on a daily basis. Whether we are yelling at the car that cut us off, laughing at a funny TV show, or crying the loss of something of someone in our lives, we are almost constantly acting upon our emotions. Many of us don’t give much thought to our personal styles of emotional expression, because it often happens so naturally and automatically. However, the more awareness we have of our emotions, the more capable we will be of dealing with them in healthy ways that actually help us feel better in the long run.

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But what constitutes healthy emotional expression? It has been found that the notion of “scream, shout, let it all out” may not, in fact contain the wisdom that we once thought. In fact, researchers studying the effects of cathartic anger have found that outward expressions of anger (yelling, screaming, smashing things, etc) actually make people angrier, dur to the increase in arousal. This research provides a stark alternative to the depictions of emotional expression in popular media, as well as some of our cultural ideas about healthy expression of anger.

Similarly, “a good cry” isn’t always good. Psychologists from the University of South Florida studied over 3000 ‘crying experiences’ and discovered that while often crying did improve mood, there was sometimes no mood improvement and occasionally even a decrease in mood. Most notably, the positive effects of crying depended on when the crying happened and who was crying, as well as whether the crier had social support.

Yet, while we don’t want to express our emotions in unconstructive ways (although there are always times when the occasional yell or cry feels very constructive), we also don’t want to keep our feelings locked away. So this begs the question: what does healthy emotional expression actually look like? Obviously this differs wildly from person to person, but in cases when emotions become difficult to deal with, therapy can be a great tool for emotional expression.


One of the primary interests of art therapy is to create a space where clients can express their emotions safely and constructively. In art therapy, we can express big feelings (fear, anger, grief, sadness, etc.) using paint and paper, and experience the satisfaction of having a process and visual product that shows how we are feeling without words. As such, the process of creating art in art therapy often becomes a metaphor for the emotional landscape of our lives. Each person will have different nuances and stories behind their emotions, a different art process, and different goals, but emotional expression is often a common thread uniting art therapy clients.

While creating art can sometimes be frustrating and tedious, I have seen firsthand the benefits of creating art without self-judgement. Everything you create is you, and that is enough. When we can immerse ourselves in a creative process and be curious about what flows through us, we can surprise ourselves with the beauty, sensitivity, and vulnerability we have inside. We just needed a little help from our art supplies!


The Benefits of Play – For Children AND Adults!

By | Adults, Art Therapy, Blogging, Children, Information, Play, Updates | No Comments

One of the most captivating benefits of art therapy is, in my opinion, re-gaining or maintaining one’s ability to play.


As children, we are wired to play. Many of the kids I see fall into play easily and naturally, and are able to make up stories, create characters, and generally be a bit silly. However, there are also children who have difficulty with this, whether it is due to trauma, nervousness, or because they are still warming up to me and to the space. Eventually though, once trust has been built, play usually starts to emerge from even the most timid of children.

The benefits of play for children may seem obvious, since it comes so naturally – but sometimes we forget the importance of unstructured play. In particular, play without the use of video games, phones, or other kinds of technology allows for the senses to be engaged and for relationships to be established through play -which is important in healthy growth and development. Also, while extra-curricular activities are important and valuable for children, it is also important that they have enough unstructured play time to integrate the huge amount of development that is happening in their little bodies and minds. Art therapy, in my opinion, does a great job of creating these unstructured play conditions and encouraging healthy growth.


While play is seen as a normal activity for children, as adults we sometimes see play as unnecessary and as a distraction from our responsibilities. However, play is important for adults, too! It helps with the development and maintenance of creative problem solving, releases tension, reduces stress, and promotes joy. Who wouldn’t want that?!

In my experience, there is no “recipe” for play – it is something that may be vastly different between individuals depending on personal preference. The best bet is to follow what gets you excited. With that in mind, I have compiled a list of ways for adults to play.

8 Ways for Adults to Play:

  1. Play with your kids – or someone else’s! Taking a little bit of time to forget about our responsibilities and engage in some unstructured play time – complete with role-playing, stories, and games. There is much to be learnt from children.
  2. Doodle! Get out those art supplies and create something without expectation. It is the process of creating that is of value, not necessarily the outcome.
  3. Read a book, play an instrument, or engage in any hobby or activity that allows you to feel in a state of “flow”.
  4. Try something new (a class, activity) that you’re interested in. We can learn something new at any age, and it is hugely beneficial.
  5. Cultivate a mindset of play – we can play at any time of the day (eg. daydreaming, imagination, joking) if we keep the benefits of play in mind.
  6. Move your body! Body-play is an important type of play. Sports, dancing, swimming, chasing children, going for a peaceful walk, gentle rough-and-tumble play, and cuddling are all forms of body-play.
  7. Social play – get together with friends or family and enjoy telling jokes, stories, and generally having some unstructured bonding time.
  8. Take a good look at how much of your life is pre-planned. Are there any opportunities to free up some time for unstructured play?

Here is a link to an interesting TED Talk on play. It is a very cool exploration of the physiological, emotional, and social benefits, complete with cute animal pictures:

“The opposite of play is not work. It’s depression” – Brian Sutton-Smith


7 Steps To Becoming an Art Therapist (What Credentials Does My Art Therapist Have?)

By | Art Therapy, Ethics, Information, Training, Updates | No Comments

Occasionally I get the question “what credentials to you need to have to be an art therapist?”, and I find myself stuck between wanting to elaborate for hours on the minute specifics of my educational history and wanting to just say that I went to school for it. It is a fine balance between being open and not boring people to tears!

However, I do think it is important that people know that becoming an art therapist is a fairly intensive process, and that not just anyone can call themselves an art therapist. In today’s post, I will be giving a rundown on what it takes to become an art therapist in Canada! Please note that I am speaking from my experience – there may be slight variations in these steps for different art therapists.

  1. A Bachelor’s Degree.
    Many art therapists will have either a psychology or an art degree, but this degree can be in anything as long as certain psychology prerequisites are fulfilled (personality, counselling skills, abnormal psych, etc.) and as long as there is some kind of familiarity with art. Personally, I did a degree in Psychology and did a few courses in Fine Arts – in addition to my personal art practice and a general interest in art.
  2. Acceptance into an accredited institution that offers an art therapy diploma program.
    There are a number of art therapy institutions across Canada – I went to the Vancouver Art Therapy Institute (VATI). The application process to these institutions is quite involved, requiring an art portfolio, a personal autobiography, three reference letters, course prerequisites, and a statement including your professional background and intentions for art therapy. There are three different types of art therapy programs – a diploma program (just requires a BA), an advanced diploma program (for those who already have a Master’s degree), and a Master’s program (the only place that offers this is in Canada is Concordia university in Quebec). I did the general diploma program, as I am considering doing a Master’s degree in Counselling at some point.

  3. Get 700 hours of practicum experience.
    This one is a doozy – 700 hours is no small feat! Generally, student art therapists are placed in an elementary school for their first practicum, and may add on various other practicums depending on their personal populations of interest. I did my practicums at an elementary school, a neighbourhood house, at two therapeutic kid’s camps, at VATI’s on-site art therapy clinic, and at a home for people with disabilities. These practicums allowed me to gain hands-on experience, make connections, and left me feeling like I could graduate with the skills to practice art therapy.

  4. Write a thesis/final project.
    Yet another arduous task! My thesis was 80 pages long and took approx 7-8 months from start to finish. Student art therapists can choose a topic based on their interests, which makes the process a little less painful. My thesis was about self-care and flourishing.

  5. Art Therapy Coursework.
    There are approximately 15 months of coursework for a diploma program, including theoretical courses, interventions, special topics, ethics, and professional practice. There is also a studio class where students make art and experience being in group therapy, as well as a supervision class where students can discuss issues that are coming up in practicum placements.

  6. Diploma in Art Therapy.
    Coursework + thesis + 700 practicum hours + blood,sweat,tears = graduation! Upon graduation, I was able to call myself an art therapist, was able to start practicing, and had D.V.A.T.I. (Diploma from VATI) behind my name.

  7. Professional Membership and Registration.
    Upon graduation, most art therapists will opt to become members of either the Canadian Art Therapy Association, their provincial art therapy association (in my case, the BC Art Therapy Association), or both! As a professional member of these associations, the art therapist is checked out by the association (reference letters, transcripts, etc), and is listed on an online directory. Once the art therapist has 1000 hours of experience, they can become a registered member, in which case the D.V.A.T.I. behind their name would change to show that they are a registered art therapist (RCAT, BC-AT, etc.). Both registered and professional art therapists can practice freely in the community.

Hopefully that wasn’t information overload! I know when I am choosing a professional of any kind, I like to know that they have recognized credentials and have had adequate training – I wanted to be sure this information about art therapists was available to the public. It certainly wasn’t when I was first considering art therapy as a profession! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me or comment below!