March 20, 2020 | Gretchen Miller, MA, ATR-BC, ACTP
Every year we celebrate Creative Arts Therapies Week with the National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies (NCCATA). Along with our colleagues not only in art therapy but also in music therapy, dance/movement therapy, drama therapy, poetry therapy, and psychodrama, we take time to bring awareness to the power of our professions and to our roles in the mental health field. This year’s Creative Arts Therapies Week (#CATWeek2020), which started on March 15th and continues through March 21st, is significantly different than prior years.
This year I am seeing Creative Arts Therapies Week through a different lens as creative arts therapists (CATs), their clients, organizations, agencies, and communities around the world navigate a time of personal and professional crisis during the coronavirus pandemic. Rather than celebrating this week, my colleagues and I are grappling with quarantines and the anxiety and health crises our clients and communities are facing.
Here are my reflections this week:
CATs are experiencing disruptions to in-person practices and interactions with clients
In-person therapy sessions have quickly shifted to online experiences. Practitioners also continue to work on-site with precautions in place or may have had to suspended services due to health considerations and risks.
CATs are making adaptations about how to engage with materials and creative tools during this time of COVID-19
These adaptations may include a creative arts therapist shifting their approach with art, music, dance, drama, and poetry to virtual expression and working with supplies that clients have easy access to in their homes. For creative arts therapists still working with clients on-site, using supplies requires careful preparation and protocols for keeping them clean, sanitized, and safe to use.
CATS are needed now more than ever
Creative arts therapists regularly aid in creating regulation and decreasing states of heightened arousal through sensory-based, somatic interventions. Engaging in repetitive, rhythmic acts inherent in art making, movement, music, and dance create opportunities to calm the body and the mind, strengthen self-soothing, mindfulness, and strategies for coping with these times of high anxiety, stress, and uncertainty. The creative process activates the imagination and divergent ways of thinking to foster problem-solving, solutions, and explore possibilities.
CATs are concerned about their clients
The populations many CATs work with have existing vulnerabilities that already put individuals, families, and communities at risk everyday. These can be physical, medical, emotional, financial, social, or other challenges. While some CATs may have been able to transition this week to using remote means of continuing care, many clients do not have access to a computer, the Internet, or safe ways to engage in their own home. Furthermore, some programs and organizations have had to temporarily suspend providing services. This isolation in a time of widespread crisis can leave affected clients even more vulnerable, without means for help and support at a time they need it the most.
While Creative Arts Therapies Week this year will not have the usual in-person events or won’t involve being with our clients and students in the same way, creative arts therapists are continuing to come together to serve our clients and communities in amazing new ways during this time.
Information on the Six Creative Arts Therapy Professions
Art Therapy — Art therapy uses art media and the creative process to aid in areas such as, but not limited to: fostering self-expression, creating coping skills, managing stress, and strengthening sense of self. Art therapy facilitated by an art therapist, provides mental health treatment for clients who have experienced trauma, grief and loss, depression, major life change, chronic illness, and anxiety. Resources for art therapists, members of the public, and other mental health providers related to COVID-19 can be found on the American Art Therapy Association’s (AATA) resource page here. This resource offers more information about the value of art expression in trauma informed work.
Music Therapy — The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) defines music therapy as “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” The use of music in the form of song and instrument playing addresses the overall well-being of individuals. In regard to trauma intervention, the sensory based expression of music can help restore a sense of safety, promote coping, and relaxation for youth who have experienced trauma. Resources for music therapists and students about COVID-19 from AMTA can be found here. AMTA’s resource Music Therapy in Response to Crisis and Trauma describes more about how music therapy and working with a music therapist can benefit youth impacted by trauma.
Dance/Movement Therapy — The American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) defines dance/movement (DMT) therapy as “the psychotherapeutic use of movement to further the emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration of the individual.” In relationship to trauma, DMT utilizes the body/mind connection to provide a safe outlet for self-expression, reclaim control, manage traumatic stress, and self-regulation. For traumatized children, the ADTA reports that DMT approaches and intervention can have positive treatment benefits to address changes in the brain, nervous system, and behaviors effected by trauma. Resources about COVID-19 can also be found on ADTA’s site here. Learn more about the use of DMT and Trauma with this Information Sheet and Bibliography.
Drama Therapy — The Northern American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA) defines drama therapy as “an active, experiential approach to facilitating change through storytelling, projective play, purposeful improvisation, and performance”. Drama therapy can also include role-playing and other theater inspired approaches facilitated within a therapeutic framework. With children, drama therapy particularly taps into the language of play and storytelling to help explore and address difficult emotions and create a non-threatening environment for strengthening coping skills, improving self-expression, and attachments. The NADTA published this message about COVID-19 and resources for drama therapy educators and clinicians.
Poetry Therapy — This form of creative art therapy uses literature and poetry, writing, journaling, as well as the language arts and storytelling to address issues such as, but not limited to feelings, self identity, and help contain or manage overwhelming experiences, thinking patterns, and emotional states. The use of poetry therapy also provides a safe symbolic language for self-expression and making meaning. Using written reflection and response as a means for self-soothing and coping can also be beneficial for trauma survivors. The National Association for Poetry Therapy offers this Integrative Medicine Packet to highlight different examples of how poetry therapy is used, including with trauma and loss.
Psychodrama — Through therapeutically led experiential experiences, this creative method of acting offers individuals and groups a safe place to experiment with and engage in new roles or re-enact experiences. Areas such as insight, emotional catharsis, support, and coping can also be of therapeutic benefit in trauma recovery. The American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama further defines psychodrama and sociometry practice on their website.
Gretchen M. Miller MA, ATR-BC, ACTP
Gretchen is a Registered and Board Certified Art Therapist, Advanced Certified Trauma Practitioner, and Ursuline College Counseling and Art Therapy Faculty who has been practicing in Northeast Ohio for 20 years. Gretchen is also a Buckeye Art Therapy Association (BATA) Past President, BATA Honorary Life Member, and since 2017, has served on the AATA Board of Directors.