Creativity in Therapy: How & Why is it Useful?

Human beings are creative beings. Our daily lives are filled with examples of instinctive creative expression: putting on clothes, cooking a meal, organizing belongings, styling our hair, humming a made-up melody, as well as ordering the flow of a day, navigating relationships, and creating and telling stories about our lives. 

Since the early days of humanity, creative expression has been a foundational part of personal, family, and community life, central to personal expression as well as group rituals, ceremony, and gatherings.

Creative expression helps us describe, explore, and understand our inner worlds of experience, and to reflect upon and digest external events and relationships with others. It helps us to discover new ideas and to feel alive, happy, and relaxed.

In therapy, creative expression can take the form of visual art making - collage, sculpture, paintings or drawings; dance-movement expression; dramatic play; sand tray images; as well as playing with instruments and sound.

How is this helpful in therapy? 

1) Creativity is a form of play that is foundational to human experience. Creativity stimulates the play circuitry in our brains. 

Neuroscience research has clarified that creative play stimulates our social engagement system, helping us feel more calm, relaxed, and attuned in social relationships. Play turns on the part of the brain we need to light up in order to calm down anxiety and ameliorate depression. Creative expression and play is a potent antidote to dys-regulation.  

In this way, play is a useful pathway to regulate our Central Nervous Systems after trauma, and to feel connected to others again, helping us healing old relational wounds. In short, creative play offers an experiential opportunity to learn to feel safe, engaged, and responsive in the world of relationships. 

2) Creativity is in-the-moment, expressive, generative learning and discovery.

When we speak about prior events and verbally describe something we have already realized or made sense of, this is a form of reporting past discovery. We speak of this content from the left hemisphere of the brain - the domain of what is consciously known already. 

In contrast, creative expression offers discovery in the present moment. This content comes from the right hemisphere of our brains, the unconscious, our own personal mystery.

As a result, creative exploration offers a present-time, experiential workshop for growth: facilitating new insights, new learning, new ways of being. 

In this way creative expression is a powerful antidote to dissociation, and to repeating, stuck, looping narratives about oneself and the world. It offers a here-and-now freedom.

3) Creativity offers a release for stress hormones, and for tangled up cognitive and emotional experience.

When we are suffering, often a central part of our experience is feeling flooded, overwhelmed, full of bottled up jumbled emotions and thoughts. We often feel confused about what is going on, and unsure about how to move through it to change our inner or outer experience of life and living. 

When we release this jumbled up content through creative expression we can experience relief throughs significantly reduced internal pressure. We can then feel more relaxed, integrated, and clear after a creative therapy session. 

4) Creative expression takes something internal - that is difficult to make sense of - and gives it form, where we can see it, dialogue with it, respond to it, and alter it. Creative expression makes possible generative conversation with our inner world. 

This process of giving form to internal content helps us come to know ourselves better, to gain deeper understanding and allows a distance or sense of bearing witness to our experience. We know our experience more clearly but we are not submerged in it. From this position of witness we have more clarity, freedom, choice, and possibilities.

5) Creative exploration is improvisation - a path for venturing into the mystery, or the unknown.

Often we feel anxiety about what is unknown in our lives. Creative process helps us develop our confidence and trust in ourselves, as we move with uncertainty. This practice helps us develop greater ease in the midst of our daily lives and the turbulence we all experience. We become more skillful in responding to life, as it happens, in situations where there is no map, or when our plan is not working out as we had imagined it would. 

6) Many of us have experienced difficulty in expressing ourselves in relationships. For many people expressing one's voice has been taboo, not allowed, shut down, or has been met with reactivity in others. 

Creative approaches to therapy offer a tangible and playful way to reclaim one's expressive capacity, to discover and reclaim one's voice and a sense of inner power and ease in self expression. There is deeply healing nourishment, and immense wisdom, to be found through attending to our creative voice. For all of us. It is a universal, fundamental human gift.