Healing Through Art: Creative Therapy in Social Work

Posted by Rebecca Bernstein on August 28, 2017  /   Posted in Social Work News

Man holding a cage with star dust floating out.

Those who find it difficult to communicate their feelings verbally may still gain benefit from visual, tactile, aural and kinesthetic experiences. Creative therapies tap into these modes of expression to facilitate emotional exploration and healing. For social workers who seek to help treating clients who face significant challenges, understanding creative therapy methods can be a crucial piece of knowledge for their wheelhouse.


Creative therapy is an umbrella term that describes a number of therapeutic methods that rely on artistic outlets. By tapping into the human imagination and the strength of metaphor, creative therapy offers a range of client benefits:

  • Emotional catharsis. Above all else, creative therapy allows clients to express thoughts and feelings they would be otherwise unable to release.
  • Self-discovery. Using alternative methods of expression allows clients to view themselves differently and explore new aspects of their minds and personalities.
  • Empowerment. Creative therapies allow clients to consider new solutions to problems and gain a sense of control over their own feelings and actions.
  • Stress reduction. Making art can be a relaxing process and may lead to clients’ release of long-held stressors.

Although specific therapeutic modes may vary, these benefits are common to all.

Types of Creative Therapies

Creative therapies can be applied to nearly every artistic medium. Some work particularly well on certain populations; others can be applied universally. Below are five of the most commonly used approaches to this work.

Art Therapy

Art therapy encourages clients to use media, photography, collage and other visual images to express their thoughts and emotions. The process is used to help clients resolve emotional conflicts, develop social skills, manage behavior, reduce anxiety, increase self-esteem and orient them to reality when necessary. It is a form that can be universally applied to all clients, including children, trauma victims and even people who are blind.

Music Therapy

In music therapy, clients actively create or passively listen to music to help them accomplish certain therapeutic goals. Widely applicable, music therapy can be implemented for pain relief, mood elevation, relaxation, physical rehabilitation, and improvement in mental and social/emotional functioning, among other uses. The discipline is particularly effective in helping with brain injuries. (First used for this purpose in World War I, it has been proven to rewire neural pathways.)

Drama Therapy

Through drama therapy, clients can tell their stories, practice behavioral changes and relationship skills, find catharsis and express their feelings in a safe environment. The form is also particularly useful for helping clients understand their own personal roles in life situations. Common types of drama therapy include mask work, puppetry, role-playing, improvisation and performance.

Dance/Movement Therapy

Dance/movement therapy assumes a correlation between body and mind, using this assumption to further the emotional, social, cognitive and physical aspects of a client. The therapy is practiced in an array of health settings including mental health centers, rehabilitation clinics, medical and forensic centers, and educational establishments. It is most often used for individuals with impairments, such as those with developmental, medical, social, physical and psychological issues.

Poetry Therapy

In poetry therapy, clients use language as a tool to help process their emotions and cope with various mental and emotional concerns. Reading and writing poems, as well as keeping journals, allows individuals to elucidate their thoughts and feelings, increase their sense of self-worth and clarify abstract ideas. Poetry therapy can be used with a variety of clients such as children and adolescents, the elderly, prisoners, the developmentally disabled, trauma victims and those living with serious illness.

Creative therapies provide a uniquely effective way for clients to explore their issues, gain life tools and heal. Because creative therapies are so different from traditional means and yet so widely effective, they emphasize the importance of alternative modes of healing and offer hope for those who cannot find effective help in other arenas.

Sources: National Association for Poetry Therapy, American Dance Therapy Association, American Music Therapy Association, Expressive Therapies, Social Work Today, Psychology Today

Help Others Express Themselves

Alternative interventions can provide a unique path to healing. For those seeking to help others, the online Bachelor of Social Work and online Master of Social Work programs at Brescia University can provide students with the foundation they need to follow a successful career path. Brescia’s BSW was ranked one of the best online social work degrees by Affordable Colleges Online, while Brescia was ranked one of the best online colleges in 2017.