By Paula Detwiller
Can participating in an art-related exercise be as cathartic as a session on the psychotherapist’s couch?
Elaine Donaghue of Ocean Ridge believes it can. A local psychotherapist since 1993, Donaghue recently expanded her practice to include a new technique called expressive arts therapy, which has roots in both art and psychology.
“Expressive arts therapy can bring out things we’re not consciously aware of, such as repressed memories of abuse or neglect,” Donaghue says. “It can be more effective for some patients than talk therapy.”
After becoming certified at the Expressive Arts Florida Institute in Sarasota, Donaghue and her longtime friend and colleague Sherry Weinschenk decided to bring this therapeutic technique to southeast Florida. They opened the Center for Healing and Expressive Arts in Delray Beach’s Atlantic Plaza last May. Both are licensed clinical social workers. Weinschenk, of Lake Worth, is a social work instructor at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.
So how does expressive arts therapy differ from traditional art therapy?
“Art therapy in the traditional sense is all about the product,” Donaghue says. “The patient draws a picture and the therapist interprets it. But expressive arts is more about the experience. It’s the experience of art — whether through visual art, drama, music, movement, writing or guided meditation — that taps into the unconscious and allows suppressed information to surface.”
In this way, expressive arts therapy is another tool in the Freudian psychoanalysis toolkit alongside hypnosis, dream interpretation, and childhood-memory mining.
“The process of artistic expression may bring up a past injury that’s been repressed, and because it’s been brought up, you realize, OK, this is still going on for me,” Donaghue says. “And it may be impacting your life in ways you don’t realize. The patient then has the opportunity to take that into a traditional therapy session and work on it.”
Not everyone is thrilled to try it. When the women in Donaghue and Weinschenk’s group therapy class were told it was “expressive arts night,” one of them, a client from Jupiter, protested.
“I said, ‘I don’t have a creative bone in my body. If I’d known we were going to do this, I wouldn’t have come tonight,’ ” the Jupiter client told me.
But midway through the arts exercise, which involved selecting an object from a basket and depicting the feelings it evoked, she said she became aware of inner feelings that guided her to an important realization. Later, in the group discussion period, she cried tears of relief.
“I don’t know when I would have gotten to that point in our regular therapy,” she said. “I tend to be a private person, not showing my feelings. It was a positive experience.”
Weinschenk likens expressive arts therapy to physical exercise. “You’re never that crazy about going to the gym, but afterwards you’re happy you went,” she says.
The Center for Healing and Expressive Arts recently contracted with HomeSafe, a West Palm Beach-based nonprofit, to help victims of domestic violence “process” their history through the use of expressive arts therapy. The center also offers a variety of art classes apart from therapy of any kind, for those who wish to experience art for art’s sake.
To learn more, contact Center for Healing and Expressive Arts 777 E. Atlantic Ave., Suite B-4, Delray Beach, FL 33483; 279-2727;
Paula Detwiller is a freelance writer and lifelong fitness junkie. Find her at www.pdwrites.com.