Art Therapy Brooklyn
"Often the hands will solve the mystery that the intellect has struggled to solve in vain."
- Carl Jung
Art therapy helps clients process thoughts and emotions in a unique way. The use of creative arts therapies in psycho-therapeutic work encourages a different mode of expression when words fail to provide an answer. Creative arts therapies, including art, and sand play therapy, are tools that offer an alternative to talk therapy by giving life to the client's pre-verbal, conscious mind. Making or engaging with art can provide a fresh perspective for a persistent problem, and open up pathways of communication for current challenges.
We don't only experience the world using verbal communication, so it can sometimes serve us well to remember all our other senses and capabilities. Though many people might be hesitant to use art when they don't consider themselves artists, or dance when they don't think of themselves as dancers, it's an approach that can help move a client forward, and will open up certain subjects for further exploration.
As with other forms of therapy, art therapy can improve communication skills and strengthen social bonds. For children there can be a strong socialization component, where they learn to express themselves in multiple ways. They can see and be seen. They can create and communicate. They can find empowerment through play. For children or adolescents it could be a way to identify potential symptoms of depression or anxiety before one might have the words to articulate those labels. Art therapy may also provide the perfect balance for couples and families that want to explore alternative approaches.
Roots of Art Therapy
We humans have always used the creative arts to express ourselves and often to mourn or celebrate. So using creativity as part of working through or conveying thoughts and emotions is nothing new that had to be invented. However, over the last century, various types of creative therapies have become more common as part of a therapeutic approach to address trauma, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Drawing, sculpture, dance therapy, sand play, or puppets in psycho-therapeutic sessions all fall under the art therapy umbrella, which has proven helpful to many people.
There are several theories about how and why art therapy benefits people who are struggling to make progress with other treatment modalities. Especially for children, adolescents, or others who may feel they don’t have the words to capture the complicated mix of emotions inside, art therapy can offer a more open forum for expression. Clay and playdough provide a malleable medium that allows for shaping and reshaping, which can enable a client to work and re-work out an idea or issue. Often the mind can be completely consumed by the act of creating, causing a release of some of the inhibitions or defenses that might regularly come into play.
For almost a century, the tools of art therapy have been employed by therapists, who have built upon them over time. And both before and after the phrase “art therapy” came into existence, people across the world have been moved and changed by the transformative power of art and creativity.
My experience with Art Therapy
I have utilized creative arts therapies in a professional, clinical setting at my practice in Brooklyn, NY, and now via Telehealth. I employ tools across various artistic areas including visual arts, dance, and music. There are multiple modes useful for expanding and enhancing self-exploration and expression. Sometimes these approaches can access parts of a problem that are harder to get to than with talk therapy alone.
I've found creative art therapies especially effective for helping clients deal with trauma and its associated clinical issues. As a therapist, it’s part of my job to provide a safe environment for the client. With art therapy they need to feel comfortable and unencumbered in order to freely create a physical manifestation from their imagination. To help guide them in creating that outward expression of inner thoughts and experiences, I first establish a relationship and gain their trust. Having experienced a traumatic event, or ongoing trauma, it’s critical to provide authentic care and support. Then I am able to introduce the creative activity, and work from there.
Children dealing with trauma
A child with a history of trauma coming from the foster care system may have suffered loss, and experienced abuse or neglect. They have not had a stable, nurturing environment that teaches coping skills or healthy emotional expression. Maybe they don’t have role models who are great at regulating their own behaviors. They may have been shuffled between multiple households, which does not provide them with a consistent safe space or network of support. Therefore, it’s very possible that this child does not have the words to explain the complicated mix of emotions they are feeling. Creative arts therapies may help them to express their inner-narrative of this trauma.
If you have ever observed how children interact with puppets, you’ve probably noticed how they open up and engage on a whole other level. There’s a little bit of magic in it. Mr. Rogers was attuned to something important with his Land of Make Believe and ability to discuss deeply emotional topics with children. With puppets, children often share information that other adults in their life may have discouraged them from mentioning or that they don’t normally feel comfortable speaking about. They sense the puppet is a trustworthy friend with whom they can share stories and feelings.
It may be difficult to speak about some events in the first person due to shame or fear or other factors, so it may also be helpful to process past traumatic events by having puppets or dolls act them out. A child playing out their own abandonment by using these figures to tell the story of their mother leaving might enable a moment that’s critical for processing and moving forward while in the presence of a caring adult. The child may experience relief in finding a new language, or releasing their emotions through this process.
Individuals, couples, and families
Creative arts therapies can also be integrated into talk therapy sessions or the overall treatment process with individuals, couples, and/or families. Working with family members and utilizing visual props or movement may present challenges as well as growth opportunities. Having a physical object you work with can help direct focus outward for a moment, and enable individuals to observe some of the group dynamics that have not been as visible before. It can be a way to track communication or add some levity to a session, since it has the potential to feel like a game.
Couples can explore movement therapy to work through sensitive issues of welcome or unwelcome touch, and preferred approaches or interactions. With movement and physical therapeutic exercises, couples can reaffirm what works and identify what doesn’t. They can explore the boundaries of each other’s personal space, and how to negotiate something that feels comfortable for everyone involved.
Dance and movement therapy can be beneficial for your physical and mental health. You may be holding more tension in your body than you realize, so starting off a session with some physicality might be beneficial. I’ve found that helping someone identify areas of tension can be a good starting point for the rest of the work that needs to be done. There are other ways to incorporate creative art therapy tools, like drawing in or playing with sand. When an individual immerses themself in a calming, repetitive action, it can function to disarm certain psychological defenses and open new pathways.
I’ve also encouraged individuals to draw or sculpt a particular feeling or frustration. Again, putting inner thoughts into an outward manifestation can be revealing to clients and clinicians alike. It’s ultimately another tool to help move the conversation along, encourage healing, and aid in the self-discovery process.
Creating a safe and nurturing space for creativity to flow
Art, like math or music, or life in general, is a lot about patterns. Often it's hard to notice or identify certain patterns in our lives until they are presented in a new light or context. Certain recurring themes may arise while working on an art piece or doing dance therapy. Is there a sense of loss or something missing? What does that look like and how does it feel? When you hear a certain song are you aware of a lightness in your body. How do you move differently with that song playing? What happens when you work with your hands and try talk therapy at the same time? These are just glimpses into how you might approach a creative art therapy session.
Art can be a way to express a part of yourself that too often goes un-championed. Tapping into your creativity can unleash other aspects of yourself that you can use not only to express thoughts and feelings, but also to remember that you have agency and boundless abilities. Unlocking one level of creativity can often spill into discovering other layers of you have within.
Some clients may be nervous initially, since we all tend to let doubt creep in when it comes to our own creative abilities. As children we generally enjoy art and making crafts, and are encouraged to create, dance, and make music without having to whip up a masterpiece. Unfortunately over time we let our own insecurities or the comments of others hamper our expressive nature. Sadly, this happens for some people even as children if there's not encouragement or an environment that provides a safe place for creativity.
We’ll work together
You and I will make sure the time we spend working together is supportive, affirming, and effective. If we employ art therapy techniques, my hope is that they become useful ways to work through issues and help you heal from past and present hurt or make discoveries about yourself.
I employ creative arts therapy after discussing various therapeutic approaches with a client (or clients) and identifying it as one that may work to advance self-exploration and understanding, shed a light on group dynamics, or provide new insights. As a creative therapy it can be particularly helpful for those who deal with developmental delays or experienced early childhood trauma. Art therapy can provide unique ways to address depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges as well.
My practice is grounded in principles of mindfulness and human connection. Whichever tools and techniques we incorporate to help you on a path to wellness, it's all about providing a nurturing space for questions, reflection and growth. In other words, helping you do the work. Whether you are struggling to overcome trauma, deal with depression, or manage anxiety, I believe that there is power in the creative process that helps with healing and wholeness.
Since we opened with a quote, let's end with one as well. Famous French painter and sculptor, Edgar Degas reportedly said, "Art is not what you see, but what you make others see." In the context of psychotherapy, it’s one way to unlock a different level of self-expression, and can help your communication with others. Whether it’s a playful dance, or delving deeper into a difficult issue while your hands work away at some clay, art therapy is one of many approaches that can help you on your healing journey.
Reach out with questions or to start sessions
I look forward to hearing from you and discussing what it might look like to work together. Though my in-person practice was based in Brooklyn, NY, I am currently conducting all sessions online via Telehealth. I am able to work with clients from anywhere in New York, or across the country. Just know that treatment with me is a safe space, wherever it is.
I have a Master of Social Work from New York University. Additionally, I was trained in Art and Dance Therapy at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. In my role as an art therapist I look to see where we can incorporate creativity on the journey to healing and self-awareness. Let’s talk.
Becca Leitman's lens and therapeutic approach are rooted in Attachment Therapy. I believe there is great importance in developing healthy, emotionally-fulfilling connections with yourself and those closest to you. I am currently conducting all sessions online via Telehealth. I am able to work with clients from anywhere in New York, or across the country. Just know that treatment with me is a safe and confidential space, wherever it is. Let’s talk. Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest , Psychology Today and LinkedIn for mental health guidance, stress and anxiety tips, therapy resources and more.