Creative therapies enable you to express yourself in a variety of ways, often without using words, such as through painting, drawing, photography, dance, music or drama.

A creative arts therapist will offer you a safe, non-judgmental space to help you explore what you’re feeling and how that’s reflected in your creations. Through creative materials and activities, they will support you to understand yourself better, help you to process feelings and make positive changes in your life.

Some therapists combine creative activities with talking therapy as part of their sessions. But there are also those who are trained in a specific form of art therapy and have specialist titles, such as art therapist, play therapist, music therapist and drama therapist. 

How does creative arts therapy work?

Our member Ani de la Prida, who is a creative arts counsellor, says: “Creative approaches offer the inner subconscious an outlet for expression.

“This expression often emerges in metaphor, the meaning of which  may be hidden from the client’s awareness. Having the opportunity to express and then explore it can be incredibly powerful, helpful and healing.”

Art, play, music and drama therapy all include creative processes that can help you to explore and communicate issues, feelings and emotions in a way that can be therapeutic. For instance, during music therapy you may listen to music, play instruments or sing. Play therapy could involve dressing up or playing out difficult experiences with small figures, soft toys or puppets.

Probably one of the biggest concerns of people considering creative therapies is the idea that you have to be good at art, music or whatever type of therapy you're doing. "But actually you don't," says Ani. "It’s really about the process of creating and expressing something and not the finished article. In fact, most people are surprised by what they can create once they relax.”

How do creative therapies help?

Doing a creative activity with a therapist can help put you at ease. It can be a helpful way to communicate if you struggle to explain how you’re feeling or find words to describe what you’re going through.

“Creative approaches can work really well when people don’t consciously know what the problem is or what will help, as this approach also works at a subconscious level," says Ani.

How the therapy helps will differ depending on the client’s needs and the type of therapy they're having.

“One client may want to use art to express something that is hard to put into words, while another may want to explore an issue in depth,” she explains.

"If someone is angry with a friend, they may not recognise their feelings or be able to talk about it. But they might choose a figure in a sand tray to hit and bury, or draw a flower which they then rip up and throw in the bin.

“In these ways creative arts can provide a safe outlet for their anger to be expressed.”

What are creative therapies used for?

“Creative therapies can be used with all age groups and with individuals, couples and groups, and can be helpful with many different issues,” says Ani.

They may be particularly helpful when working with trauma as they can help you process traumatic experiences which are often stored non-verbally in the brain. But creative arts therapies can also help with many other issues such as anxiety, depression and bereavement.

How much time you spend on creative activities depends on the individual therapist and client. Ani says: “I have some clients who like to work with art occasionally, while others like to work with it every week and all session. I find the best approach is to work collaboratively with each client and their preferences.”

How do you find a creative therapist?

Specialist titles such as art therapist, play therapist, music therapist and drama therapist are protected. This means the therapist must have specific training, usually at MA level, and be regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

Counsellors and therapists may use creative activities within their therapy and often also have training in creative approaches, and they may use the title creative arts counsellor or similar. You can ask your therapist about their registrations, qualifications, training and experience in this area.

If you're looking for a creative therapist, find someone who is listed on a Professional Standards Accredited register, such as BACP’s register.

You can find registered BACP members who practise different types of therapy on our Therapist directory.