Expressive Arts Therapy: A Creative Career Path

Expressive arts therapy meets the creative therapist.

Posted Jul 29, 2014

Artwork by Sue Ann Young

As a formal practice, expressive arts and expressive arts therapy emerged from a number of sources. Natalie Rogers, Paolo Knill, Shaun McNiff and others are both historic and contemporary figures in the field. However, the practice emerged from the widely accepted belief that the arts and creative expression tap imaginal sources used by humans as a form of health-seeking behavior throughout collective history. In particular, expressive arts therapy capitalizes on the natural capacity of creativity and in many cases, creative community [aka group work] for wellness.

Currently, the practice of expressive arts therapy is not regulated by any state in the US or to my knowledge, any country. However, much like the specialty practice of play therapy, you may want to pursue formal education in it in order to establish a competency to practice as an expressive arts therapist. IEATA is the professional guild that promotes professional competence, excellence and ethical standards of practice in expressive arts therapy. It has established a registration process to obtain the Registered Expressive Arts Therapist [REAT] credential [yes, I proudly hold a REAT] and one for Registered Expressive Arts Consultant/Educators [REACE]. To obtain the REAT you can complete one of a number of options for education and experience, including a master’s degree in expressive arts therapy or equivalent. You may also hold a master’s degree in Psychology, Educational Psychology, Counseling, Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy, or related mental health discipline and completion additional training in expressive arts therapy from one of many institute and certificate programs around the US and the world. The latter is a nice option for those mental health professionals who already have completed a master’s or doctoral degree and hold a clinical license to practice psychotherapy. There are some additional requirements outlined on the IEATA website at

In brief, using expressive arts in therapy expands the ways that clients can make meaning, experience reparation and find a sense of well-being. As a form of psychotherapy, it transcends and circumvents verbal language, providing both client and therapist with additional ways to help individuals of all ages express themselves through brain-wise, mind-body resonant approaches. Most of all, expressive arts therapy offers another avenue for clients to communicate experiences, perceptions and world views—and it offers therapists a meaningful and creative alternative to helping clients.

Keep calm and call an expressive arts therapist,

Cathy Malchiodi, PhD, LPCC, LPAT, ATR-BC, REAT

© 2014 Cathy Malchiodi


Estrella, K. (2005). Expressive therapy: An integrated arts approach. In C. A. Malchiodi (Ed.), Expressive therapies (pp. 183–209). New York: Guilford Press.

Knill, P., Levine, E., & Levine, S. (2005). Principles and practice of expressive arts therapy: Towards a therapeutic aesthetics. London, UK: Jessica Kingsley.

Malchiodi, C. A. (2005). Expressive therapies. New York: Guilford Press.

McNiff, S. (2009). Integrating the arts in therapy. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas.

Rogers, N. (1993). The creative connection: Expressive arts as healing. Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior Books.

For information on art therapy as a career path, please see my series "So You Want to be an Art Therapist" at

For information on Trauma-Informed Art Therapy®--- visit Trauma-Informed Practices and Expressive Arts Therapy Institute at

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