Imagine you’re a new client, coming in for talk therapy with a counselor. You arrive at the office, seat yourself and wait for your therapist to call you in. Once you are in the room, your counselor greets you warmly, introduces themselves and begins the session. It begins as you expect, with a lot of talking. However, near the end of the session, the therapist pulls out a large canvas notebook and colored pencils. You’re intrigued, but taken off-guard. Are they going to draw me? Ask me to draw them? However, your therapist smiles, hands you the materials, and asks you to draw your feelings about the session that day. You’re unsure how to take this, but as you begin to draw, your mind feels calmer and it quiets the anxiety you felt throughout the session. It is as if getting it onto the paper has freed it from bouncing around your agitated mind. Once you are done, your new therapist takes the time to discuss the drawing with you and you realize that you are able to make connections and think about the session in a new way after drawing it out. At the end of the session, you thank your new therapist and head out of the office, feeling surprised, but excited to continue trying this unexpected part of therapy.
Expressive Arts in Therapy
Expressive arts is a form of therapy in which artistic expression is used to process emotions or express ideas that are sometimes difficult to present verbally. Many different art forms can be used, including dance, writing, sculpting, drawing, creating a collage, coloring, music, and drama. Many people already do one or many of these as hobbies in their daily life. This form of therapeutic technique is probably the most well-known and most used of those that I am presenting in this article.
So what sorts of issues can expressive arts help address? An article by VeryWellMind lists these as the possible concerns and conditions it can help with: anxiety, ADHD, grief, depression, eating disorders, emotional and interpersonal issues, self-esteem, PTSD, and, of course, stress. These issues are common and this shows that almost everyone who enters into therapy could benefit somehow from expressive art usage in therapy.
Video Games in Therapy
Okay, this sounds strange, I know. I admit that even I did not think of video games as being a therapeutic tool until recently. However, there are already therapists who use video games in sessions. Andrew Fishman, LCSW, reports using video games as a therapeutic tool to facilitate conversation, teach children emotion regulation, build a relationship with a client, and even teach and practice skills. Some of you may be able to think of some games that have therapeutic themes. Spiritfarer is one that came immediately to my mind as a wonderful game centered around processing grief. Others include Animal Crossing New Horizons (self-care anyone?), It Takes Two (this game is basically centered around couples therapy), Pico Park (cooperation in a group has never been so important), and Pokemon (helpful to teach patience and consequences to children). Ultimately, video game usage in therapy is not so unusual or unattainable. Games such as Uno or checkers have been used in therapy for quite some time, especially with adolescents and children.
So what are the possible ways in which your therapist could use video games in therapy? Honestly, a therapist may simply play Mario Kart with you as a way to have something to do as you are talking. Something about speeding down a track and throwing shells at each other can make people more likely to discuss difficult topics. Another usage may be connection and learning more about you. After all, your Animal Crossing island or Stardew Valley farm can say a lot about your personality. Discussing who you choose to romance in a game or who is your favorite villager is another way for your therapist to gain insights into what you’re coming into therapy for. Lastly, some games allow your therapist to teach and role-play or practice skills. Andrew Fishman states that he uses games such as Call of Duty in order to model and teach emotion regulation skills to children. Therefore, if playing video games is one of your favorite hobbies, perhaps you may ask your therapist about integrating a game into your therapeutic experience.
Animal-assisted therapy is when animals are used in therapy sessions to enhance or supplement the therapeutic experience. Many different kinds of animals can be used as therapy animals. For example, as a client in animal-assisted therapy, I worked with a tortoise. An article by TheraPet reveals that other animals that can be used are dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, guinea pigs, pigs, and even llamas. Dogs are the most commonly used animal in animal-assisted therapy because of their prevalence as a pet and their ease of training.
Some benefits of participating in animal-assisted therapy include a reduction in blood pressure, lowered stress and anxiety levels, enhanced self-esteem, increased emotional awareness and regulation, reduced aggression and loneliness, improved immune system, increased trust and trustworthiness, reduction of depression, and a stimulation of positive communication (Benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy). If walking your dog or playing with your pet is one of your favorite hobbies, animal-assisted therapy could be a good fit for your therapeutic needs!
There you have it. Which of these hobbies would you be interested in adding to your therapeutic experience? Think it over, and maybe the next time you’re searching for a new therapist, you’ll be looking for one who includes your hobby in their work.
Center, Counseling. “Benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy.” Advanced Counseling Services, LifeStance Health, 17 Jan. 2018, https://advancedcounseling.info/benefits-of-animal-assisted-therapy/.
Cherry, Kendra. “What Is Expressive Arts Therapy?” Verywell Mind, Verywell Mind, 19 Aug. 2021, https://www.verywellmind.com/expressive-arts-therapy-definition-types-techniques-and-efficacy-5197564.
Fishman, Andrew. “Why I Play Video Games with My Therapy Clients.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 7 Mar. 2022, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/video-game-health/202203/why-i-play-video-games-my-therapy-clients.
“What Is AAT?” TheraPet Animal Assisted Therapy, TheraPet, https://therapet.org/about/what-is-animal-assisted-therapy/.