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Understanding the Expressive Therapies Continuum Part 4: Affective Level Processing

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC

In our previous blog posts we discussed the base level of the Expressive Therapies Continuum, which included two components, including the Kinesthetic component and the Sensory component. As we move towards the middle level of the ETC, we tap into the emotional aspects connected with information processing. In this blog post, we will explore the Affective component of information processing on the Expressive Therapies Continuum.

The Affective component of the ETC, according to Kagin and Lusebrink (1978) and more recently summarized by Lisa Hinz, is adjacent to the Perceptual component and it “...describes the emotion aroused in the individual, and accessed and expressed by him or her through interaction with art media.” At this end of the spectrum on the emotional level of the ETC, the goal is to ‘amplify’ the expression of feelings through a creative art process. When working on this component, the focus is placed on naming/identifying and working directly with one’s emotions. Considering how one is feeling in the moment and being able to express that outwardly via drawing, painting, clay, etc.

For many of us, it may be difficult to discern emotions and accurately identify how we are feeling in a given moment, as well as be able to appropriately express them. Hinz pointed out that there are different ways that we all relate to our emotions- we might hide them, have difficulties containing them or find ways to mask them. At the Affective component of the ETC, we are focused on understanding how emotions function- what they do for us and what information they provide regarding our external environments and inner responses to them.

Ways of promoting emotional expression using art materials includes use of various colors and more fluid/less restrictive materials, according to Hinz. For example, the use of watercolor paints using the wet on wet technique would be one example of exploring emotional responses to the flow and movement of the paint on the surface. Abstracted forms, shapes and lines are also effective means by which the individual artist can utilize basic elements to express complex and often uncomfortable emotions.

In working from the Affective component of the ETC, a core goal is to be able to not only identify emotions accurately, but also experience a range of emotions that may be challenging or unfamiliar territory for certain individuals who have built up strong defenses. With the use of art materials as a catalyst for expression of emotion, the focus on verbal processing is de-emphasized in relation to the therapeutic aspects of the image-making process. Often use of vibrant, saturated colors is a prime way of expressing emotional content in imagery along with basic lines in a variety of forms and directions.

Hinz outlined examples of art directives and activities that promote affective material and information processing, which included painting to music, depicting mood states, drawing or painting primary emotions, drawing a feeling state using line, shape, color and form, and creating a body map of feelings and where they are located in the body. Within these different activities is the possibility of exploring emotional content in a non-threatening and safe way.

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