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Expressive Therapies

When feelings can’t be put into words, expressive therapies offer a variety of alternative ways to communicate the impact of events and experiences, as well as opportunities to assist in growth and healing by learning new coping skills through the creative arts.

Leading the Region With Multiple Expressive Therapies

Dominion Hospital stands as one of relatively few facilities in the United States to offer multiple expressive therapies to adults, adolescents and children with mental health disorders and/or the experience of trauma. We lead the Northern Virginia and metropolitan Washington, D.C., region by providing art therapy, dance/movement therapy, music therapy, recreational therapy and therapeutic yoga services close to home.

As members of Dominion Hospital’s multispecialty treatment teams, our expert expressive therapists collaborate in developing treatment plans while working with physicians, social workers, psychiatric nurses, psychiatric technicians, educators, dietitians and other clinical staff to identify and deliver the most appropriate care in the least restrictive environment possible.

Working Beyond Words

Before humans have the capacity to form words, we move. If we experience challenging situations when we don’t have words to describe them, we may display our feelings through inappropriate behaviors or by withdrawing from contact with others. Expressive therapies tap into our preverbal senses and offer nonverbal outlets to help redirect intense feelings in more productive ways. With these new skills, we feel less alone in the world, less inclined toward anger, depression or self-harming behavior and more able to express feelings that may be hard to share with others.

At Dominion Hospital, expressive therapists work in diverse, age-based group settings to help adults, adolescents and children get through a crisis and acquire new tools for coping with mental health conditions while getting back to their lives. Our therapeutic groups create safe environments to establish individual goals that help participants connect to themselves and others in the present moment, while learning new ways to manage their feelings and circumstances over time.

The American Art Therapy Association describes art therapy as "a mental health profession that uses the creative process of art making to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages."

The organization also states: "Research in the field confirms that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to become more physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy and functional, resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, handle life adjustments, and achieve insight."

In addition, "art therapy is the therapeutic use of art making, within a professional relationship, by people who experience illness, trauma, or challenges in living, and by people who seek personal development. Through creating art and reflecting on the art products and processes, people can increase awareness of self and others; cope with symptoms, stress, and traumatic experiences; enhance cognitive abilities; and enjoy the life-affirming pleasures of making art.

"Art therapists are professionals trained in both art and therapy. They are knowledgeable about human development, psychological theories, clinical practice, spiritual, multicultural and artistic traditions, and the healing potential of art. They use art in treatment, assessment and research, and provide consultations to allied professionals."

According to the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA), dance/movement therapy is "based on the empirically supported premise that the body, mind and spirit are interconnected." The association "defines dance/movement therapy as the psychotherapeutic use of movement to further the emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration of the individual.

"Dance/movement therapy is:

  • Focused on movement behavior as it emerges in the therapeutic relationship. Expressive, communicative, and adaptive behaviors are all considered for group and individual treatment. Body movement, as the core component of dance, simultaneously provides the means of assessment and the mode of intervention for dance/movement therapy.
  • Practiced in mental health, rehabilitation, medical, educational and forensic settings, and in nursing homes, day care centers, disease prevention, health promotion programs and in private practice.
  • Effective for individuals with developmental, medical, social, physical and psychological impairments.
  • Used with people of all ages, races and ethnic backgrounds in individual, couples, family and group therapy formats."

Music therapy, as described by the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), is "the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.

"Music Therapy is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. After assessing the strengths and needs of each client, the qualified music therapist provides the indicated treatment including creating, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music. Through musical involvement in the therapeutic context, clients’ abilities are strengthened and transferred to other areas of their lives. Music therapy also provides avenues for communication that can be helpful to those who find it difficult to express themselves in words. Research in music therapy supports its effectiveness in many areas such as: overall physical rehabilitation and facilitating movement, increasing people’s motivation to become engaged in their treatment, providing emotional support for clients and their families, and providing an outlet for expression of feelings."

Also known as therapeutic recreation, recreation therapy is described by the American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ATRA) as "a treatment service designed to restore, remediate and rehabilitate a person’s level of functioning and independence in life activities, to promote health and wellness as well as reduce or eliminate the activity limitations and restrictions to participation in life situations caused by an illness or disabling condition.

"Recreational therapists use a wide range of activity and community-based interventions and techniques to improve the physical, cognitive, emotional, social, and leisure needs of their clients. Recreational therapists assist clients to develop skills, knowledge, and behaviors for daily living and community involvement. Therapists work with clients and their families to incorporate specific interests and community resources into therapy to achieve optimal outcomes that transfer to real-life situations."

Recent research in trauma treatment has shown that mental illness and trauma often result in many somatically based symptoms. Introducing trauma-sensitive yoga at Dominion Hospital has addressed these symptoms through mindfulness, breathing techniques, and gentle yoga exercises. Using these modalities to establish a more positive body connection allow patients to make informed choices from inner impulses, self-soothe in a positive way, regulate emotional and physiological states, and stay safe in the present moment.

In research pertaining to school aged children, yoga therapy has been shown to improve their attitudes about themselves, physical health, and academic performance, while lowering incidents of negative behavior. At Dominion Hospital, yoga with children focuses on relaxation, anxiety and anger management, energy release, and expression of negative feelings.

Studies with at-risk adolescent populations have shown a correlation between yoga therapy and lower incidents of high school dropouts, decreased use of drug and alcohol, and more successful rehabilitation of youth in juvenile detention centers. At Dominion Hospital, yoga with adolescents focuses on teaching positive and safe techniques for self-soothing, stress management, creating independence, and establishing ownership of their choices.

Research has consistently shown that yoga therapy with adults decreases feelings of depression and loneliness, aids in management of anxiety, and increases awareness of the present moment. At Dominion Hospital, yoga with adults focuses on all of these outcomes, as well as mood regulation and overall self/life organization.

As a body-focused treatment, yoga therapy is particularly suited to the treatment of eating disorders. At Dominion Hospital, yoga therapy with Reflections focuses on reintroducing patients to their bodies in a positive and safe way, reducing feelings of worthlessness and need for comparison, increasing ability to self-regulate and soothe, and learning basic tools for relaxation.

How You Benefit

As programs for mental health care incorporate trauma-based therapy and a greater sensitivity to the long-term effects of trauma, expressive therapies provide powerful support for treating adults, adolescents and children, regardless of their mental health concerns.

Because Dominion Hospital offers multiple expressive therapies, our program participants are more able to find appealing outlets that best fit their needs and gain experience with new methods of communicating their intense feelings.

Participants in Dominion Hospital’s expressive therapy groups benefit from learning to calm themselves, build skills, realize they can start and finish an activity and begin the steps to mastery.

  • Adolescents may use art, music and movement to express their intense feelings and tell their stories. At the “Imagine Me Beyond What You See” mannequin body image art competition sponsored by the International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals Foundation, a group sculpture created by participants in our Reflections Eating Disorder Treatment program received honorable mention.
  • Adults may work with therapeutic recreation, art, music and dance/movement therapists to explore new, more productive and positive ways to spend their leisure time that can help alleviate depression or anxiety.
  • Children may find avenues to productively channel and learn to better regulate their energy, voice their feelings and connect with themselves and others through art, movement or music therapies after experiencing a traumatic or difficult situation they don’t have words to describe.
  • Most expressive therapies incorporate a verbal component in each session to help participants reflect on what they just experienced, anchor the learning and identify how it applies to their specific situation.
  • We provide feedback to appropriate treatment team members if expressive therapies uncover troubling or safety issues, so individuals get the attention they need.

Well-versed in therapeutic assistance for all types of patients, our expert expressive therapists share their extensive experience, as well as graduate and undergraduate training and professional credentials in their specific subject (art, dance/movement, music, recreation) to support the delivery of effective mental health care. Program participants learn new methods of self-care they can use for the rest of their lives.

Learn more about school refusal as a potential symptom of deeper mental health issues in children and adolescents.

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You can also find information about our education services, Partial Program and Reflections Eating Disorder Treatment Center.

Review a range of mental health topics and special information about child and teen health issues in our online Health Library.