History & Philosophy

Expressive Arts Program History

The Expressive Arts Therapy program at Appalachian State University began in 1985 with the leadership and vision of Dr. Sally Atkins, a former faculty member in the Department of Human Development and Psychological Counseling. As a counselor educator and practicing psychologist, Dr. Atkins began offering a course called Therapy and the Expressive Arts to support students in harnessing the power of the arts in their work with clients. Dr. Atkins collaborated with faculty across campus who were practicing in diverse arts modalities including dance and movement, music, poetry, and dreamwork. These faculty included counselors, arts therapists, therapists who were artists, and artists who used the creative process for personal and professional growth. They modeled the course on the concepts of an interdisciplinary approach and a creative, therapeutic community of faculty and students. In 1997, faculty members who had been collaborating in that course began to meet monthly, thereby establishing a formal interdisciplinary group known as the Appalachian Expressive Arts Collective. From their collaboration and with inspiration and support from the Hubbard Center for Faculty and Staff Support, they developed an Expressive Arts Therapy concentration within the master's degree program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling as well as a Graduate Certificate in Expressive Arts Therapy.

Program Philosophy

In the Expressive Arts Therapy program at Appalachian State University, we seek to provide a learning environment in which both intellectual and personal challenges are offered within the context of a community of learners. We strive to create an environment in which individual and cultural differences are respected, where creative innovation is prized, and where the importance of the personhood of the therapist is taught and practiced.

Premises of Expressive Arts Therapy at Appalachian include the following:

  • Expressive Arts Therapy is a collaborative process between therapist and client, scientist and artist, teacher and student. It acknowledges that all participants bring an equal voice to the conversation and make a valued contribution to the work.
  • Expressive Arts Therapy is holistic. Its goals are optimum health and well- being, rather than the diagnosis and treatment of disease and dysfunction.
  • Art making and creative expression are healing, growth-producing processes in and of themselves.
  • The capacity for creative expression is a fundamental aspect of health.
  • Expressive Arts Therapy is interdisciplinary and often involves the layering of modalities. It enlarges the capacity of the client and therapist to hold different perspectives, to speak many "languages" simultaneously.
  • Expressive Arts Therapy is depth-oriented and provides powerful access to unconscious material.
  • Body knowledge, intuitive wisdom, subjective experience, and emotions are expressed and honored as valid ways of knowing in and of themselves.
  • The integrity of an expressive arts therapist is reflected in ongoing personal use of creative expression for personal healing and growth.
  • Expressive Arts Therapy suggests the reclaiming of an ancient vision of art and therapy in society, one that integrates art and healing in the context of community.
  • In its broadest and deepest sense, Expressive Arts Therapy is a spiritual practice. It offers the possibility for meditative practice and for entry into what may be described as an experience of universal consciousness.

At Appalachian our philosophy of expressive arts therapy is inextricably linked with the natural landscape in which we live and work. We live in the ancient mountains of the Southern Appalachian Range, among Native ancestors and remnants of the earth's oldest forests. Four rivers are born in this land, including what is believed to be the oldest river on the continent of North America. This is the landscape that shapes our daily life and inhabits our souls. Nature's cycles of creation, elaboration, destruction, and regeneration provide the model for creative process in art and life.