Talking louder and prouder about the help we need - Alana Perri

Over the last four years, I have had the honour and privilege of facilitating Expressive Arts Therapy group-sessions through my coordinated practicums with the Centre of Expressive Arts Therapy Education (CREATE) as well as, through my personal operations as an Expressive Arts Therapy Practitioner (APexatp). For those who aren’t familiar with Expressive Arts Therapy (EXAT), it is the intermodal use of art-forms as a therapeutic process (as defined by ME!).

I have a deep passion for EXAT and I am compelled to make change. I have first-hand experience within the EXAT world, and can honestly say that this is a vital component of human health that is being under-utilized in the Ontario health care system. There is an imbalance in regards to who is granted access to this crucial resource of human health; and I stand by Shaun McNiff when he says “we need nothing less than a revolution in the way we approach healing and art-making”.

In my experience, I have witnessed the immediate effectiveness of EXAT, personally and through client feedback. Participants felt relieved of stress, general mood enhancement, enhanced overall well-being, and a better understanding of the struggles of everyday life after each session. Studies done by Stuckey & Nobel proved the medical benefits of engaging the arts with healthcare and concluded some outstanding results including, “improved medical outcomes and trends toward reduced depression and hemodialysis parameters of patients living with hemodialysis that engaged in visual arts activities” and “improvements in quality of life, shoulder range of motion, and body image in patients living with breast cancer that engaged in movement based creative expression”. Therefore, the focus of my research is generated around the question; why isn’t EXAT, along with other forms of alternative therapies, as accessible as clinical therapies or medical clinics in Ontario? Arts-based therapies are proving to be equally as beneficial and valuable as registered, clinical talk-based therapy and should be treated with the same respect, credibility and parameters of patient accessibility and legal access within the Ontario Government.

Every day when I go to work, I'm reminded how mildly accessible alternative forms of therapy, specifically EXAT, is to the general public. The makeup of each EXAT group consisted of, university students, seniors living under hospice/palliative care, adults with HIV/AIDs, children with complex developmental disabilities, and young adults in the St. Catharines region, with a majority of each group having come from low-income households. At this point, I can only imagine how difficult it could be for any participant to access EXAT had they not been given the opportunity to participate in free sessions from agencies like Hospice Toronto, The Resource Association for Teens (The RAFT), Brock University Students Union (BUSU), etc., as many EXAT services range from approx. $60-150/hour for personal therapy sessions, and is not covered by many insurance/benefit plans or OHIP. These facts, as well as visibility and awareness of the existence of alternate therapies, are what make it practically impossible for individuals to access therapy on their own.

Not everyone was born to be a professional artist but, many individuals engage in these artistic activities because they provide a sense of accomplishment, a greater sense of self, and an outer expression of the inner-self, which is not always accessible when using clinical talk-based therapies. The resources are available but, I feel a strong personal responsibility to expedite the process and to help make EXAT accessible to anyone willing to play, share, and explore the Arts.

We are all going to need some assistance at some point in our lives. Together, it is our duty to make help that much easier to access. 

My experience at CREATE has provided me with the resources I need to offer EXAT but unfortunately, the policies that shape this province make it very difficult to execute and offer this service.

I am confident that by making our voices heard and having the proper conversations, together we will have the tools to help elicit change.