Creative Arts Therapies Go Beyond Language

Throughout his work, Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche expressed concern with (lambasted, even) people’s preoccupation with language, a system he saw as insufficient to express the complexity and depth of human experience.

In his 1873 notes for his incomplete book, Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, Nietzsche wrote, “Words are but symbols for the relations of things to one another and to us; nowhere do they touch upon absolute truth….Through words and concepts we shall never reach beyond the wall of relations, to some sort of fabulous primal ground of things.”

The “fabulous primal ground of things” sounds like a place to discover and express — where ritual, play and creativity can spring. If the expression of the mind and human experience to be limited by words, then what other expressive avenues are available? And, if we seek to heal the mind, spirit and body, what therapeutic techniques are available besides talking and talking and talking?

Recently, I had a conversation with three Whitehorse therapists; and caught a glimpse of “fabulous primal ground of things” as a therapeutic base for wordless acts such as dancing, drumming, drawing, and playing.

“Sometimes creative arts therapies can go to places where people don’t have words,” says creative arts therapist Louise Hardy, MA. “The client has images, sounds, sights and they need time to allow for those to come out, and to be able to have [a record of these sensations] as an object outside themselves in order to do the analytical work of what may have happened to them.

“Therapies validate the irrational; often distress is expressed in unhelpful behaviours that don’t seem to make sense and are not healing. Expression through movement, stories, music and art often allow trauma or old memories to surface in ways that become visible. The therapeutic aspect is created and supported by the therapist who keeps the expressive process safe and confidential.”

Hardy suggests creative arts therapies act on catalytic, healing and transcendent levels not just for individuals, but for also communities, especially in commemorative or grieving contexts.

Leona Corniere, registered psychologist, specializes in the evidence-based practice of play therapy for children. She also underlines the importance of non-lingual expression, noting “Many adults seek help through talk therapy. For children, especially young children, talking isn’t what they do. They play — it is their language and the power of play is phenomenal. The therapy room becomes a safe place for the child.”

Corniere also notes when working with children, you work with their parents and guardians too, and language comes into play (pun intended) when caregivers, child and therapist join together to discuss the child’s process.

Mark Kelly, MEd, is a photo therapist who uses personal and historic photos, self-portraiture and photo recreation with his clients. He identifies financial restraints (waitlists for free services can be long), lack of instant results, and stigmas around mental health as barriers to seeking help through creative art therapies.

Hardy, Corniere, and Kelly all emphasize the importance of seeing a trained creative arts therapist. They also stress the need to change attitudes towards mental health. “(We wish to) to normalize seeking mental health support and to recognize that therapy is engaging, creative and profound,” says Hardy. “Then we can start to make sense of fear or other reactions and impulses that seem to drive or control our lives.”

Kelly further reflects, “Seeking counseling is an expression of strength, not of weakness. You are in the best place to help your community if you are in a healthy place yourself. It’s not about being selfishly motivated, but it is about being a good person for your community.”

For more information about creative arts therapies visit the Creative Arts in Counseling section of the Canadian Counseling and Psychotherapy Association at

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