1. Dynamics of Expressive Writing
2. Combining Visuals and Words
3. Self-Discovery Through Integration
4. Free Download Art Therapy Exercise


Traditionally, art therapy has centered on the therapeutic outcomes of self-expression through visual arts, while linguistic expressions, such as writing, have been less emphasized. Using expressive writing with traditional art therapy practices presents an integrative potential of both modalities embracing the multisensory and multimodal aspects of human expression. Recognizing and honoring both visual and linguistic “voices” is crucial in understanding individuals as they express themselves.

Expressive writing is often characterized by articulating personal thoughts and feelings about lived experiences through writing. This form of expression can takes various forms including free writing, narrative story-telling, poetry, and more. While art therapy has typically taken an approach to embrace more visual expression, using expressive writing with art therapy can provide an augmented experience for some clients.

Research has consistently demonstrated the positive effects of written emotional expression on health and psychological well-being. Expressive writing fosters self-exploration, insight, as well as developing self-regulation skills, emotional intelligence, and enhanced self-integration.

While expressive writing may be most suited for individuals comfortable with verbal expression, proponents of art therapy argue that combining art making with writing, often referred to as visual or art journaling, can be beneficial.

Expressive writing provides a unique avenue for individuals to delve into the depths of their emotions. In art therapy, encouraging clients to articulate their feelings through written expression complements visual art, adding a layer of verbal exploration to the creative process.

Incorporating writing prompts alongside art directives can open new channels of creativity. Art therapists can guide clients to explore the emotions evoked by their artwork through expressive writing. This simultaneous engagement with words and images encourages a holistic approach to self-expression.

Integrating journaling into art therapy sessions creates a continuous thread of self-reflection. Clients can use written journals to document their thoughts and emotions related to their artistic endeavors. This practice encourages introspection and contributes to a comprehensive understanding of the therapeutic process.


One example of combining art and expressive writing is art journaling. Art journaling is a mixed-media approach that combines artistic expression with reflective or expressive writing and is typically presented in a bound journal or loose pages.

Guiding Clients through Artistic Narratives

Art therapists can guide clients in constructing narratives around their artwork. Expressive writing serves as a tool to articulate the stories behind the visuals, allowing for a deeper exploration of the meaning and symbolism embedded in the artistic creations. Narrative writing views healing as a meaning-constructing activity, encouraging individuals to co-author life narratives to integrate experiences and find coherence.

Clients can articulate the emotions, memories, and insights triggered by their artwork and foster a holistic understanding of their creative expressions. This dual modality approach provides a richer context for both the therapist and the client to explore and understand the layers of meaning inherent in their art.

Visual Journaling: A Symbiotic Practice

Visual journaling involves the integration of both visual and written elements within the same space. Art therapists can introduce clients to the concept of creating a visual journal, encouraging them to combine sketches, collages, or paintings with expressive writing. This practice nurtures a harmonious blend of creative expression.

The act of combining visual elements with expressive writing in a journal format offers clients a versatile means of self-exploration. Through the intentional marriage of images and words, individuals can explore layers of their emotions, thoughts, and experiences. The visual journal becomes a tangible space of the client’s experiences and can serve as progressive diary over time that the client can reflect back on to contemplate their progress. Clients can revisit their entries over time, observing the evolution of their thoughts and emotions. The visual journal becomes a living document, capturing the ebb and flow of their internal landscapes, and fostering a sense of continuity and self-awareness.

Word Collages: Bridging Visual and Verbal Expression

Word collages involve the incorporation of written words into visual artworks. Art therapists can guide clients in selecting and integrating relevant words, phrases, or affirmations into their creations. This technique bridges the gap between visual and verbal expression and can foster a cohesive and integrated form of self-expression.

Art therapists can facilitate the creation of word collages by providing a variety of written materials, such as magazines, newspapers, or printed words, from which clients can select words that hold personal significance. Alternatively, clients may choose to bring their own words or phrases to incorporate into the artwork, adding an extra layer of personalization to the creative process.

The beauty of word collages lies in their ability to bridge the gap between visual and verbal expression. The integration of written language into visual artworks offers a cohesive form of self-expression, allowing individuals to communicate on multiple levels simultaneously.


As you do the following exercise, it’s helpful to keep in mind that expressive writing focuses more on your feelings and less on the details of your experiences. You can write the details for context, however, the general benefits of expressive writing is centered on expressing your thoughts and feelings about the experience or event, as it is generally our feelings about the experience is what is holding us back. This exercise is based on the work by James Pennebaker and involves a free flow of writing about a stressful experience. This writing exercise can then be used to identify important emotions that arise during the writing process.

NOTE: If you’re creating your artwork in a journal, you may want to consider your choice of materials to include in this exercise so that your journal remains useable. If you prefer to use bulky textures that don’t suit a journal/book, you can create this exercise on a loose sheet of paper instead.

  • Take a few minutes to sit quietly before you start the exercise. You may like to sit with your eyes closed and use some breathing exercises. A great breathing exercise that can help regulate your breathing is the 4-7-8 method developed by Dr Andrew Weil. To undertake this exercise, inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds and exhale for 8 seconds. You may want to repeat this process for 4-6 times.
  • Give yourself at least 30 mins for this exercise.
  • Grab a piece of blank paper. As this exercise begins with writing and is followed by creating an artwork, you may want to use a blank sheet of paper that can withstand the properties of art supplies.
  • For approximately 10-20 mins write about your experience. You don’t need to write neatly or even legibly as you will be creating art on top of your writing. Focus on the emotion and the meaning behind the experience and not so much on the details
  • After writing about your experience, take a moment to sit quietly with your thoughts and refocus your breath using the breathing protocol at the start of this exercise. Inhale 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds and exhale for 8 seconds.
  • Now is the time to transform this written experience. Grab a paint and cover over your writing. As you are painting over your writing, reflect on how we have an opportunity to redefine the space we find ourselves in. We have an opportunity to use our day as a fresh canvas to invite understanding, introspection, and self-compassion into our lives. You may wish to choose paint colours that reflect this opportunity.
  • Once the paint has dried, think of imagery or affirmative words that you might want to create on top. Don’t think too hard about these decisions and work with the flow of what comes to mind. Keep in mind that your goal is transformation and embracing a fresh canvas to your day.


Exploring Emotions Through Artistic Responses

Expressive writing provides a structured platform for clients to explore and articulate the emotions evoked by their artwork. Art therapists can encourage clients to respond to their visual creations through written reflections, deepening the understanding of the emotional landscape within the therapeutic process.

Expressive writing serves as an intentional protocol that provides clients with a framework to explore their emotions. Art therapists may encourage clients to delve into the sensory and emotional nuances conveyed through creating art by prompting clients to reflect on the symbolism, colours, and forms that emerge on the canvas.

Written reflections become a vital tool for self-discovery and introspection. Clients can explore the reasons behind their artistic choices, unraveling the personal significance attached to specific images or themes. This reflective dialogue enables a deeper understanding of the emotional responses triggered by the creative process that in turn fosters a sense of self-awareness and insight.

Art therapists may guide clients in framing their written reflections with open-ended prompts, encouraging them to explore questions such as:

  • How do the colors in your artwork represent your emotions?
  • What memories or experiences does this particular image evoke for you?
  • In what ways does your artwork express aspects of your current emotional state?

By providing a structured approach to exploring emotions, expressive writing becomes a valuable tool for clients to externalize and process their internal experiences. This integrated method allows for a holistic engagement with the therapeutic journey, ensuring that both the visual and verbal aspects of expression contribute to a comprehensive understanding of the client’s emotional landscape.

In practical terms, an art therapy session may involve a client creating a visual artwork that evokes a range of emotions. Following the completion of the artwork, the art therapist invites the client to engage in a focused and reflective writing exercise. The client may use prompts to guide their written exploration of the artwork, unraveling the layers of meaning and emotion embedded in their creative expression.

Through this integrated approach, clients not only create meaningful artwork but also develop a nuanced and articulate language for expressing their emotional experiences. The synthesis of expressive writing and artistic responses becomes a powerful catalyst for self-discovery, facilitating a richer therapeutic dialogue and contributing to the overall growth and well-being of the individual.

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Art Therapy and Expressive Writing: Words and Images<br />

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Art Therapy and Expressive Writing: Words and Images<br />

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