Positive Arts Interventions: Creative Tools Helping Mental Health Students Flourish

  • Olena Helen DarewychEmail author


Throughout history, the arts such as dancing, drumming, painting, and storytelling have been used by humans as healing practices and creative means to express life experiences, thoughts, and emotions. Due to the natural evolution of the human capacity for creative expression, contemporary expressive arts therapists integrate creative interventions in their clinical practice to support the cognitive, emotional, physical, social, and spiritual well-being of clients. Expressive arts therapists who take on the role as educators commonly implement creative interventions in their active learning classrooms for mental health students to express and tangibly represent positive psychology concepts such as creativity, goals, strengths, and life meaning. This chapter provides an overview of the expressive arts therapies and presents action-oriented positive arts interventions that enable higher education mental health students to foster self-reflection and personal drivers in order to flourish as future mental health practitioners. Specifically, the aim is to highlight the extent towards which positive arts interventions could be employed to form cultural identity, identify character strengths, gain insight into creative self-care interests, and examine career anchors. Such positive arts interventions help students become self-aware and culturally-sensitive mental health practitioners in our pluralistic society. The chapter includes case examples illustrating the integration of the arts in higher educational settings.


Expressive arts therapies Multicultural sensitive Positive arts Positive arts interventions Positive psychology 



The author would like to thank the higher education mental health students who consented to including their artwork with written associations for this publication.


  1. Carey, L. J. (2006). Expressive and creative arts methods for trauma survivors. Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.Google Scholar
  2. Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and intervention. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.Google Scholar
  3. Corey, G., Schneider Corey, M., Corey, C., & Callanan, P. (2015). Issues and ethics in the helping professions (9th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.Google Scholar
  4. Darewych, O. H. (2014). The bridge drawing with path art-based assessment: Measuring meaningful life pathways in higher education students (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database (UMI No. 3615961).Google Scholar
  5. Darewych, O. H. (2018). Digital devices as creative expressive tools for adults with autism. In C. Malchiodi (Ed.), The handbook of art therapy and digital technology (pp. 317–331). London, UK: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.Google Scholar
  6. Darewych, O. H., & Riedel Bowers, N. (2017). Positive arts interventions: Creative clinical tools promoting psychological well-being. International Journal of Art Therapy: Inscape, 23(2), 62–69. Scholar
  7. Degges-White, S., & Davis, N. L. (2011). Integrating the expressive arts into counseling practice: Theory-based interventions. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  8. Freudenberger, H. J. (1975). The staff burn-out syndrome in alternative institutions. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, and Practice, 12, 73–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Haslam, M. J. (1997). Art therapy considered within the tradition of symbolic healing. Canadian Art Therapy Association Journal, 11(1), 2–16. Scholar
  10. Knill, P. (1978). Intermodal expression (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database (UMI No. 302940451).Google Scholar
  11. Lambert, J., & Ranger, D. (2009). L’art-thérapie et la psychologie positive: Ensemble pour favoriser le déploiement des forces de vie [Art therapy and positive psychology: Working together to allow life forces to flourish]. Revue Québécoise De Psychologie, 30(3), 57–70.Google Scholar
  12. Landy, R. (1993). Persona and performance-the meaning of role in drama, therapy, and everyday life. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  13. Malchiodi, C. A. (2005). Expressive therapies (Ed.). New York, NY: The Guildford Press.Google Scholar
  14. Markus, H., & Nurius, P. (1986). Possible selves. American Psychologist, 41, 954–969. Scholar
  15. McConnell, A. R. (2011). The multiple self-aspects framework: Self-concept representation and its implications. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 15(1), 3–27. Scholar
  16. McNiff, S. (2009). Integrating the arts in therapy: History, theory, and practice. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.Google Scholar
  17. Niemiec, R. M. (2014). Mindfulness and character strengths: A practical guide to flourishing. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe Publishing.Google Scholar
  18. O’Hanlon, B., & Bertolino, B. (2012). The therapist’s notebook on positive psychology: Activities, exercises, and handouts. NewYork, NY: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Owens, R. L., & Patterson, M. M. (2013). Positive psychological interventions for children: A comparison of gratitude and best possible selves approaches. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 174(4), 403–428. Scholar
  20. Park, N., Peterson, C., & Selgiman, M. E. P. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 2(5), 603–619.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Pennebaker, J. W., & Smyth, J. M. (2016). Opening up by writing it down: How expressive writing improves health and eases emotional pain (3rd ed.). New York, NY: The Guildford Press.Google Scholar
  22. Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: NewYork.Google Scholar
  23. Riedel Bowers, N. & Darewych, O. H. (in press). Expressive Arts: Instruments for individual and community change. In P. Dunn (Ed.), Holistic healing: Theories, research and practices. Canadian Scholar Press.Google Scholar
  24. Rogers, N. (2016). Person-centred expressive arts therapy: A path to wholeness. In J. A. Rubin (Ed.), Approaches to art therapy: Theory and technique (3rd ed., pp. 230–248). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  25. Rubin, J. A. (1999). Art therapy: An introduction. Philadelphia, USA: Brunner/Mazel.Google Scholar
  26. Sandner, D. (1979). Navaho symbols of healing. New York: Dover.Google Scholar
  27. Schein, E. H. (1978). Career dynamics. In Matching individual and organizational needs. MA: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
  28. Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5–14. Addison-Wesley.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  29. Seligman, M., Ernst, R., Gillham, J., Reivich, K., & Linkin, M. (2009). Positive education: Positive psychology and classroom interventions. Oxford Review of Education, 35, 293–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Snyder, C. R., & McCullough, M. E. (2000). A positive psychology field of dreams: ‘If you build it, they will come…’. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 19(1), 151–160. Scholar
  31. Steger, F. M., Shim, Y., Rush, B. R., Brueske, R. A., Shin, J. Y., & Merriman, L. A. (2013). The mind’s eye: A photographic method for understanding meaning in people’s lives. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 8(6), 530–542. Scholar
  32. Sue, D. W., & Sue, D. (2007). Counseling the culturally different: Theory and practice (5th ed.). New York, NY: Wiley.Google Scholar
  33. Thompson, B. E., & Neimeyer, R. A. (Eds.). (2014). Grief and the expressive arts: Practices for creating meaning. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  34. Tomasulo, D. J. (2014). Positive group psychotherapy modified for adults with intellectual disabilities. Journal of Intellectual Disabilities, 18(4), 337–350. Scholar
  35. Wilkinson, R. A., & Chilton, G. (2013). Positive art therapy: Linking positive psychology to art therapy theory, practice, and research. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 30(1), 4–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Wilkinson, R. A., & Chilton, G. (2018). Positive art therapy theory and practice: Integrating positive psychology with art therapy. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  37. Weiss, L. (2004). Therapist’s guide to self-care. New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Adjunct FacultyMartin Luther University College—Wilfrid Laurier UniversityWaterlooCanada

Personalised recommendations