Therapy for creative healing

Walking into creative art therapist Lisa Fladager’s Langley home studio is like entering a sanctuary with toys. There are two low tables on either side of two cozy, overstuffed chairs where she welcomes clients.

Walking into creative art therapist Lisa Fladager’s Langley home studio is like entering a sanctuary with toys.

There are two low tables on either side of two cozy, overstuffed chairs where she welcomes clients.

On one table there is a small sandbox below two shelves that are teeming with figurines, rubber snakes, tiny animal sculptures, bones, starfish, shells, crystals, spiritual icons, Disney characters and all manner of tiny klotches that one would find in a child’s toy chest.

Opposite there is a glass block on which to smear paint and paper to cover the paint and scratch out a painting with your fingers. Beyond this room is a movement studio where clients are encouraged to express their innermost feelings through dance.

Fladager is no ordinary therapist. She holds a master’s degree in creative arts therapy, with a specialization in dance/movement therapy. She is also a licensed mental health counselor and a registered dance therapist with the American Dance Therapy Association.

Creative week

March 18 is the beginning of National Creative Arts Therapy Week and Fladager wants to get the word out about a service that has helped thousands of people.

Creative arts therapists are human service professionals who use arts modalities and creative processes to ameliorate disability and illness and optimize health. Treatment outcomes can include improving communication and expression, and increasing physical, emotional, cognitive and social functioning. The therapies are practiced in mental health rehabilitation centers, medical and educational settings, nursing homes, daycare centers, and in forensic, disease prevention and health promotion programs.

There are more than 10,000 creative arts therapists practicing in the United States and around the world. Creative arts therapy organizations have been active in this country for more than 50 years, and the National Coalition of Arts Therapies Associations (NCATA) is celebrating its 20th birthday this year.

Creative arts therapies include fine art therapy, dance/movement therapy, drama therapy, music therapy, poetry therapy and psychodrama.

Dance and release

Fladager uses “authentic movement,” a simple form of self-directed movement defined by the American Dance Therapy Association as “the psychotherapeutic use of movement as a process which furthers the emotional, social, cognitive, physical and spiritual integration of the individual.”

Authentic movement is usually done with eyes closed and attention directed inward, in the presence of at least one witness. Movers explore spontaneous gestures, movements and stillness following their inner impulses in the moment. The witness watches and tracks inner responses to the mover with the intention of not judging, but focusing on the movers self-awareness.

“Each of us have movements and patterns that are unique to us,” Fladager said. “These movements are connected to the core of our being and creative movement can help build a bridge to what lives deeply within us.”

Fladager said that although she specializes in authentic movement, she also uses other modalities to give her clients the opportunity to explore their feelings in other ways as well. Thus, the “sand tray” and “creative touch drawing” tables that round out her movement studio.

According to Fladager, another Langley resident, Deborah Koff-Chapin, is responsible for the introduction of the “creative touch drawing” therapy. Fladager demonstrated how a patient may have a feeling that comes out in a gesture. They can then sit down at the drawing table and use the paper and paint in such a way that uses the gesture and the ones that follow to create paintings that can reflect back images that may clarify feelings or just simply relieve the person of a burden.

“It’s just a matter of trusting the continual process of keeping the movement going and putting it on to the paper. Things emerge from the process,” Fladager said.

Jungian symbols

Many of the ideas of creative art therapy came out of the teachings of Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychiatrist and founder of analytical psychology. Jung said “The symbols of the ‘Self’ arise in the depths of the body.”

Fladager explained that when a client goes through the process of creating movement, a sand sculpture or a drawing and has that feeling or image reflected back to them it is seen as the “symbol” that Jung spoke of and can be a powerful release of feeling.

Jung’s work with active imagination allowed patients to follow with interest their deepest impulses in a safe therapeutic environment. Fladager said Jung discovered that the process was innately healing when he himself spent days on the beach building shapes with sand during a particularly low point in his life.

“Temenos” is the Greek word for a piece of land marked off from common uses and dedicated to a god, a sanctuary, or a holy grove. In creative art therapy, the word is used to describe the contained place where one can be free and safe to follow one’s creative impulses; the place protected by the therapist that allows someone to explore the deepest parts of their core.

Therapy Island

Creative art therapists seem to be drawn to Whidbey Island.

Barbara Dunn is a board-certified music therapist and a member of the American Music Therapy Association. She is also a founding member of the Music Therapy Association of Washington and works with patients at Whidbey General Hospital and the Bailey-Boushay House in Seattle, as well as privately.

Music therapy became popular in the 1940s during World War II as a form of healing and relief for veterans returning from the war. It is still being used for that purpose today as well as a tool for the terminally ill.

Maxine Borowsky-Junge is another South End resident who practices art therapy. Her recent book with co-author Harriet Wadeson, “Architects of Art Therapy: Memoirs and Life Stories,” is a creative, spirited collection of the personal histories of art therapists who have been prominent in shaping art therapy. Borowsky-Junge will hold a book signing at noon on Thursday, March 15 at Kiichli’s Bagel Bakery in Clinton.

“The therapy is in the doing of the thing,” Fladager said. “We just let the patient do it without analyzing; we allow the feelings to teach, to unfold, without knowing what will happen. Then we talk about it if we want to.”

“The purpose is to lift the veil that allows feelings to emerge. Listening to one’s body leads to all kinds of openings,” she added. “Our emotions live in our bodies.”

Sacred Body Practice is an open series combining authentic movement and dances of universal peace and meets at 8:45 to 10 a.m. on Fridays through April 6 at the Whidbey Institute Sanctuary.

Year-long groups and training in Authentic Movement are also available to beginning and experienced movers. Call Fladager for a schedule and information at 221-2677 or go to