Dr Eric Miller's Inaugural Address

on 16 Feb 2017

at the Annual International

Expressive Arts Therapy Conference

at Women's Christian College, Chennai



Inaugural Address


It is my great honor and pleasure to help inaugurate this International Conference on Expressive Arts Therapy, presented by the Dept of Psychology of Women’s Christian College, and the East West Center for Counselling and Training.


This Conference celebrates the completion of the fifth year, and the beginning of the sixth year, of the Diploma Program in Expressive Arts Therapy that is jointly offered by this same team.  The Diploma Program has successfully trained five batches of students who are now practicing across India and in the world beyond.  It has been a gratifying and exciting journey as we have discovered the power and depth of the Expressive Therapies,


This Conference has been designed to bring together professionals in the field of Expressive Therapies, to enable the building of networks, the forging of personal and professional bonds, and the mutual sharing of insights.


It is hoped that this Conference might occur annually, and that this year and in the years to come, therapists and researchers might present strong and convincing evidence regarding the uniqueness and effectiveness of the Expressive Therapies in India, and that students of the helping professions might be inspired to specialise in this field.


The Expressive Arts seem to flow naturally out of the many rich cultural practices of India. Traditional Indian culture features the multi-modal use of the arts and the senses in various kinds of performances and rituals, such as pujas and dance-dramas.  In many cases the arts were not compartmentalised in India the way they were in the West.  Some of the founders of Expressive Arts Therapy (in the 1970s) may have been inspired by the cultures of India, and of Asia in general, in regard to multi-modality.


In India, the Expressive Therapies have precedents in ancient folk activities.  Drawing kolams on the ground with powdered chalk could be seen as an ancient version of Visual Art Therapy.  Telling Grandmother stories to give comfort and guidance could be seen as an ancient version of Storytelling Therapy.  


In India, some of these traditional activities developed in devotional, ritual, and/or meditational contexts -- whereas the secular field of Psychology is based on the notion of an unconscious, and of exploring one's unconscious for therapeutic purposes.  It is going to be very interesting to see the ways in which the approaches of Western Psychology, and of traditional Indian culture, interact with and influence each other as the Expressive Arts and Therapies develop here in India.


To define some terms:


Expressive Arts Therapy” is the Expressive Therapy that holistically uses any of the arts in combination.  Just as a General Physician has expertise relating to the human body as a whole, so an Expressive Arts Therapist is a generalist regarding the therapeutic uses of any of the Expressive Arts.


Each of the “Expressive Therapies” uses a specific modality, or set of modalities, of art.  The Expressive Therapies include Music Therapy, Drama Therapy, Storytelling Therapy, Visual Art Therapy, Dance-movement Therapy, and Expressive Arts Therapy.


The term, “Expressive Arts,” refers to the specific modalities of artistic expression: Music, Drama, Visual Art, and so on.  Each of the Expressive Arts can, of course, also be used in non-clinical settings such as training, coaching, teaching, and artistic expression: for exploration, improvement, development, and actualisation of one’s self, as well as for aesthetic pleasure and satisfaction, and just plain play and fun.


The word, “Expressive,” in the above-mentioned terms refers to the idea that the artistic activity is engaged in by the client for the sake of the process of expressing, not for the sake of producing a polished and finished work of art.


In conclusion:  The days when students in India needed to go to places such as London to the west, or Singapore to the east, to study Expressive Arts Therapy, are over.  With the inauguration of this annual Festival -- which would include the inauguration of the Indian Association of  Expressive Arts Therapists this afternoon -- and with the continuation and development of the Diploma Course in Expressive Arts Therapy, a new era has begun in India.  In this new era, India would take an active role in developing its own unique versions of Expressive Arts Therapy and the other Expressive Therapies, and would contribute these unique versions to the global conversation about using the arts for healing and therapy.




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