When words fail, people can turn to creative alternatives to communicate. Researchers in the field of social work emphasize the importance of expressive communication through art, music, and play to connect with clients. Heidi Heft LaPorte, DSW is bringing the expressive arts wave to Barry University, infusing her courses with the practice and offering an open studio and professional development sessions to interested faculty and students.
HOW EXPRESSIVE ARTS CAN BREAK DOWN BARRIERS
Expressive arts can be used as a tool to help clinical professionals and social workers get through to clients who have difficulty putting their trauma or emotional distress into words. Using a variety of creative exercises such as writing poetry, playing music, drawing, or dancing, clients may open up in ways they’re not comfortable doing verbally in traditional talk therapy. “A gesture is as powerful as a sentence; an image can speak to a client and through a client,” explains Dr. Heft LaPorte.
Research has found that the practice is effective in the treatment of several mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and trauma-based disorders. As Dr. Heft LaPorte describes it, “Expressive arts allows us to speak the languages of vulnerability beyond words.” Through creative expression, clients are able to tell their story no matter how difficult in a way that makes them feel seen and understood. Expressive arts have also proven effective for people with documented disability who may have greater difficulties with verbal communication.
EXPRESSIVE ARTS AT BARRY UNIVERSITY
With over 25 years of teaching experience and a diverse background, Dr. Heft LaPorte engages students in expressive arts workshops as well as clinical practice in group courses. Through these activities at the University, students can become comfortable with the idea of using creative modalities as both a self-help and clinical tool – learning how to use them with clients to establish a connection and improve rapport.
In conjunction with other programs, like the Cross-Cultural Conversations: Drawing out the conversation through expressive arts, Human Trafficking Certificate Program and the Trauma-Informed Care Certificate Program, Dr. Heft LaPorte has offered a variety of workshops to meet a growing student interest in such activities. Since the emergence of Covid-19, an open studio has been held weekly on Sundays from 6:30 - 8:30 pm over Zoom for students and alumni, a welcome resource for maintaining self-care and social connection through the pandemic.
In addition to this creative outlet available to all students, Dr. Heft LaPorte hopes to further the aim of the Expressive Arts Florida Institute (EAFI) by continuing to expand the use of expressive arts in the clinical setting, focusing on providing a voice to those experiencing grief, pain, and loss in the midst of this global crisis. In her future research, she hopes to explore expressive arts as a self-help tool for members of the LGBTI community who are non-binary and gender diverse.
Dr. Heft LaPorte teaches for the Doctorate in Social Work (DSW) , Doctorate of Philosophy in Social Work (PhD) and Master of Social Work (MSW) degree programs at Barry University, bringing her extensive knowledge and research about expressive arts into the classroom.