KPCC: Exploring the intersection of mental health and creative expression

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In a nondescript hotel ballroom on Thursday, about two dozen women — some artists, some therapists, some educators — worked together to build human-sized sculptures out of packing tape.

The participants went through drama therapy exercises to identify meaningful physical poses. Next, they worked in groups to mold sticky-side-up tape to various parts of their bodies, then pieced together a sculpture in that pose.

The sculptures weren’t just for fun. They were part of a workshop meant to help the participants learn to re-claim positive body images.

“When I think about trauma — when the body’s been violated — how do we reclaim people’s narratives and really be able to be in your body and own your body?” said drama therapist Laura Wood, who worked with two other art therapists to develop the workshop. “We really felt that building a sculpture might be a way for people to redefine narratives around body image.”

The workshop was one of more than 100 sessions at the Expressive Therapies Summit, running March 30-April 2.

The conference has been running in New York for seven years. Ping Ho, founder and director of UCLArts and Healing, which works to blend health and creative expression, got it started in Los Angeles this year.

“A lot of people just don’t realize that these practices exist,” said Ho, who wants to bring more exposure to these techniques. “The other thing is, it’s hard to describe how they work. A big challenge is to tell them about it. But once people experience it, they’re hooked.”

Hundreds of artists, educators and therapists from around the region and the country have come to participate in sessions like, “Music and Play: Channeling Childhood for Therapeutic Gain,” “Ragdolls & Writing: Transforming Trauma, Facilitating Growth,” and “Disrupting Disruptive Student Behaviors with Compassion & Art Therapy.”

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