Expressive Therapies Australia - Expressive Therapies
Inner-Life Skills:
There is no one basic source for the Inner-Life Skills techniques used in Expressive Therapies. We use a growing synthesis of the offerings of western personal growth pioneers, eastern traditional practices and the Christian tradition of spiritual direction.
These forms of knowledge (the intrapersonal and the interpersonal intelligences) are of tremendous importance in many, if not all, societies in the world - forms that have, however, tended to be ignored or minimised by nearly all students of cognition.
- Howard Gardner, Frames of Mind (1983)
Our imagination and motivation have their source in the unconscious. This inner world has a major role to play in the emotional healing and self-esteem development of the individual.
- Pearson, M. (1998). Emotional Healing and Self-Esteem.
Jessica Kingsley Publishers: UK.

Inner-Life Skills are intrapersonal abilities that could be available to us all as part of our basic education. Inner-life skills allow greater self-understanding, self-awareness, self-expression and self-help in the area of the inner world. This leads to a more balanced emotional outlook, a sense of self-worth and an improved ability to focus on learning tasks and developing positive relationships.

There are seven main categories of inner-life skills that support emotional healing and personal development. They are:


understanding the unconscious

self-expression and communication

managed emotional and physical release

relating to others

supporting others, and

understanding motivation and direction in life.

These inner-life skills methods come from a wide variety of sources. There is an urgent need for bringing hopeful experiences of peace, calmness, balance and well-being to emotionally disturbed and agitated children, adolescents and adults. This need has driven many of us to adapt our own experiences of both traditional and contemporary methods.


Visualisation is one of the important Inner-Life Skills used in Expressive Therapies. Visualisation can support emotional healing, self-awareness and lead to enhanced self-esteem.

An eight year old girl reported after a visualisation exercise: "In the middle of my island was a hut. This was the home of the unicorn. The unicorn was very brave. When I pretended to be the unicorn I felt brave too. Now when my brother comes into my room to annoy me I tell him to get out, and I pretend to be the unicorn again."

Symbols and imagery are often called the language of the imagination. The individual imagination is an expression of the unconscious. Artists, designers, composers and scientists, in fact all who make creative leaps in their work use their imagination. Each psyche has a creative potential. Visualisation activities help clients and personal-development participants tap into that creative potential. It also supports students to take seriously the images or fragments of fantasies that may contain rich expressions of their inner world. Taking seriously the inner world will also support self-esteem. The work with visualisations can generate enthusiasm for creative writing, artwork, drama and personal development.

Pearson, M. (1998). Emotional Healing and Self-Esteem
Jessica Kingsley Publishers: UK.


Approaches to developing relaxation used in Expressive Therapies may include:

- developing sensory awareness, which has proved useful in supporting clients' therapeutic process.

- use of a range, such as progressive relaxation, use of imagery - eg a rag doll, melting cheese on a pizza (similar to Schultz's Autogenic Training which uses images of warmth and heaviness to invoke relaxation).

- using the 'let it happen' attitude

- use pf passive concentration on the breathing

- creative visualisations can be effective in supporting clients to relax, as well as increasing concentration.

Biophysical methods using muscle relaxation have added to the success of cognitive-behavioural approaches for many years.

Using body outline drawings to map emotions and sensations has proved useful in developing awareness of the connection between body pain and emotional distress, and is used as both a diagnostic tool and a means to support client self-awareness, thus leading to motivation to engage in relaxation.

Benson (1976) refers to extensive medical research on the value of relaxation, and describes the inherent relaxation response as an "innate mechanism within us". Key ingredients that support this relaxation response are a quiet environment, use of a mental device, a passive attitude and a physically comfortable position.


Simple forms of inner focus and meditation are frequently taught in Expressive Therapies as a self-help skill for anxious clients. Within the counselling session brief meditations, 'earthing exercises' and visualisations are used to allow clients to experience a different emotional state and as a way of integrating emotional release processes. Expressive Therapists have found that it is often most effective to present active tension-releasing exercises before quiet inner focus with young clients.

Writers in Transpersonal Psychology (Boorstein, 1997; Vaughan, 1995) have advocated the use of meditation as an aid to:

- developing ego-strength

- developing concentration

- and a calm state, which can facilitate effective counselling and psychotherapy.

Miller (1994):

- contemplation as a form of "self-learning".

- insight meditation is educationally valuable in that students can learn and grow by simply mindfully watching their own inner experience.

Robbins (1980): one outcome from meditation has proved to be the activation and release of repressed memories and the feelings that go with them. Meditation could therefore be a valuable part of hastening the therapeutic process.


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