Creative Arts in Counseling and Mental Health


Philip Neilsen, Robert King & Felicity Baker

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    The editors would like to thank the many people who have taught us about the role of the arts in counseling and mental health, through generously sharing their creativity and learning experiences towards recovery.

    We would also like to thank our research assistant Eloise Cowie for her valuable contribution.

    SAGE and the editors would also like to thank reviewer Jane Webber, Kean University, for her valuable feedback.

  • About the Editors

    Philip Neilsen, MA, PhD, ASA, is both a senior academic and an internationally acclaimed author and poet. He founded the creative writing program at the Queensland University of Technology where he is currently adjunct professor, and teaches poetics at the University of Queensland. He has published five books of poetry, including Without an Alibi (2008), five novels/novellas, and has been widely anthologized in Australia and the United States. His creative work has been translated into German, Chinese, and Korean. As an academic, he has contributed scholarly works on literature and on the use of creative writing as mental health therapy. Philip has been president of PEN International for Australia North, has served on the Australia Council for the Arts, and is coeditor (with Professor David Morley, University of Warwick, United Kingdom) of The Cambridge Companion to Creative Writing.

    Robert King is a clinical psychologist and professor in the School of Psychology and Counselling at Queensland University of Technology. He is a fellow of the Australian Psychological Society and a member of the College of Clinical Psychology. Professor King holds a MA (Clinical Psychology) from the University of Melbourne and a PhD from Monash University. Robert’s primary areas of research focus include the impact and effectiveness of online delivery of counseling and psychotherapy services; the role of creative therapies in mental health; development and evaluation of models of mental health service delivery; and the mental health workforce (training, structure, organization and management). Robert publishes extensively in Australian and international peer-reviewed journals. He is associate editor for the U.S.-based journal Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research and was for many years the peer review editor for Psychotherapy in Australia.

    Felicity Baker is a music therapist, associate professor in music therapy, and currently an Australia Research Council future fellow (2010–2015) based at the University of Melbourne. She is currently associate editor the Journal of Music Therapy and immediate past president of the Australian Music Therapy Association, Inc., the peak body of the discipline in Australia. Felicity has established herself as an international leader in music therapy and is regularly invited to teach in institutions through Asia, the United Kingdom/Northern Europe, and the United States. Felicity is recognized for her research expertise in therapeutic songwriting and in neurorehabilitation. Her text Songwriting Methods: Techniques and Clinical Applications for Music Therapy Clinicians, Educators and Students(Jessica Kingsley Publishers) is a best seller that has sold over 4,000 copies and has been translated into Korean and Italian. Felicity is a member of a research consortium involving music therapy researchers from nine international universities from the United States, United Kingdom, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Australia with international recognition of being at the forefront of music therapy research. Her innovative research has attracted significant media attention. She has achieved a strong publication record (four books, 17 book chapters, and more than 70 peer-reviewed journal articles) and developed a recognized capacity for cross-disciplinary research.

    About the Contributors

    Kate Aitchison is a registered music therapist with ten years’ experience providing services for infants, children, adolescents, and adults. She completed her graduate diploma in music therapy in 2005, and a master’s of mental health majoring in psychotherapy in 2013. She maintains professional registration with the Australian Music Therapy Association. In 2006, she established a music therapy program at the Jacana Acquired Brain Injury Unit, Queensland Health. In 2008, Kate began employment with the Mater Children’s Hospital (MCH) Child and Youth Mental Health Service (CYMHS) in Brisbane. She transferred to the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital when the MCH merged with the Royal Children’s Hospital in late 2014. At this time, she also began employment with the newly established CYMHS day program in North Brisbane. In her role with CYMHS, Kate works with children from birth to 17 years of age. In 2009, she ran a pilot project for children under the age of four and their primary caregiver focusing on healthy attachment and bonding in conjunction with the community-based program “Sing & Grow.” The program received funding from Heart Kids and earned extremely positive feedback from participants. In 2012, Kate wrote a grant proposal obtaining funding from the Mater Foundation to run a follow-up research project titled “Music Together.” The following year, she wrote a successful application for funding to purchase recording and music equipment to establish a portable recording studio within CYMHS. Kate balances her time working part-time at CYMHS with looking after her two young daughters.

    Andrea Baldwin works at the nexus of arts and health. She has over 20 years’ experience as a registered psychologist, teacher, researcher, facilitator, and community theater practitioner. She holds PhDs in both psychology and creative writing and a master of arts in drama. While employed as a senior psychologist working with adolescents, and based on her experience as performer and teacher of improvisation forms created by Keith Johnstone, Andrea developed the Respect Yourself Drama Education (RYDE) program. The program has been successfully implemented with groups of young people with autism spectrum disorders, learning disabilities, and severe mental health issues. Dr. Baldwin has developed a number of other drama-based programs for adolescents and adults including Queer Theatresports, a community development/sexual health promotion program for the gay and lesbian community; Amir/Amira, a leadership development program for young Australian Muslims; and Streetwise, a program for adolescents at risk of becoming involved in the criminal justice system. As director of RealWorld Consulting, in collaboration with the Queensland University of Technology, Andrea instigated the Life Drama project, a seven-year project in Papua New Guinea using community theater for sexual health education. Under the same collaborative arrangement, Andrea has conducted other consultations in the Pacific, examining effective strategies for behavior change communication. She continues to work in arts health, community capacity building, education, and practice-led research. She has served on the editorial boards of journals Cognition and Music and Arts in Action and has published in the areas of clinical psychology, applied theater, behavior change communication, youth arts, creative writing, and evaluation.

    Jill Comins, MA, BC-DMT, LPC, is a graduate of Drexel University’s Creative Arts in Therapy program. Working as a dance/movement therapist in an acute inpatient behavioral health hospital in Philadelphia, she is experienced in assisting individuals in discovering their innate power to heal themselves and restore wholeness. Jill helped to implement the first recovery-oriented care unit in the hospital in 2010, whose guiding principles include a person-centered approach to treatment and a focus on wellness. As the supervising director, she supported changes in the structure and delivery of expressive arts services that paralleled the transformation process of the hospital’s philosophy of recovery and trauma-informed care. Jill has since integrated recovery-based dance therapy programming throughout multiple units in the hospital including general adult, women’s, and older adult units, guiding individuals with various mental health disorders, trauma, and/or addiction in their process of change. Jill is a member of the Pennsylvania Counseling Association (PCA) and American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) where she holds an elected office as program coordinator for the Pennsylvania chapter. She has presented for ADTA and PCA conferences, emphasizing how techniques and methods utilized in dance/movement therapy parallel and support the guiding principles of recovery set forth by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Additionally, Jill enjoys sharing her recovery and wellness-based approach as a supervisor to dance/movement therapy graduate students.

    Sandra Drabant, MA Art Therapy, completed her master’s in art therapy at the University of Illinois and worked in Chicago for eight years. She returned to Australia in 2005, where she worked with at risk children and their families. Currently, Sandra works as a senior art therapist at the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital in the Child and Youth Mental Health Service Day Program South. She coordinates the art therapy program at the Mater Cancer Care Centre and lectures in the School of Medicine at the University of Queensland, Brisbane. Sandra can be contacted by email at

    Claire Edwards. After gaining a BA (Hons) in art history and English, Claire Edwards trained as an art therapist in London in 1984 and migrated to Australia in 1989. Claire helped establish art therapy training (Master’s of Mental Health—Art Therapy) at University of Queensland in Brisbane in 2004 and has had lecturing and coordinating roles in this program. She has maintained a clinical practice throughout, working with adults, young people, and children in child safety, mental health, private practice, and drug and alcohol services for over 30 years. Claire completed a research master’s at the University of Western Sydney in 2005, investigating art therapy with women with eating issues. She completed a qualifying master’s of social work in 2013.

    Patricia Fenner is a registered art therapist, the course coordinator of the Master of Art Therapy program at La Trobe University, and has an ongoing commitment to developing graduates with strong practice skills. Patricia is a researcher with a particular focus on art-based research, art making, and mental health recovery in Australia and the Asia Pacific, as well as art therapy in cancer care. Prior to working in the university sector, she worked in diverse contexts including public mental health, education, and in aged care, as well as a community artist in both Melbourne and Berlin.

    Sherry W. Goodill, Ph.D., BC-DMT, NCC, LPC, is a clinical professor and chairperson of the Department of Creative Arts Therapies at Drexel University in Philadelphia, teaching at both the master’s and PhD levels, and is also the immediate past president of the American Dance Therapy Association. She holds a doctorate in medical psychology with a concentration in mind/body studies and has 30 years of experience as a clinician, researcher, and educator in dance/movement therapy and the creative arts therapies. She serves on editorial panels for the journals Arts in Psychotherapy: An International Journal and the Journal of Creativity in Mental Health. Dr. Goodill received one of the U.S. National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative Medicine (now the NCCAM) initial research grants to study the benefits of dance/movement therapy for adults with medical conditions. Her 2005 volume An Introduction to Medical Dance/Movement Therapy: Health Care in Motion was the first book devoted entirely to this topic.

    Anne Margrethe Melsom is a board-certified dance/movement therapist and a licensed professional counselor that has focused her clinical work on the process of change and transformation through dance and creative expression for people in recovery from serious mental and medical illness, substance use, trauma, and homelessness. She is the director of a creative arts therapy department at a behavioral health hospital, where she provides direct care to adults in inpatient, residential, and wellness programs. She chairs recovery-oriented initiatives and develops, directs, and implements recovery-oriented creative arts therapy programming. Ms. Melsom is a faculty member at Drexel University’s Creative Arts Therapy Department and she maintains a private supervision practice for professionals seeking board certification in dance/movement therapy (DMT) as well as counseling licensure. Ms. Melsom serves on the American Dance Therapy Association Committee on Approval, reviewing and approving master’s programs in dance/movement therapy and counseling in the United States. Decades of clinical work and recent collaborations with her colleague has informed and shaped the DMT RECOVERY Model. The Chacian DMT approach is the essence of the model, lending itself to a spontaneous here-and-now process and including evidence-based/evidence-informed structures. Interventions can target particular change processes, meeting individuals at their level of readiness for practicing change. Empathy, cohesion, and mobilized movement experiences support the integration of embodied recovery and hope. The DMT pillars of the model are outlined in the acronym RECOVERY: relationship, empathy, creativity, opportunity to practice change, vitality, expressions, resilience, and a person-driven focus on the “you”—the person in his or her community.

    Tom O’Brien is a foundation fellow of the Australian College of Social Work. He is a senior lecturer in the School of Medicine at the University of Queensland and principal psychotherapist at Mater Children’s Hospital Child and Youth Mental Health Service (CYMHS) in Brisbane. His appointment as the foundation coordinator of the Master of Mental Health—Art Therapy program at the University of Queensland (2004–2006) was the opportunity to work with an enthusiastic and creative group of art therapists. This led to important developments in his professional, clinical, and personal practice for which he is grateful.

    Margot J. Schofield, M.Clin.Psych., PhD, MAPs, is a clinical psychologist and professor of counselling and psychotherapy in the School of Psychology and Public Health, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia. The current research focuses on counseling and clinical supervision, development of psychotherapists and counsellors, creative therapies in mental health, art-based approaches in cancer recovery, family violence, elder abuse, and women’s health. Margot has received over $14 million in research grants and has published extensively in international peer-reviewed journals. She serves on the editorial boards of Counselling Psychology Quarterly and Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, and regularly reviews grants for the Australian Research Council.

    Claire Stephensen is a registered music therapist (RMT) and neurologic music therapist (NMT) who provides mental health services and family-centered therapy for those who present with complex needs. Claire graduated from the University of Queensland in 2008 with a master’s of music therapy and completed training in neurologic music therapy in 2012. Based in Brisbane, Australia, Claire works from her private practice—Press Play Music Therapy—and in psychiatric, medical, and community health settings. She regularly presents her work at national and international conferences and facilitates lectures and workshops on music therapy in psychiatry and mental health. Claire is passionate about the capacity for music and creativity to connect individuals, families, groups, and communities, not only at a social and emotional level but also at a neurological and subcortical level. Through listening to music, engaging in conversations, and creating music, she is most interested in working with people with backgrounds of trauma, self-injury, and addictions. Claire has experience working from multiple psychological frameworks, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, trauma model therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, solution focused therapy, and narrative therapy. She actively engages in ongoing professional development in fields of music therapy, mental health, neurobiology of trauma, neuropsychotherapy, creative arts therapies, sensory modulation therapy, and talking therapies. Claire’s key research interests are in creativity, mental health recovery, psychological trauma, and emotion.

    Sonja Vivienne lectures in digital media at Flinders University of South Australia. She balances teaching with practice-led research, everyday activism, and parenting. She is particularly interested in the strategic management of privacy at the heart of Intimate Citizenship 3.0. Recent research, undertaken as a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Queensland’s Centre for Communication and Social Change, includes a survey of free and open-source software and digital citizenship in India and Australia, and development of a hybrid online/face-to-face teaching space exploring information and communication technologies (ICTs), social movements, and development. Sonja’s doctorate was based at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI) at Queensland University of Technology, where her research explored digital storytelling as a tool for everyday activism, focusing particularly on the problems of voice, queer identity, and networked publics. She is also a graduate of the Oxford Institute of Internet Research (OII) summer doctoral program. In years previous, Sonja worked as writer, director, and producer of drama and documentaries, tackling subjects as diverse as youth suicide, drug culture in Vietnamese communities, and lesbian personal columns. As creative principal of Incite Storie, Sonja also produced and co-directed Wadu Matyidi, a children’s animation and documentary package exploring the rejuvenation of the Adnyamathanha language and culture of the Flinders Ranges.

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