Process Not Perfection

A Recovery Journey in the Expressive Arts—A Life of Process Not Perfection 


A guest post

by Dr. Jamie Marich

Through every season of my life, the expressive arts have been my refuge and a catalyst. As a child growing up in a high-conflict home, playing music on my Mickey Mouse record player and dancing to whatever the music revealed certainly helped me to cope. An active imagination led me to create a whole world of my own stories and ideas; learning to put them to paper is what helped me deal with horrible experiences of being bullied in school. As a young woman in early recovery I wrote my first song, amazed by how this process gave me an outlet for expressing my feelings, my struggle, and my journey. My gratitude for all of these expressive arts, and the ones I’m continuing to explore (especially through mediums like painting) abounds. Part of my mission as a clinician and recovery writer is to sing (or more accurately) sing of their healing power from the rooftops! In my latest book, Process Not Perfection: Expressive Arts Solutions for Trauma Recovery (Creative Mindfulness Media, 2019) I get to do just that!

The field of expressive arts education and therapy recognizes that an “all of the above” approach to creativity and expression best serves us. While the separate fields of dance therapy, music therapy, art therapy all have their place in the healing spectrum, expressive arts therapy says: “Why don’t we use them all!” This multi-modal and integrative approach speaks to my soul, especially as a recovery rebel where I see the merits in empowered choice and working with all of our available resources. Another amazing feature of expressive arts therapy is that no focus is placed on outcome our analysis. The expressive arts recognizes that we all have thoughts, feelings, and experiences that can cause us a great deal of pain if they are not expressed. The practices and processes of expressive arts therapy give us an opportunity to give voice to our experiences without ever having to use words. Although if words seems appropriate, the menu of options available to me in the expressive arts allows us to use those too. 

Part of what I adore about the multi-modality of expressive arts is that we can begin with a practice that may feel more familiar or accessible to us. However, as we deepen our practice we may discover that the expressive art that once scared us the most has the most to teach us about ourselves and the process of our own healing journey. For me, the visual arts were an edge for a long time. Having never fancied myself competent or good at art, I steered clear of it for many years. Unlike dance, music, theater, and writing where I had performed or published for many years, art felt like my weak link. And because I eventually approached it with curiosity and without the expectation of meeting some external metric, I was able to dive in more freely and discover the ultimate lesson that expressive arts had to teach me: focusing on outcome will limit the possibilities of what the process may reveal.

My own painting graces the cover of Process Not Perfection. I gladly chose this work because of the story behind it. One evening as I was learning to paint—after laying down the blue foundation—I set out to paint a Hand of Hamhsa (sometimes called a Hand of Fatima). I was not able to achieve anything that looked like evenness or quality and out of frustration, I took a paper towel and just started wiping it away. What emerged was the white base of the flower you now see. I painted in some of the more open spaces with the pink and green. This flower that is now so precious to me emerged from what I once judged a disaster. I can’t think of any better metaphor for recovery!

Dr. Marich’s new book

Available now for pre-order

Expressive arts process

Try This…

Expressive arts processes are a combination of two or more different practices. You may like some more than others. Do your best not to judge yourself or the process. In this sample expressive arts process, you are invited to sample three separate practices and notice what their interplay reveals to you today!

Bring to mind one word that represents an issue, theme, or struggle you are facing in your recovery today. Some examples may include acceptance, resentments, patience, spirituality, self-compassion, compassion.

1.) Practice 1: Word Chain

Write the word you selected at the top of a piece of paper. Set a timer for 5 minutes. Just keep writing words that come to you in a list, making several columns if you need. Try to keep your pen or pencil moving even if the words that come out seem like nonsense. 

After the timer ends, uses the collection of words that you see in front of you to write a short poem of 3-5 lines. Bear in mind that poems do not have to rhyme! All that makes a poem a poem is you determine where the lines end, not like in prose where the margins on your page or computer do. 

2.) Practice 2: Gush Art

This is the practice of “going with” visual art absent any kind of expectation or sensor. Gather whatever art materials are available to you, even if it’s just some pens or pencils. Set the timer again, this time for 10 minutes. Noticing what you are experiencing following the word chain practice, keep flowing with that experience, without judgment, on the page without words. Remember not to focus on outcome, rather, be in the process.

3.) Practice 3: Movement

Make a gesture or stance that represents your word of focus. Notice what you’ve learned about that word and your relationship to it in this process that far. How can you let your full body express what you’ve learned, using that core gesture as a base? You make this practice about a simple set of movements or you can turn it into a full dance, choosing any piece of music that you feel is appropriate to support your expression.

Feel free to share your experiences and insights here in the comments!

Jamie Marich, Ph.D., LPCC-S, LICDC-CS, REAT, RYT-200, RMT travels internationally speaking on topics related to EMDR therapy, trauma, addiction, expressive arts and mindfulness while maintaining a private practice in her home base of Warren, OH. She is the developer of the Dancing Mindfulness practice ( Jamie is the author of five books, including the popular EMDR Made Simple and EMDR Therapy and Mindfulness for Trauma Focused Care (Springer Publishing in 2017), written in collaboration with Dr. Stephen Dansiger. Her newest title, Process Not Perfection: Expressive Arts Solutions for Trauma Recovery, is due to be released in April 2019.

You can read more about the upcoming book here and it is available for Kindle pre-order here.


Olivia Pennelle