What is Expressive Arts?
How is it practiced?
How does it change people’s lives?
Are these your questions? Welcome to Expressive Arts in the World – a blog forum for providing answers, raising awareness, and offering brief profiles of practitioners worldwide. We share some examples of how this work is practiced, and the impact on the lives of real people, locally and globally. And join us online for Expressive Arts Discovery – next offered Aug. 17.
Today, we share with you a conversation between Kathleen Horne and Nicki Koethner.
Profile: NICKI KOETHNER
Therapist, Educator, Consultant, Mixed-Media Artist
Berkeley, California, USA
I first met Nicki when we were both serving on the Board of Directors of IEATA. (International Expressive Arts Therapy Association). During the years of working with her through IEATA and connecting at meetings and conferences, I have come to know and appreciate her deeply, as an innovative, committed professional and as a delightfully creative, passionate person. I am excited to share a glimpse of Nicki’s vision and work with you! This is what Nicki says about her career in Expressive Arts:
I’m grateful I have chosen this path….it keeps me alive, curious and young – encountering every moment with deeper layers of understanding and encouraging embodied experience. I see it as a path to world-peace by breaking isolation and removing the obstacles that obstruct the expression of our natural life-force.
Kathleen: I am always curious about what brings people to this work. My own experience was a strong sense of being “called”, more than “deciding”, and I hear this over and over again from students. Nicki, what brought you to Expressive Arts?
Nicki: I have been a seeker throughout my life and curious about transforming violence into peace. I love people, nature, art, dreams, and stories. My soul was called early on to help to alleviate the pain of the world. I was inspired by people like Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Mother Teresa, encouraging me to be the change I want to see in the world. Growing up in Germany, in a generation after the Second World War, I saw and experienced the impact of intergenerational trauma (undigested trauma) being passed on, expressed through violence and dealt with through addictions. I could see the power of the arts to express, contain and transform the unspeakable and unbearable into empowerment.
Kathleen: That is powerfully and beautifully stated! We can transform experience by shining the light of our creativity into places of pain and suffering. In Expressive Arts, the threads of personal experience and professional work are often intimately intertwined. Nicki, how did your own life experience interact with your professional training, and what path did you seek to become to therapist and practitioner?
Nicki: My life experiences, my diverse work experiences, my own healing work, authentic movement, somatic inquiry, Body Tales, earth-based spiritual practices, meditation, shamanic and energy healing, dancing, poetry, music and relationships with people are all part of it. Lisa Rafel has had a big impact. My expressive arts training at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) and the European Graduate School (EGS), as well as the Conscious Dance movement of the San Francisco Bay Area, in particular the Northern California Dance Collective (NCDC) have shaped and informed my expressive arts work.
Kathleen: It is such a blend of personal and professional- living an authentic life! Like many Expressive Arts professionals, you have sought the training that fits your own goals, and you have blended your own interests and strengths to create a practice that is uniquely you. How would you describe your work, Nicki?
Nicki: I bring expressive arts to various contexts: therapy, education, consultation, supervision, presentations, workshops and performances. I work with groups, individuals, couples and families. My work has a strong somatic base with connection to the natural world. Sound, color, movement, touch and breath are our primary language as human beings bridging us across cultures. My motto and the name of my business is Express-Explore-Expand. I’m honored to facilitate people’s self-acceptance, growth, and living in their truth. I support people in major life transitions, managing the stress of everyday life and their own, intergenerational and cultural trauma.
Kathleen: I love that your work encompasses such a range – artist, performer, supervisor, facilitator, therapist. I think it is important for people to know that there are many possible ways to bring this work into the world.
Can you say something about the name of your business – Express – Explore – Expand?
Nicki: While pain and all emotions are part of being human, suffering can be minimized by allowing all that is inside of us to emerge (to be expressed), to be curious about it (to explore it) and find meaning, wisdom and acceptance in our experiences which allow us to have more choices and a greater repertoire of responses (expansion).
The process of Express-Explore-Expand is an inquiry into the soul and is guided by the following questions:
1) What wants to be understood?
2) What wants to be released?
3) What wants to emerge?
I invite curiosity rather than attaching meaning to what messages are being received, while meaning-making and integration are also aspects of the work. Through expression and exploration, transformation can take place – allowing people to have more choices in their lives.
Kathleen: Yes! Curiosity keeps us open, inquiring, ready for discovery! Attaching meaning, or interpreting too soon can interrupt, or even shut down the process. Nicki, you are working in a lot of different venues. Who are your clientele?
Nicki: Currently, I share expressive arts in different avenues: a private psychotherapy practice in Berkeley, CA, supervising in the Expressive Arts Therapy Program in the Department of Art of Health and Healing at the Contra Costa County Medical Centers (CCRMC), and teaching Creative Expression with a transpersonal focus to therapy students as Adjunct faculty at Sofia University in Palo Alto, CA, and in workshops worldwide.
I have recently offered “Art for Wellness” workshops as a series in a local art center – offering participants as dive into the creative zone with intention-settings, meditation, movement, sound, poetry, music and free art-making.
Kathleen: One of the challenges of working in this field is explaining it and helping others to see why the arts are so important in creating change. What do you see as the main benefits of expressive arts in serving people, changing lives, and affecting the world?
Nicki: The expressive arts reopen the gateway to the soul, allowing our authentic voices and natural life-force to be the guiding forces in our lives. Engaging in the creative process is meditation and action combined, touching the mystery of life and highlighting our encounter with it. We become responsive to what is emerging within us.
Kathleen: I really like the phrase: “meditation and action combined”. Can you say something about how this work brings people together and fosters greater understanding and tolerance?
Nicki: The expressive arts rooted in the primary language of sound, movement, touch, breath and color. They bridge and transcend our cultural selves and connect us to our essential selves and to each other. They allow our unique expressions and underline our common humanity in the matrix of the universe that goes beyond the human realm.
Kathleen: Nicki, I respect and admire you as living example of the expressive arts, creating your life according to the principles you share and teach. Thank you so much for this conversation!
Would you like to know more?
*Visit Nicki’s website.
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It is such a privilege and a joy to be a part of this international community of expressive arts practitioners who are effecting change in the world in so many ways. Expressive Arts embraces the power of the imagination, and asks that we bring our whole selves, our best selves, to our lives, to those we serve, and to the Earth. It is all about engaging and following the threads of creativity, in service of wellness, healing, wholeness, connection, community, and social change.
Kathleen Horne, Victoria Domenichello-Anderson, Tamara Teeter Knapp
Co-Founders and Core Faculty, Expressive Arts Florida Institute