Creative and Expressive Therapies and Autism


Man playing a drumCreative and expressive therapies are any interventions in which a therapist uses a creative or expressive art form to help a client.

Creative and expressive therapies are based on the idea that all individuals have the ability to respond to creative and expressive activities and that this can lead to positive changes in behaviour and emotional well being.

The client does not need creative or expressive skills to benefit from these therapies but the therapist does need a high level of therapeutic skill.

Creative and expressive therapies include art therapy, dance movement therapy, dramatherapy, music therapy and play therapy.  These are sometimes used together or alongside other activities.


Music therapy may provide some benefits for some autistic people. Determining the benefits of other creative therapies for autistic people  is not currently possible. We must wait for further research of sufficiently high quality to be completed.

Risks and Safety

No specific risks are associated with creative and expressive therapies other than those found in other psychological therapies.

SpecificTypes of Creative and Expressive Therapies

Art Therapy

Art therapy is designed to effect change and growth on a personal level through the use of art materials in a safe and facilitating environment.

In practice, an art therapist will encourage an individual with autism to express him or herself using appropriate art forms, such as drawing, painting, pottery, sculpture, photography, or video production.

Supporters of art therapy believe that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight.

More Information

Please see Publications on Art Therapy

Dance Movement Therapy

'Dance Movement Psychotherapy is the psychotherapeutic use of movement and dance through which a person can engage creatively in a process to further their emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration.

'It is founded on the principle that movement reflects an individual's patterns of thinking and feeling. Through acknowledging and supporting clients' movements the therapist encourages development and integration of new adaptive movement patterns together with the emotional experiences that accompany such changes.

'Dance Movement Psychotherapy is practised as both individual and group therapy in health, education and social service settings and in private practice.'

Association for Dance Movement Therapy UK (2003).

More Information

Please see Publications on Dance Movement Therapy


Dramatherapy is a form of therapy which uses drama and other performance arts to help individuals bring about psychological, emotional and social changes.

The dramatic aspect of the approach explores aspects of story telling, role play, enactment and mime, as well as covering voice production and the use of artifacts as props.

This therapeutic approach aims to work on the psychological needs of people on the autism spectrum either on an individual basis or within a larger group.

More Information

Please see Publications on Dramatherapy

Music therapy

Music therapy uses singing, live music making and/or composition techniques to encourage people to engage in spontaneous and creative musical activities.

Music therapy is based on the idea that all individuals have the ability to respond to music and sound and that this can lead to positive changes in behaviour and emotional well being.

The music therapist and client use a variety of percussion or tuned instruments, or their voices, to develop shared and interactive musical activities.

The client does not need musical skills to benefit from music therapy but the music therapist does need a high level of musical and therapeutic skill.

Music therapy is sometimes used alongside other therapies, for example dance therapy and in the creation of musical social stories.

More Information

Please see

Play therapy

Play therapy refers to a large number of treatment methods, all applying the therapeutic benefits of play.

Play therapy differs from regular play in that the therapist helps children to address and resolve their own problems.

Play therapy builds on the natural way that children learn about themselves and their relationships in the world around them.

Through play therapy, children learn to communicate with others, express feelings, modify behavior, develop problem-solving skills, and learn a variety of ways of relating to others.

Play provides a safe psychological distance from their problems and allows expression of thoughts and feelings appropriate to their development.

More Information

Please see Publications on Play Therapy

Related Pages

Related Glossaries

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27 May 2022