Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology, Concentration in Expressive Arts Therapy

The MA program in Expressive Arts Therapy (EXA) was established by Jack Weller in 1996 on the strong foundation of the prior certificate program. Since that time, the EXA program has offered students the opportunity to develop expressive arts skills across a range of media, to gain proficiency in the theories and practices of counseling and psychotherapy, and also to meet the California state requirements for licensure as a certified mental health practitioner. Our faculty includes seasoned educators and expressive arts practitioners, many of whom are considered leaders in the field both nationally and internationally.

What is Expressive Arts Therapy?

Expressive arts therapy refers to a therapeutic approach with individuals, couples, families, groups, and community-based programs that integrates a wide range of arts modalities in the service of human growth, development and healing. It takes a multi-arts or multimodal approach, integrating painting, drawing, sculpture, dance/movement, music, drama, ritual, poetry, and prose within therapeutic encounters.

Expressive arts therapists seek to build a compassionate, supportive, and culturally-sensitive relationship with clients. The expressive arts become the medium through which clients can explore and potentially transform emotional, social, spiritual, and relational issues; identify strengths; and experience new creative insights.

A Comprehensive Training in Counseling and Psychotherapy

The Expressive Arts Therapy program integrates a thorough education in theories and methods of psychotherapy with intensive training in expressive arts therapy. This three-year full-time program covers individual, group, couples, and family therapy, and includes a year-long practicum under the supervision of licensed mental health professionals who are also expressive arts therapists. The training meets the educational requirements for California's Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) license and is also designed to meet the educational requirements to become a Registered Expressive Arts Therapist (REAT) with the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association (IEATA).

A Range of Theoretical Frameworks

The EXA program at CIIS provides students with foundational knowledge and skills of the major schools of psychotherapy through multicultural and feminist lenses. These include contemporary psychoanalytic and psychodynamic approaches,Jungian; existential-humanist; cognitive-behavioral; narrative and constructivist; as well as a range of family systems approaches.

Multiple Expressive Arts Approaches

There are multiple theoretical foundations for an expressive arts practice. At CIIS, students have an opportunity to receive foundational training in a wide range of expressive arts approaches. The most established approaches include person-centered, movement-centered, intermodal, and narrative and collaborative expressive arts therapies.

Real-World Applications

The Expressive Arts Therapy program introduces students to the real world of expressive arts therapy. In the first semester students interview an EXA practitioner in the field. In subsequent semesters, students have opportunities to both observe and participate in community-based expressive arts activities. The third year is spent in a community-based practicum in the Bay Area.

The program places a high premium on sensitivity and responsiveness to the needs of the very diverse communities of the Bay Area in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual preference, differing abilities, and socioeconomic status. This is reflected in all aspects of the formal curriculum as well as in our approach to pedagogy in the classroom.

Expressive Arts Therapy Program Goals and Priorities

EXA is a dynamic program weaving the arts across the curriculum, enabling students to:

Demonstrate capacity to integrate a range of expressive arts practices into psychotherapy with individuals, couples, families, and groups; with sensitivity to differences including gender identification, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, differing abilities, socioeconomic status, and spiritual and religious practices

Translate expressive arts interventions and processes into standard psychological language, and vice versa

Articulate when expressive arts approaches are appropriate and when they may be contraindicated within particular clinical situations

Demonstrate capacity to weave together expressive arts and recovery-oriented principles and practices into treatment

Demonstrate personal growth and development through the use of expressive arts practices

Demonstrate ability to conceptualize and intervene holistically (addresses body, mind, and spirit)


Clinical Knowledge and Skills: We learn through applying theories to our own experience, in practice sessions with peers and with clients in community settings.

Professional Development: We prepare students for the realities of professional clinical practice

Personal Development: We provide a context within which students grow personally and professionally, emphasizing the integral nature of mind, body, and spirit.

Strength in Diversity: We honor and respect diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and values, and also approaches to practice, striving to use our differences proactively as a source of learning and strength.

Integration: We cultivate the capacity to integrate our emerging arts-based relational skills and knowledge throughout all aspects of the life of the program.

Where Can Expressive Arts Therapy be Applied?

Expressive arts therapy processes are used successfully in almost all psychotherapeutic contexts, ranging from work with people faced with chronic and persistent mental health challenges, to the facilitation of human growth and potential.  View our students and alumni page for specific examples.

Photo Credit: EXA Banner Photos by LissaIvy Tiegel