Nicki Koethner, MA, MFT is the founder of Express-Explore-Expand. She is licensed Expressive Arts Psychotherapist, Multimedia-artist, Expressive Arts consultant and a mystic who guides people through transitions and transforming trauma into empowerment. She has a private practice in Oakland for individuals, couples, children and families in English and German, and facilitates rituals and ceremonies. She is a community organizer for the Northern California Dance Collective and Terra’s Temple. In addition, Nicki is on the Board of Body Tales.
I met Nicki through a group for expressive arts therapists on Linkedin. I was pleased when she agreed to be interviewed, as I thought it would be great to have a perspective on the related, but different, field of expressive arts therapy. Nicki works from a multi-modal approach, and uses the whole body through dance, drama, etc. Later in the series Nicki will discuss more about her approach, various challenges she has faced in the field, and inspiration.
What keeps you going as an expressive art therapist? And/or where do you find inspiration?
Experiencing firsthand the healing powers of the arts is what keeps me inspired and going. I’m very blessed living in the San Francisco Bay Area, where there are lots of opportunities to connect with the soul through expressive arts. When I get stuck in my own routine or I’m distracted by my anxieties, doubts, and fears, I remind myself that I need to dance, move, breathe, draw, paint, listen to spiritual talks or music to break the spell of my emotional state or an over-identification with a particular story. The expressive arts have taught me to be open and curious to my own experience without attaching meaning to it and also to allow my unique perceptions to matter. I have come to appreciate listening to my impulses, inner rhythm and flow rather than forcing myself to do things which most of the time has been counterproductive. One such example was when I woke up one morning feeling somewhat depressed and discontent, needing to accomplish various tasks, feeling the anxiety of getting things done but not really being able to motivate myself. Instead of forcing myself to do the tasks, I decided to take pictures of myself in different costumes and write little stories attached to the pictures, a process that I call photojournaling. Being engaged in this process shifted my mood considerably; helping me to feel the flow again and also accomplish my tasks.
Witnessing the shift in others and seeing how arts connect people and deepen their experience with themselves keeps me going. Seeing the joy and expansion and the capacity to be a container for all emotions, beyond right and wrong, and allowing people to express their uniqueness and authenticity is what inspires me. There is so much richness when people fully engage in the creative process, allowing them to encounter the world through their particular eyes, hands, movements and thinking and not so much through the eyes of should’s and should not's, right and wrong.
Do you have any special self-care techniques?
I spend time in nature, engage in meditation and breathing, do yoga, go dancing, make art before and after sessions, write poetry, play drums, have a spiritual community, swim and spend time with people I love. Cooking is also a practice that gives me a lot of nourishment. The making of food is like a meditation to me and nourishes me on many levels, including all the senses. I also use energetic and sound-healing practices that I have learned through studying with Lisa Rafel, who teaches sound healing, shamanic healing, kabbalistic healing and energy healing to facilitate self-mastery, spiritual growth, intuitive development and greater consciousness. These exercises allow me to center myself energetically. Body Tales, developed b Olivia Corson, and Authentic Movement are other practices that have been very important self-care techniques.
How, if at all, have you witnessed the expressive arts therapies profession grow and change through the years?
I believe that Expressive arts having its roots in shamanic/indigenous practices and as a natural expression of human beings have always been part of our culture but not necessarily been part of more traditional talk-therapy models and/or cognitive-behavioral approaches. The Expressive Arts have revived and brought back what has been used throughout humanity into the context of therapy and allows the body-mind integration rather than the body-mind split that is so prevalent throughout the world nowadays. I believe that the use of more modern technology such as video, photography and computers have impacted expressive arts. Social and Community Action is becoming more highlighted within the teaching of Expressive Arts therapy.
How, if at all, do you advocate for expressive arts therapy both locally and abroad?
I have been involved with the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association (IEATA) for over eight years in various positions, starting as a Conference co-chair, then International committee co-chair and then Executive co-chair. IEATA offers bi-annual conferences bringing together artists, educators, consultants and therapists from various countries, who use multimodal expressive arts processes for personal and community transformation. IEATA also offers two registrations for professionals. REAT is the registration for Expressive Art Therapist and REACE is a registration for Consultant-Educators. You can find out more about IEATA at www.ieata.org. I also have given expressive arts workshops and performances internationally. I like talking about the expressive arts and integrate it when I give presentations, workshops and also as a community organizer. I help create dance events as an Overall Coordinator and facilitator with the Northern California Dance Collective (NCDC) and also help run Terra’s Temple as a communications director and priestess; both places that integrate the Expressive Arts.
Anything else you would like to share?
I love the arts since it is the language of the soul, allow us to be with the unknown, create in the face of death and one of the most direct paths to connect deeply with our soul. I feel honored supporting people’s journey into self-love and acceptance through therapy as well as the arts. I truly appreciate the universality of the arts, which can bridge language barriers for dialogue and conflict resolution, values diverse ways of learning and fosters deeper connection between people.
Originally posted on December 15, 2012