What is a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) and how can Creative Arts Therapy support them? The trait of high sensitivity is something that 15-20% of the population are born with. Highly Sensitive People have many commonalities such as deep processing, noticing details, overstimulation to sensations such as bright lights, noise, strong smells, and being in large groups to name a few.
HSP’s have a sensitive mirror neuron system, picking up on subtle cues and the emotions of others. They are deep feelers who empathize with others (many identify as empaths). They may also struggle with transitions, decision making and adjusting to new life event. Because of their fear of criticism, many turn to perfectionism. Many identify as introverts, though it’s estimated that 5% of HSP’s are extroverts. HSP’s need lots of downtime to de-stimulate. Being alone allows for the body to restore and release the energy that may be holding from interactions with others.
For Highly Sensitive People deep reflection and a rich inner world often go hand in hand. This could also look like “overthinking” which can feel disruptive and difficult to manage. HSP’s tend to fear criticism. Going over different scenarios can feel self-protective, but it can also ramp up the sympathetic nervous system leading to overwhelm. Many HSP’s experience anxiety. If you know all the different ways a situation can turn out, you have a greater chance of survival.
So how can HSP’s calm their nervous system, while also doing deep, meaningful work? Creative Arts Therapy, a therapy process that integrates art, music, movement, writing, and drama, may hold the key to this. In trying to unlock the door to calming anxiety and overwhelm, we can look at the various ways the creative arts therapy can help Highly Sensitive People.
Get out of your head and into your creativity.
Talking can be a lot sometimes. Highly Sensitive People who think deeply, may gain even more self-awareness by tapping into their creativity to see if any new insights come up.
Use your rich inner world as a gift in healing.
Fantasy, imagery, and metaphor can serve as powerful tools to explore problems and solutions from a place that is not so close to what we are experiencing. Stepping outside of ourselves and looking in from a new perspective can be powerfully transformative. Symbolism, story, and play can help bring insights that are personal to the Highly Sensitive Person. One of my favorite parts of Mary Poppins is when they jump into the chalk picture. Mary Poppins doesn’t just talk about the picture to the children, but takes them with her to experience it. Creative arts therapy can help you jump into the picture.
Discover deeper parts of the self.
We have so many roles in our lives that protect us, serve us, let us love, support our values, and help us find meaning and purpose. These parts of ourselves can also help us confront the problems that hold us back. Through drama therapy, we can access and use the body to examine the different parts of who we are. We can explore the rhythms that our different parts possess through music or draw the feelings that our different roles experience.
Create new stories instead of continuing old patterns.
As an avid reader in my childhood, I loved reading, “choose your own adventure books.” As an HSP, I would read all the choices I had before making a decision which path I would actually choose. In creative arts therapy, we might make a collage or symbolic map to look at the paths we would like to choose. We might interview the obstacles that stand in the way of choosing our most desired path. We might give our new story a title and think of the theme song for it. We might scan how we feel in our bodies as we imagine the future we desire.
Engage in creative mindfulness.
When we engage in creativity, we are present in the moment. We are engaged in creation using the whole self. Creative arts therapy is process oriented and is not about the final product. So who cares if you don’t know how to draw or act or create music? It’s not about a polished piece of work, it’s about how you felt doing it. Science tells us that mindfulness has a positive impact in decreasing anxiety and depression. Mindfulness also engages the parasympathetic nervous system to decrease stress.
Helps the body connect to the mind and spirit for a holistic approach.
I love that introverts do so well with creative arts therapy. They can take their time and engage at their own pace. Many HSP’s struggle with perfectionism. With creative arts approaches, we can challenge the problem of perfectionism through the characterization of perfectionism, an interview with perfection, a picture of life without perfection, etc. We might use movement or body imagery to process feelings without the need for language, engaging in the felt experience rather then a cognitive focus.
Creative arts therapies are a wonderful way to gain new insights and tackle challenges such as anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties, life changes, and so much more. While it may seem strange or intimidating at first, when HSP’s are able to engage their creativity it touches a deeper part of themselves.
Please note that this article is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice from a doctor or mental health professional.
Are you are a Highly Sensitive Person who needs support? Please contact me for a free 15 minute consultation to see if we would be a good fit in working together.