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The Tao of Poiesis: Expressive Arts Therapy and Taoist Philosophy



Stephen K. Levine

This paper outlines some of the similarities between the theory and practice of expressive arts therapy (EXA) and the philosophy of Taoism. EXA is grounded in the concept of poiesis, the Greek word for making in general and art-making in particular. The traditional conception of poiesis is of a productive activity guided by the consciousness and will of the artist. However, in EXA, poiesis is conceived of as a process that can only be beneficial if the client and therapist both let go of knowing and willing, and instead “let it be.” This notion is similar to Heidegger’s concept of Seinlassen (letting something show itself as it is in itself), and to Shaun McNiff’s injunction to “trust the process.”

The concept of poiesis in EXA is like that of wu-wei in Taoism – a “non-action” which nevertheless brings benefits to the one who engages in it and to others. The therapist is like the Taoist sage who leads by non-doing. In addition, the process of “decentering” into the alternative world of the imagination takes the client and therapist into a realm of non-ordinary reality in which resources can be developed and new possibilities for action discovered. The seemingly aimless attitude of wu-wei can lead to effective change in the client’s life. The idea of wu-wei sheds light on the central phase of an expressive arts therapy session and is an essential attitude for the EXA practitioner.

這篇文章概括了表達性藝術治療(EXA)與道家哲學在理論和實踐上的異同。表達性藝術治療是建立在Poiesis,希臘語“創造”一詞概念基礎上的,包含了一般性的創造和特殊的藝術創造。傳統概念上的Poiesis是在藝術家的覺察和願望指導下的生產性活動。但是,在表達性藝術治療中,Poiesis包含著一種進程,只有當來訪者和治療師都放下意願、順其自然的時候這一進程才是有益的。這一概念類似Heidegger的Seinlassen(讓事物自然呈現)和Shaun McNiff的trust the process(相信進程)。


Stephen K. Levine

1 The European Graduate School, Switzerland

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