Natasha Duchene, a multigenre performance artist who has traveled the world before landing in Yellowknife, is opening a new kind of space for people to experiment with the arts.

Trained in Vancouver as an expressive arts therapist, she won’t be the first to work in this field in the NWT – there are two in Behchoko and some in the Inuvik region— but she is the only one opening a private practice.

Duchene is also a registered therapeutic counsellor (RTC). She has played piano and sung on the NACC stage and at a variety of events and musical ensembles during her time in the city. She is also the creator of the documentary North Paws about the NWT SPCA.

Yellowknifer sat down with Duchene to speak about what expressive arts therapy really is and what she plans to share with the community.

Q: What is expressive arts therapy?

Because we work intermodally, we don’t just stay in one art form. We work in sound, in movement, visual arts, sculpture, whatever it is, we use it all. And the way that we work in those realms is in a low-skill, high sensitivity way. So you don’t need to have a base skill set in the arts to work, really what we’re cultivating is the sensitivity to inner senses.

One of the key aspects of it, which might scare some people off, is about expanding our range of play. Humans need play, kids need play. It’s how we learn, it’s how we connect to each other. It builds our emotional intelligence, our kinesthetic intelligence, all these things is in play. We have our whole lives which are super complicated and difficult and serious, but then we can come to the arts studio and we can play. And we can play around with some of these things that are happening and it kind of becomes like a little laboratory that we get to mess around with and explore and create within and things emerge that are surprising.

Q: For example?

So maybe you’ve been stuck in an emotional loop for a long time and you’ve tried everything. You got really fit, you went and did a trip, you broke up with your partner, you saw a counsellor, you quit your job, whatever. You tried all the things, you’re still stuck in this loop. In the arts you might discover, very slowly, that maybe the problem isn’t set. Maybe you can start by just relaxing and accepting, OK, maybe this is the way things are right now and just start there.

That’s just an example, it can go so many ways. Even just having a safe place to go and just allow oneself to drop into ones senses, and to just really be in the movement and to be with your grief, to really be with your loneliness, and to let yourself feel those things for a minute. To let yourself rest in what is there, as opposed to fighting it all the time.

It does work with ritual a lot so I’d say oftentimes if somebody comes in with something that feels like an impossible question or an impossible problem then expressive arts can be really beneficial, because it sort of steps outside the ordinary.

Q: An impossible question, like ‘why are we all here?’

Maybe ‘why am I here?’, we could work with that. Or even ‘how do I connect to this person in my family?’ that might seem impossible, or ‘I have so many stresses in my life.’

Q: How do you incorporate it into your everyday life?

In everyday life in terms of how it’s shown up, I’ve really come out of my shell. I used to be really shy, well I’m still shy but I’ve come out of my shell a lot and I’ve learned to connect with people much more deeply on a friend level. I feel I’m much more present with my friends since doing this work. I’m much more present with myself in each moment. If I had to sum it up in one thing, I’d say presence.

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