“Inner Journeys Outer Expression”

06 Apr 2013 23:01 | Armelle Loghmanian

 “Inner Journeys Outer Expression”

Interview by Alessandra Zocca


Ruth Friedman

Expressive Arts Therapies

Careers Coaching
Intercultural trainings
Personal development
For individuals and for groups

Ruth, when I glanced at your LinkedIn profile I realised you have a scientific background. You worked as a Senior Scientist and Environmental Projects Officer in your native country (the United Kingdom) and then made a significant change in your career when you moved to Belgium.
May I ask what inspired you to change your career direction and what were the main steps you took to re-invent yourself in your professional life?

Actually I have re-invented myself many times in the course of my professional life, and I have done a lot of different things – you mention just a few of them I myself have changed a lot in that time, so I have changed my working life as my own needs and interests changed.
Obviously coming to Belgium for personal reasons, as I did, meant that I had to re-create myself professionally to match not only my own changing interests, but also the needs of a different market. My latest career changes have allowed me to utilize my interest in people and support them through processes of change. My own journey through many different transitions and transformations guides and supports my work – and it is the wish to share the gifts that I found along the way that most motivates and inspires my work.

I like your motto: “Inner Journeys Outer Expression”, it makes me think of the journey to self-realization. How do you help people along this journey of self-exploration?

Yes, exactly, I am very much about helping people towards their own self-realization.  My work is about helping people find doorways to themselves, to create the opportunity, and then to encourage and support them – to go ahead and open the door.  I think that all of us, as part of growing up in a less than perfect world, had to put some things behind a door. At that point in our lives it was too difficult or too challenging or we simply didn’t have the necessary resources to deal with that situation at that time – so we put it behind a door – to deal with later.  And that’s the point; we always meant to deal with it.  All too often we get used to living with those closed doors inside of us and it becomes familiar and safe; and at the same time we make ourselves smaller than we need to be, and not as free as we want to be. There comes a moment when we are ready to open the door. The truth is we never really know what we are going to find on the other side of that door until we open it – especially when it’s a door that was sealed shut a long time ago.
Anyway, my role is to encourage and support people to go ahead and open the door – and to help them accept and love that part of themselves, whatever they discover behind the door.

So what is “expressive arts therapy”?  And what does it have to do with the workshops and session that you run?

Carl Jung said “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”, so how do you bring the unconscious in to consciousness so that you can understand it better? This is where expressive art therapies comes in - we use the creative process of making art (be it visual art, dancing, writing, singing, etc.) to create a pathway to the unconscious. Art therapy has been around since the 1940s and 1950s, so it’s a well-established process. We tap into the unconscious and gain insights into ourselves, our environment – past and present and so on, it also enhances our sense of well-being and wholeness.
The expressive arts therapy approach is more recent (starting in the 1970s) and uses ‘inter-modality’ - meaning that you pass from one media to another as part of the therapeutic process.  For instance, starting a session with some movement and exploring underlying emotions that might arise, and then changing to a visual art or writing structure to express these emotions, and so on. I use diverse media in my workshops and individual sessions, depending on the needs of the people who come.

I use the term personal development to describe my workshops because that is my main interest.  By this I am talking about the on-going evolution of ourselves as individuals and as humanity, supporting us to become more who we are, and to evolve and develop into beings with a bigger, stronger, wider sense of self. It generates a sense of wellbeing because it helps us to better integrate all aspects of our life and our experiences, and brings us to a sense of wholeness. I would say that personal development is really for anyone that wants to know more about themselves, and how they relate to the world, with or without big problems to resolve, as well as for people who love expressing themselves and who have fun being fully themselves.

What is the role of the 'art' medium in your workshops and coaching? What is the role of movement? How powerful are they?

In my work as an expressive arts therapist the two main media which I use are the visual arts and movement.  The point of using the media is to get people past the cognitive part of their brain (the part that does all that rational thinking stuff) and into deeper contact with the truer part of themselves.  I use dance and movement as my work is grounded in about 20 years practice as an expressive dancer, and I use visual art because it can be such a powerful medium  for expressing feelings and memories that we may not otherwise have access to. I discovered this medium more recently and I have been working extensively with it for several years now. I have even been involved in several small exhibitions which included my own artistic work.

Some examples of the art work from participants in my sessions (all names have been changed for reasons of confidentiality):



 Two spontaneous pictures from ‘Sabine’ an older woman – recovering old memories   Marc’ a man in his 50’s – expressing his vision for himself   



 ‘Marie’ a woman in her 50’s going through transition – loss of a parent, divorce, challenges at work…     Participants at one of the workshops

How do your clients react to these methods? What are their main fears or difficulties? Are there differences across the different nationalities or cultures?

In general the people who come to me want to explore in this way, so they are usually really open and curious – even if they do not see themselves as artistic, because they understand that’s not the point. Often they find themselves surprised at what they produce, or how easy it is to move and discover new freedom in their body – for instance. Every once in a while someone will come along and discover it’s not really for them – some people are not ready to let go of their cognitive mind.

More often people  get a lot out of what I am offering and then they go looking for some kind of theory or other rational explanation. The whole point about working with the unconscious is that it’s not rational, and whilst we can, of course, put a broad frame around things to ground the work, analysing the process all too often detracts from the power of the experiences themselves.

What is Self-Compassion and what is a Self-Compassion Workshop?

Self-compassion draws on contemporary psychological research combined with wisdom from ancient traditions, to offer a set of tools to help people through life’s more challenging moments.  Life can be tough for each of us, and being kind to ourselves actually helps us to enhance our performance and to do our work better, because we learn to stop beating ourselves up for living in a less than perfect world.  

During the workshops we go into detail about self-compassion and some of the tools that can help.  Workshops are tailored to the needs of the participants who come, but self-compassion is particularly useful for people who tend to be judgmental of themselves and others, for people who procrastinate, and for people who are caregivers – professional caregivers or informally caring for a parent, child or friend.

I see you have done a lot of youth work in the past.  Do you work with young people now?

Most of the work I do these days is with the children and teenagers of expat families who have relocated as young people often need help to manage the impact of a family relocation. My work not only helps them understand about cultural differences but it also helps them to express the wide range of feelings they might have regarding leaving their friends behind and going off on a new adventure with their family.
Children can find this type of readjustment really challenging and my work supports the children through this process.  The art therapy tools are especially adapted - age–appropriately - to meet the needs of the young people involved, so that they can make the most of the unique opportunity of living in a new country..

If you look at your life and career, what would you like to change and why?

If I look back, I would say that everything I have done has helped me become the person that I am now, and one way or another, it has helped me to develop the skills that I use now in my work with individuals and with groups.
I think that one of the reasons I am so passionate about my work, is that I really love it when people ‘get it’ about themselves – those little moments of self-realization, it’s such a privilege to witness them.

Ruth, I see that as well as all the expressive creative stuff you also do career work. How does that all fit together?

When people think about “careers work”, they often think about the CV writing and job interview skills – which is also something I do – but it’s not where I usually start, unless the person has a very clear career goal that they want to achieve. 
I see my job as helping the person access more than their cognitive thoughts about their career – we might do some creative drawing or writing exercises, to help the person get in contact with their essential skills and what they dream of.  Then we look at what that means on the current job market and how to communicate that to a potential employer or to clients. 

What are your future professional goals and developments? What are your “dreams” for yourself and for our society? How will you contribute?

I think we are at an exciting point in the evolution of humanity and of the world - never before has there been so much access to information, to choices, and to opportunity. More and more people are waking up out of some kind of slumber, realizing that they want to get more out of life and that they want to create success on their own terms and not on society’s. Globally I think that this will be good for the whole.

I believe that when I help people get in contact with their higher purpose and their unconscious, I am helping them live to their fullest potential  and when society has more people who are living in deeper contact with themselves it will be good for all of us.  I would say that my dream and my vision for society are very closely connected to the work that I am doing now.

Short Biography

Ruth Friedman has been on a journey of self-exploration and self-discovery most of her adult life.
"I treasure deeply all that has helped me open more and more to the fullness of life and to my own being. The wish to share this gift is what most motivates my work".

Her professional background is diverse: She is trained and experienced as a scientist, in environmental and community issues, and as an educator. She is from the UK, and since arriving in Belgium in 2004, she has focused on career and personal development, non-discrimination and intercultural diversity. She has been running personal development workshops of different kinds since 1999.
Her clients include OSCE (the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe), Cultural Awareness International, Brookfield’s Relocation Consultancy, People To People International, and TIPIK (communication agency).

Contact Details

 Ruth Friedman
Expressive Arts Therapies
Careers Coaching
Intercultural trainings

E: ruth@ruthfriedman.com

M: +32 (0)498 10 22 69


   Ruth Friedman Workshops

“Inner Journeys Outer Expression”


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