Emotional Literacy

Eva San

Seasoned Art Therapist 

The world has become increasingly interconnected, yet our individual lives seem to be ever more isolated in. People glued to their smartphones, tablets or laptops at almost all hours of the day, ignoring the people around them. Each of us walking about in our technological bubble.

Does this stunt our capacity as individuals and as a society to connect with each other on an emotional level?

How can we constructively express our emotions and improve our emotional literacy?

Joining us is Eva San, an experienced art therapist based in Singapore. She experience working with children with trauma, elderly with dementia and people with physical disabilities. She is also a dear friend from our younger days in Malaysia.

Podcast Episode Highlights

What is Art Therapy?

  • An expressive therapy.
  • It utilises creative process to facilitate holistic healing on physical, mental and emotional level.

How did you decide to become an art therapist?

My passion for art since childhood is one of the reasons. While pursuing my Masters in English Literature, I wrote a paper on one of Margaret Atwood’s books, Cat’s Eye. The protagonist was an artist, and she used art to facilitate healing. She was bullied as a child, and used imagery to make sense of what she was experiencing. At the same time, I was also introduced to colour therapy, which was similar to art therapy. When all these experiences came together, I discovered my interest in art therapy and made the decision to pursue my education in Singapore.

Emotional Literacy

Emotional literacy is made up of ‘the ability to understand your emotions, the ability to listen to others and empathise with their emotions, and the ability to express emotions productively. To be emotionally literate is to be able to handle emotions in a way that improves your personal power and improves the quality of life around you.” Claude Steiner, American Psychotherapist –

The Importance of Emotional Literacy (EL)

  • The world problems, the war, injustices, people fighting with each other, discrimination against people who are different, is because at the core, we are not kind to ourselves and not kind to our emotions.
  • We don’t sit with with our unpleasant feelings and question why we feel the way we do.
  • We live in a head centred society that feeds off rationality and logical thinking.
  • About 90% of our brain is intuitive and emotional and creative. We thrive on that.
  • By disconnecting from our feelings and not being emotionally literate, we are at risk of being disconnected from ourselves which will then lead to being disconnected from others.
  • Hence being emotionally literate not only helps us connect to ourselves, but also to others around us.

A High EL Person and Dealing with Low EL moments

  • People with a high emotional literacy level are more conscious, self-aware, and have achieved a certain level of self understanding. They have dealt with difficulties in life instead of avoiding them. They are kinder and more empathetic towards others.
  • No one is completely emotionally literate. We all have our bad days, including myself.
  • There are days where I don’t want to sit and deal with my feelings as it is painful. However, sooner or later, it needs to be dealt with.
  • As an art therapist, I write about it. I engage in a lot of self-reflection through journaling and creating art. Others may do it through meditation, music, or exercise.

Reasons Why Some Have Difficulty Expressing Their Emotions

  • As a society we are not taught or encouraged to explore.
  • We as a society prioritise left brain thinking which is action oriented, such as doing, giving, achieving, solving problems, structure and hierarchy. We are taught to be survivors. Therefore, we fight and work hard.
  • But this is all at the expense of being at the present moment, being attuned to your own emotions, intuition, and being connected to nature, to people, to each other. These are the things that are really important.

Emotional Literacy and Culture

  • Culture definitely has a great impact on emotional literacy.
  • An expression in Asia – crying is bringing shame to the entire family. Generally, Asians are brought up with certain values, and they also care about what others think.
  • The term ‘loss of face’ describes this part really well, as Asians care about what others think.
  • The impact of culture is very likely deep rooted in our heritage due to our ancestors struggle to survive through war and poverty. Thus, there was no time to deal with emotions.

Being More Technologically Focused vs Being More Reflective.

  • Everything has its pros and cons.
  • Using technology, in the form of podcast, for example, comes from a place of awareness where you have a clear intention to reach out to more people.
  • Activities like playing games, however, is one form of escapism and leads to disconnect.
  • Using technology for good, is really in our hands. How we decide to utilise this tool is very important.

Dealing with Unhealthy Emotions

  • Many of us prefer the easy way out. When we are angry or upset, we would choose to reach for a cookie or ice-cream, or think about physically hurting or saying something hurtful to the person who caused the emotion.
  • If there is frustration, it is important to voice it out.
  • Emotion is a good tool for us to learn about our needs. It is a tool that makes us think about our wants and desires.
  • Treat our emotions like a friend instead of like a monster that is trying to destroy us.

The First Step Towards Emotional Literacy

  • Naming and labelling an emotion while asking, “What are you feeling now?” and “Why are you feeling this way.
  • Be very honest with yourself.

Encouraging Other People to Feel Better and Improve their Emotional Literacy

  • First, you have to comfortable with yourself. Once you are able to accept the human experience that you are going through, then you can create that space for others to feel how they are feeling.

Art Therapy in the Development of Emotional Literacy

  • Art therapy is an empowering platform. It is a space to the art therapist and the client to come together and make art.
  • The art work is a vessel the both the therapist and the client to talk about. The art work is usually a symbol of how the client is thinking, feeling, processing his or her problem.
  • Everything about the process, for example, how the client is moving, painting, moulding the clay, and how the shapes and colours come together, tells us a story.


  • Self-awareness is the most important thing.
  • Be kind to yourself when difficult emotions arise.
  • Celebrate if you’re feeling joyful and happy.
  • If you feel overwhelmed, find someone to talk to. There is no shame in seeking for help. It is not a weakness, instead, it is a sign of strength.
  • There are a large number of therapist out there who utilise various other modalities. Art therapy is only one of the methods out there.

Say Hello!

If you’d like to get in touch with Eva, look for her at :

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