using the arts in therapy
a container for the inner process
Art making is the process of becoming yourself.
Art making allows us to connect with our creativity and playfulness. It also helps us discover and make contact with our personal inner world with all its unique riches.
When we engage in the creative process, the brain's right hemisphere is active in a way that does not happen when we use verbal communication only. The right brain is emotional and imaginative; it can access non-verbal memories ('feeling' memories) and express them through image and metaphor.
Using the therapeutic arts can be both calming and enlivening - and even riveting - at the same time. It can lead to unexpected, profound insights and new ways of looking at things.
As you engage in creative exploration, my task as a therapist is to facilitate your emotional process. I may ask you questions or invite you to speak 'from' your image, so that you can integrate your creative experience and anchor it in your psychological life.
a look at the therapeutic arts
There are a number of art forms that can be used for therapeutic work, each with different qualities.
All of these art forms can also be used to support your self-care and emotional well-being at home.
Look at the the mini-exercises below and choose one you might like to try for yourself!
Simply putting some marks on paper makes our inner world visible. The image invites us to linger in self-exploration and tells us of 'what is.' Letting the different elements of the image 'dialogue' with each other can reveal how we relate and orient to ourselves and others in our 'seen' world.
Select: Which of the coloured dots is you? How is it feeling?
Arranging small objects in a sandtray or on a table is a wonderful way of creating a visual, 3D representation of our inner feeling states. We can then stand back, observe the scene, and gain a felt sense of it. What does it seem to be telling us?
Explore: Spontaneously pick some objects from around the house. Use them to create an image of 'feeling safe.' What did you notice?
Drama offers an insight into the roles we play. Externalising conflictual dynamics can feel safer. Letting puppets act and speak for us shines a light on our relationships: Does the connection feel empowering or deadened? These playful interactions help us develop inner resources and awareness.
This art form also includes creative storytelling.
Experiment: Grab two puppets, decide who is who, and allow them to have a frank conversation! Notice how you felt.
Movement can be helpful for connecting with our bodies. Moving around the room we can experiment with different ways of walking or gesturing. This can lead to a better awareness of our inner space and our needs, for example, of releasing tension held in the body.
The body holds our emotions, and using movement can be an access point to grief or anger. It can help us expand our perceived range of possibilities and choices.
Get moving: Walk around the room in any way that you like. How does your body want to move?
Music can convey the full range of human emotion and is intimately associated with feeling states. Even as babies, rhythmic sounds appeal to us; they can soothe and engage.
Making sounds with a drum or other instrument can explain how we feel in a way that is different from verbal expression.
Listen: Find a jar of peppercorns or other small seeds. Close your eyes and explore the sounds you can make with it. Which sound matches how you feel today?
Clay (play-doh is fine too) invites a sensual engagement as we mould the material with our hands. This offers a way of processing emotions using touch. Clay allows safe exploration of anger (punching the clay). We may embody the clay - feeling squashed - and so on.
Exercise: Shape and reshape a piece of clay, noticing your sensations and feelings as you work.
While literal words may describe a feeling, poetry allows the feeling itself to speak. Poetry bypasses logic and touches the heart directly.
You can also use therapeutic writing to write a letter to your younger self, or writing 'as if' you were a river, a flower, and so on. This brings a sense of aliveness, of being in the moment.
Try this little poem for yourself: I seem _____; and really I am _____ .
mindfulness in nature
Nature offers rich imagery and symbolism to enhance and vivify the therapeutic process. Landscapes and physical objects; natural events such as weather and seasons are all useful metaphors for human feelings and experiences. Looking to nature can help us reflect on concepts such as growing, taking up space, letting go.
Express: If the rock at the front had words, what would it say?
Don't do it well
Do it freely, do it badly;
allow yourself that freedom.
But ask yourself:
'In what colour am I drawing?
What kind of line - a broken one or a smooth one?
Am I really like a square, like a block?
Am I grey or yellow or blue?'