Art Therapy Session
Art therapy uses the same underlying principles that verbal psychotherapy does: Identifying an issue (where, why, how are we stuck), getting the inside out (thoughts and feelings), looking at and understanding it better (developing insight), realizing what action is needed to change the dynamic involved, and taking constructive action in your life (applying what you’ve learned). But, unlike purely verbal therapy, art therapy is hands-on and action-oriented from the start. An art therapy session usually consists of two parts: the process of art-making, and the exploration of the art-making product.
Process of art-making
Art therapy is more about the process of art making and the experience of creativity, than with producing a fabulous image.
– Many people find the simple act of holding a crayon and making a mark to be powerful. With those of you who have not done any art since primary school, working with images would bring back your childhood memories. As you work, your hands sometimes seem to have something to say. This curiosity opens the door to insightful surprises as you shift into a fresh way of listening to yourself.
– In the process of art making in the therapeutic studio, the art therapist is in your company as you make art, engages in making art along with you, and accepts and honors your art work. The difficulties that you face in the process of art making could mimic obstacles you create in your daily lives. Developing your creativity and having this process witnessed and supported is an effective way to question these difficulties. As trust develops between you and the therapist, the art making becomes a source of nourishment and strength, a framework for risk taking, and gradually more goal oriented and focused on important issues.
– There are many different inspirations for you to begin the art making: memories, feelings, dreams, body sensations, ideas, doodles, or attraction to a specific colour. You would then use art materials to examine these sources by giving them a physical form. – The art therapist may intervene in your art-making process by using techniques that are designed to help you get in touch with your inner feelings. Some of these techniques are more spontaneous, while others are more directed. You may be invited to express yourself freely, and not to worry about planning the picture. You may be invited to relax and begin to draw free lines or make scribbles on paper. Then, you are asked to try to see what you can find in the scribbles and form a picture from these scribbles and tell a story about it.
– You can be given one or more pieces of paper that already have a few lines or simple shapes on them. These shapes or lines act as a starting point for you, and they are to be incorporated into a larger picture. The art therapist might draw a circle and ask you to draw inside or outside of the circle. You may be asked to use your non-dominant hand and to choose the specific materials or colours with which you want to work. You may be asked to paint or draw three wishes you have, or to paint something happy, something sad.
– The art therapist may use guided imagery, leading you through a relaxation and then taking you on a journey while your eyes are closed and your body relaxed. Then you are asked to draw what you see at the end of the journey. You may be asked to select one statement from “I am”, “I feel”, “I have” or “I do” and paint about it. The art therapist may give you one minute to draw yourself. You may be asked to draw yourself as any kind of animal, or as the animal that you see yourselves as most similar to. You may be asked to draw a house, a tree and a person in one picture, or create a collage as your personal world out of pieces of pictures you choose.
Exploration of the art-making product
In the second part of the art therapy session, you and the art therapist look at your art work together and collaborate in an effort to understand it.
– The art therapist does not interpret or analyse your artwork, rather she allows you to tell the story behind your artwork. The therapist has ideas, questions about and responses to the pictures and sculptures, but ultimately does not know the meaning of the work beyond what you confirm. By having respect for your art work and for the autonomy of the image itself, the art therapist allows you to feel safe from interpretation and judgement. Even in silence your art work stands as a concrete yet mysterious statement that may or may not be understood.
– Simply looking at your art work offers insights. Seeing that you have drawn yourself with no mouth or sharp nails can evoke ideas and feelings about yourself that may not be easily defined. In abstract art, suddenly it might feel important that two shapes are kept apart, or that they are connected.
– A difficult issue often seems more approachable when it is embodied in an image. Because it’s “out there” it may be easier to talk about and look at. As the art becomes a container for overwhelming feelings, it is sometimes a safe place for catharsis. It can be an important learning seeing your anger asserted visually, and having those feelings witnessed and accepted.
– Within the play of making art, often a metaphor holds several layers of meaning at one time. The artwork may concretely express ambiguous feelings or seemingly unrelated experiences. The wall that you have painted to repel your mother’s criticisms, may also become a device that brings you power when you need it. In the art, there is no need to decide if it is one thing or the other. Staying within a metaphor that emerges in the art, you can respond to your imagery directly. You can find a restful position for the frail and weeping clay girl. This kind of response can both prompt deep feelings and give those feelings concrete expression.
– Another aspect of art therapy is that the product of art-making remains beyond the session as a source of further reflection. Also, private rituals can evolve around the artwork; a clay piece connected to grieving can be placed by the sea to dissolve with the tide. An angry image can be burned or smashed. An enigmatic picture can be framed for further reflection.
“Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” – Pablo Picasso
“Nothing is confused except the mind.” – Rene Magritte
“Painting has to get back to its original goal, examining the inner lives of human beings.” – Pierre Bonnard