Art Therapy can be a wonderful tool between the psychotherapy sessions to express feelings, release tension, gain insight, problem-solve, calm the brain, and to obtain many other benefits. For example, if you have a negative experience with something or someone, you could gain emotional relief by expressing your feelings via drawing or painting.
What makes Art Expression Unique
Art expression is truly unique. When feelings are expressed verbally, they are gone as soon as spoken. However, when we express feelings visually, the process creates a tangible art product – a picture or an object that can be seen, touched, and contemplated. In addition, art taps into the subconscious mind and can frequently bypass defenses and intellectualization, thus offering unique insights and solutions.
Art Reduces Stress & Increases Compassion
I myself frequently use art to reduce stress, to feel better, and to let go of difficult situations. In the below example of The Eye-Ball Woman, the art process helped me to reduce frustration, develop compassion, and greater understanding about a person. I originally had difficulty interacting with this woman, because I perceived her as aggressive and domineering.
The process of drawing itself helped me to feel calmer and more grounded. In addition, when I stepped back and reflected upon my drawing, the woman now appeared more childlike as if she was drowning in the quicksand of her own hair, thus looking more helpless. I no longer saw her as aggressive, but as needing help, which increased my compassion and allowed me to let go of the situation emotionally.
A Simple Technique to Processing Feelings via Art
Please don’t think too much – just do. The goal here is to get into your subconscious mind and into your body. Stay away from thinking too much about what you are feeling and why. Trust the process. Bring up the negative feelings by thinking about the situation or a person
- Locate the physical sensations of these feelings in your body – pressure in your chest, heaviness behind your eyes etc.
- While focusing on the body sensations, ask your body to give you an image
- Draw or paint the image
Once you are done, step back to gain some distance from your art. Now you can activate your thinking brain – add title, meaning, and do some writing and refection. Most of all, notice how you feel now about the situation compare to when you began. Most likely you will feel calmer and more centered.
Disclaimer: If you are a trauma survivor with active PTSD symptoms, proceed with caution. Focusing on body sensations can unlock trauma memories and you could feel more dis-regulated. I would recommend Mandala coloring instead, as it is a more containing technique.
Tips for Choosing Art Material
Generally, messier art media like paint, chalk pastels, or clay will intensify and draw out feelings. However, more controlled media like pens, pencils, or markers will serve as a container for your feelings. I typically choose somewhere in the middle. My favorites are twist-able Slick Stixs by Crayola. They are very silky, smooth, and water-soluble crayons. You can add water to create a watercolor effect. You can also use your finger tips to blend the colors.
For additional tips or to schedule an appointment contact Ina Lasmane, MA, LMFT, a psychotherapist in private practice in Minnetonka, MN at (612) 559-8704.