How We Are Connected- Art Therapy’s Role in Understanding Who We Are

 

We engage in relationships every day, whether it is relationship to self, family, friends or community. Art therapy can be an entry to deeper understanding of these relationships and lead to happier and more fulfilling lives.

 

Relationship with Self. This includes self-understanding, self-awareness and insight.  Are you kind to yourself, critical, forgiving, accepting? The relationship with oneself can be seen through the act of creating and the themes that develop.  One of the greatest advantages of expressive art-making, is that what is created by the client provides an opportunity for the artist and therapist to look at a tangible reflection of the self.  The artwork allows distance from sometimes sensitive content so that discussion can flow more freely.

 

Relationship with Therapist. This unique relationship develops over the course of treatment.  Therapists should be accepting, supportive and nurturing, providing guidance, encouraging exploration of relationships and challenging thoughts and perceptions when appropriate.  Ultimately, the relationship should be a partnership built on trust.  The way a client and a therapist relate can be a model for communication. The relationship with an art therapist can be seen in the client’s willingness to engage in art-making, a felt sense of safety to take risks and to share in discussion, as well as including the art therapist in the creative planning and process.

 

Relationship with Significant Others. This often is a focus of treatment and can include current or past relationships.  Current relationships with significant others often are influenced by past experiences and attachments.  Memories, to a large extent, are stored visually and therefore the art created in sessions allows access to unresolved conflicts.  By bringing these things to light with guidance, one can find closure.  The resolution of conflicts from past relationships and remembering what has worked well, allows one to improve current relationships.

 

Relationships with significant others can be seen through inclusion or exclusion of individuals in art pieces.  How they are depicted also is important.  Specific art directives are aimed at developing empathy, improving communication and increasing problem-solving skills to assist a client dealing with relationship issues.

 

Relationship with Community/Social Activities.  Individuals who are struggling personally usually benefit from expanding their social activities and community engagement. This may even be a goal for treatment.  For those who already have a strong tie and investment in the community, the focus might be to utilize these networks to receive support and feedback about changes.

 

Art Therapy group-work can be very powerful for reflecting on oneself in a social context. Groups encourage teamwork and building communication skills.  Membership in an art therapy group can be a source of inspiration.  Participants are bonded by their creative energy and the cause or purpose that brings them together.

 

When individuals improve their relationship with self, others and their community, their world view tends to change for the positive. Artwork themes tend to shift as clients feel stronger and more confident.  The subject of artwork may become lighter and more optimistic which translates into a sense of hope for all people and greater possibilities.

Walking Your Path: Intention, Art and Yoga

Happy New Year Everyone!  I first would like to acknowledge that it has been almost 2 months since my last post.  I have been actively involved in several new projects that I look forward to sharing here.

 

This post is based on a workshop that I co-lead with a yoga instructor over the summer.  The concept of combining yoga and art therapy is relatively new.  I however, have been practicing yoga for almost as long as I have been providing art therapy services.  Initially, I began attending yoga classes for exercise and relaxation.  Over time, I found so many of the key concepts in yoga to be similar or complementary to the therapeutic benefits of expressive art-making: awareness, grounding, relaxation, self-care, clarity, energizing, balance, intention and more.

While I was enjoying these benefits through my own art-making and yoga practice, I was also learning about the mind-body connection through my work as an art therapist.  The mental health and wellness fields have been invested for some time in training and practicing in a more integrated way; treating individuals holistically.  There is no doubt with my research and experience that the mind influences the body and the body influences the mind.  Of course, stating it that way is helpful for understanding but is not accurate if you truly see the body and mind as one.  The distinction is not so clear.

I began to feel that the work I was doing, although using the body (hands, eyes etc.), with art-making was limited.  I sought out trainings and read literature about incorporating breathing, mindfulness, movement and yoga into treatment.  I was fortunate to be supported in this by my colleagues and supervisors.

Shortly after, I established my private practice- Safe Haven Arts, I learned that a friend of mine had completed yoga teacher training.  We discussed the possibility of working together to bring the therapeutic benefits of art therapy and yoga to a larger audience.  This past summer, we ran our first group together: “Walking Your Path: Intention, Art and Yoga” at Cornerstone Wellness in Goshen, NY.

breathing-exercise-yoga-art-left

 

 

 

Breathing Exercise

 

 

breathing-exercise-yoga-art-rightWe started with a breathing exercise and then moved into a discussion about intention.  Participants “set their intention(s)” at the beginning of the hour long yoga sequence.

considering-intention-yoga-artParticipants then chose and developed a mandala taken from the breathing exercise, that included contributions from the whole group.  They were asked to develop the mandalas using collage materials and to focus on their original intention.

mandalas-in-progress-yoga-art   Follow-up questions and discussion led to bonding between group members and identification of ways to continue pursuing their intentions beyond the group.

Further workshops are being planned for this Spring and Summer.  Locations to be determined.  Please share and respond to this post.