Art therapy is for babies


No.  Really.  Art therapy is great for people who are preverbal or who have limited verbal skills for other reasons (such as disability, illness, or language barriers).  The sensory aspect of art making has been shown to promote the growth of new neurons, to promote the development of motor skills, and to aid in top down development in babies and young children.  Engaging with the art materials reduces stress and has a regulating effect on the nervous system.  It also encourages the development of problem solving skills, self-control and mastery, and can foster creativity and a zest for learning.  In the context of an art therapy session conducted by an art therapist, a baby or young child can increase secure attachment after a separation or rocky start, build trust, and build and strengthen relationships with caregivers.  Art therapy can support caregivers to bond with their child, reduce their own stress and anxiety, to increase their confidence, and to heal from their own historical traumas.  Of course, it is important that to have age appropriate expectations and materials.  A baby is not going to create a museum quality masterpiece.  At this stage, the focus is on experiencing the art materials with the senses.  Squishing the clay, feeling the slippery paint, smelling the dough, and inevitably tasting things as well.  Good thing there are so many non-toxic, and even edible material options out there! 


Expanding our emotional vocabularies

“I’m so mad!”…But am I really?  Mislabeling what it is that we are actually feeling can get in the way of resolving our problems.  Three things to consider about feelings: first, feelings are very nuanced.  They come in tones and shades and are highly situational.  The anger we feel in one situation is not the same anger that we might feel in a different situation.  Second, feelings are often made up of other feelings.  Anger is another good example of this.  Anger is a composite feeling made of different kinds of hurt and fear.  Third, we are capable of feeling multiple feelings simultaneously.   Knowing this, it is unlikely that we are just ‘mad’.   Art therapy provides many outlets for exploring feelings and digging deeper into what they mean. This activity broke down anger and discovered hurt feelings, shame, disappointment, feeling disrespected, and feeling embarrassed at the core of it all.  When we start calling things what they really are, change can finally begin. 

Mind maps


Ok, so mind mapping isn’t technically art therapy…but why not?  It can be such a useful tool for self-discovery and problem solving.  Free writing has its place in art therapy and mind mapping is pretty similar.  It’s great for when you have a general idea of what you are feeling, but you want to expand upon it, or dig deeper into it.  It’s also great for helping you get started when you don’t know what you are feeling.  Mind mapping is great for discovering themes and patterns in behavior.  It’s also great for identifying voices or messages that aren’t yours.  Mind mapping is my personal go-to technique.  I use it for everything.  Generating fresh ideas, exploring different feelings, debriefing after emotionally loaded experiences, organizing thoughts and feelings, planning in my personal and work life, and for processing art after an art therapy session.  It’s also a good starter technique for people who might not be ready to make art.  It is a containing activity, and allows for some creativity for people who aren’t quite ready to move from an intellectual headspace, into a creative one. 


Painting your demon

We all have that voice in our head that is less than helpful.  In fact, at times it is downright detrimental to our happiness and wellbeing.  Feelings of fear, anxiety, self-doubt, shame, apathy, hopelessness, and anger can interfere with our ability to live our lives fully.  Identifying our trouble spots and making art about them can help us overcome them.  It is important to get to know these darker parts of ourselves because even though they make things difficult for us, they often serve an important purpose.  It can be easy to feel like our feelings are working against us, and that our brains are sabotaging our attempts to be successful and happy.  But, we have good reasons for feeling the way that we do, and even our hard feelings serve protective functions.  Through art making we can discover how these feelings originated, how they became entrenched, what purposes they serve for us, and how we might make friends with our feelings and learn to feel a little differently. 

Sand Tray

Sifting through the sand is irresistible, and not just to children!  Sand tray or sand play is an expressive therapy technique that can be enjoyed by adults and children alike.  It reminds me of making dioramas out of shoeboxes and modeling clay in elementary school.  There was a special sort of satisfaction that came from being in charge of creating a tiny world.  I get the same feeling when I make pictures in the sand tray.  You can use figurines to create a scene or world in the sand.  You can dig in the sand and create hills, valleys, water, or sky.  Or, you can use small tools to make patterns in the sand like your own Zen garden.  Due to its symbolic and playful nature, sand tray is an excellent tool for problem solving and exploring new possibilities.  It also lends itself well to exploring trauma and healing from trauma, as it is gentle, contained, and grounding.  

A wearable reminder

“Pretty beads, that’s a nice accessory” you might think if you were to see one of these beauties on the arm of a friend or passer-by.  But these eye-catching bracelets each have a secret message.  They are rich with personal meaning and symbolism, and each one tells a personal story.  They are from a workshop on building strength and resiliency held this past weekend.  I wanted to create an object that could be taken back into regular life, and that would be a reminder of the time spent together this weekend.  I’m a big fan of transitional objects.  Sometimes we really need a touchstone, or a physical reminder that we are strong, we are competent, and we have done great things!  What a better way than a special piece of jewelry?  There are so many ways to approach this activity, and everyone took their own unique way.  People choose colors that were meaningful, some chose specific beads to represent specific things, some incorporated found items and charms, and some chose to focus on a wish or intention to infuse their project with. I love this activity.  A fantastic way to end a fantastic group, I will be wearing mine proudly. 

Creating healing spaces

I came home from a busy day, I kicked off my shoes, and flopped myself on to the couch.  I was very happy to be home and I was feeling grateful for the time to relax.  As I looked around my living room I thought of how the space invited me in, and made me feel safe and comfortable.   The couch with all the pillows and blankets, the soothing color on the walls, and the pieces of art placed here and there were all things I had chosen to evoke a certain feeling.  This got me thinking about our ability to act on our environment.  We have the ability to create healing spaces.   It doesn’t have to happen on a large scale, there is ease with starting small...tiny even.   A healing space can be a corner of a room, a place on a wall, a spot on the fridge, or even something portable.  With that in mind I created a tiny altar with a candle and some special stones and crystals.  Where could you create your own little healing space?  What would you put in yours?