Art Therapy and Grief

Art Therapy and Grief

Where does your grief live in you?

Does it stick in the back of your throat? Has it lodged under your solar plexus in a painful ache? Does it sit uneasily in your gut? Perhaps you just know it’s there, covering your mind with a film of grey that makes it hard to think clearly.

Getting to know our grief, and how and where we hold it in our bodies, can be an important part of healing. Some people worry that focusing on these feelings is going to result in prolonging their grief. Paradoxically, the opposite is the case.

The more we push our feelings away, and the more we try to ignore our body’s messages to us, the more likely we are to remain stuck in unhealthy patterns.

Avoidance and constant distraction won’t work: but we do need to set some safe boundaries for ourselves when we engage with difficult feelings. On one hand, we don’t want to be so distanced from our own experience that we spend our life in a state of foggy dissociation. On the other hand, it’s not safe to walk through the whole day emotionally flooded.

It’s ok to decide when and where you’re going to get in touch with your grief, and to keep it to a comfortable amount of time. Therapy is a great place to do this.

Art therapy can be especially helpful for grief because not only do you have the safety net of a qualified therapist and their confidential office space, you also have the amazing power of art to contain and express your emotions!

How can art therapy help me through my grief? Think back to those first questions I asked – were you able to come up with an answer pretty quickly? Most people find that talking about emotions in terms of the physical senses (like “the weight of guilt,” “rage burning inside me,” “all choked up with sadness”) comes naturally. An art therapist might take it just a bit further, and ask about more senses, like “Is that guilt heavy like a rock, or an anvil, or something else? How much does it weigh? What colour is it? What texture is it?”

Now imagine that, instead of just coming up with words for it, you’ve got help and guidance to create a visual representation of your feeling. Maybe even in three dimensions! You’ll be able to change it, shrink it, imagine your life with it or without it, make a house for it – the possibilities are infinite!

Most importantly, while you’re working on it, you’re using your hands, your thinking mind, and your heart all at the same time to create something new out of the pain and find a broader perspective.

The process of working with art materials, with no pressure to create something “for show,” is pleasurable and relaxing, allowing you the space and time to process painful emotions.

DISCLAIMER: This information is not a substitute for professional psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content provided by Frances Bryant-Scott, RSW, BCATR is intended for general information purposes only. Never disregard professional medical or psychological advice or delay seeking treatment because of something you read in this blog (or any blog for that matter!)

An Art-Ful Exercise of Imagination

Shall we go for a walk together?

Walk in Shuswap

We know that walking is good for us – all that cardio exercise and stuff, right? And on some level most of us feel that getting outside is good for our soul too…

where we can smell the air and get in touch with nature.

There can be more to the Art of Walking than that, though. Walking is a very rich metaphor. When we walk, we travel. What’s our current journey in life like?  Are we travelling with a purpose, or meandering with no concrete goal just yet?

Is it a pilgrimage, a crusade, a shopping trip, an exploration, a rescue mission, a vacation?

Is it a saunter, a slog, a hike, a climb, a trek, a jog, a march or a mad dash? Do you lope, limp, mosey, swagger, strut, sashay, goose-step, trot, or tip-toe tentatively? 

Next time you’re on a walk, and it doesn’t matter what kind – you could be doing it for health and relaxation or for errands – indulge your imagination. See your walk as an epic journey! What pitfalls do you encounter? What supports or friendly strangers (à la Tin Man on the Yellow Brick Road!) help you along the way? Is there a fairy-tale witch in disguise, waiting to give you a magical gift in return for your kind gesture?

Letting your imagination have free-reign for a time each day nourishes your ability to observe small details and to see your life from a different perspective. Doing so while you are walking adds a kinesthetic and sensory dimension to the experience.

When you get home, perhaps your journey can be translated into art: a poem or drawing or map. Maybe it can become the basis for tonight’s bedtime story for your children (or you!) And sometimes, the story you weave out of your walk can inspire you to journey differently tomorrow.

Some neat walking inspirations:

DISCLAIMER: This information is not a substitute for professional psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content provided by Frances Bryant-Scott, RSW, BCATR is intended for general information purposes only. Never disregard professional medical or psychological advice or delay seeking treatment because of something you read in this blog (or any blog for that matter!)

The Art Therapy Guide to Getting Dressed!

Reflections on the Art of Personal Adornment

You’ve heard the sayings “dress for success,” “the clothes make the man,” “putting on my warpaint,” “power dressing,” and “wear your heart on your sleeve.” Our language is full of idioms that show  just how important what we wear is to us, beyond mere protection from the elements.

What we put on our bodies, whether that is make-up, a tattoo, jewellery, or clothing, can have a much deeper meaning than simple decoration.

Personal adornment has been an important part of culture around the world for as far back as we can find artifacts.  Masks and costumes continue to be used in ritual; special garments can denote status or membership in a particular social or professional group; jewellery has been everything from a sign of wealth and even legal tender to a tool for prayer. Faces can be painted to prepare for war or for a first date, with equal attention to detail and “getting it right”! Sometimes it’s about creating an impression on someone else, whether the intention is to attract or intimidate.

But lately I’ve been looking at it on another level too, as a place for creative expression of who we are in the moment, who we might want to become, and of how we feel or what we need.

As a part of my work in art therapy, I’m particularly interested in everything we humans do that involves the senses and our creativity.  And guess what? Personal adornment is all about touch and the visual sense

Do you prefer clothing that wraps you comfortingly in something soft, or that makes you feel invulnerable, like you are wearing armour? Are the colours soothing? Shocking? Warm or cool? Is your jewellery small and inconspicuous or large and highly textured? Are there particular symbols that feel important for you to wear? Are they visible to others or not? The answers to these questions will differ greatly from one person to another, and from one day to another even in the same person.

Next time you’re getting dressed, think about it!

A hand-me-down sweater from your best friend or your favourite brother can be a comfort during hard times. A necklace with a special symbol or a particular stone or gem worn close to your heart can keep you physically and emotionally aware of what your heart needs today. A ring that you can see and touch throughout the day can have the job of reminding you to look for something positive in that moment. A vest, scarf, or a necktie can be a tangible metaphor for “suiting up” to meet a challenge head-on.

  • Will today be a day I need to be surrounded by my favourite, most comforting or most energizing colour?
  • Is there a symbol of my faith, my gratitude, or my particular strengths that I can wear or carry with me today to help me meet a challenge?
  • Is there a way my clothing, my jewellery, or even my make-up can help me to focus on a quality that I’m trying to bring into my life? Do I need more softness or compassion for myself and others?
  • Do I need to feel a little bit tough or armoured today? Do I have a garment or a piece of special jewellery that can remind me of my boundaries and that it’s ok for me to stick to them?

When you choose, whatever you choose, do it with mindfulness and intention. You can give yourself the gift of a little self-care that will keep on giving all day long!

What do you do for yourself in terms of adornment, clothing,  and colours?

DISCLAIMER: This information is not a substitute for professional psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content provided by Frances Bryant-Scott, RSW, BCATR is intended for general information purposes only. Never disregard professional medical or psychological advice or delay seeking treatment because of something you read in this blog (or any blog for that matter!)