Tag Archives: art therapy

How Art Making Nurtures Resilience

 Resilience is a bit of a buzzword right now

 And there are good reasons for that. Focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses has a great track record of bringing people to healthier, happier lives after trauma. This focus isn’t meant to deny the pain or woundedness of our lives, however. Resilience is the characteristic of being able to bounce back after stress or injury. Like a rubber band, we don’t know if it’s working until we’re tested – stretched – by adversity. How can we work on increasing our natural resilience?

Art making is a natural resilience booster.

Art is a place where we can make mistakes that don’t have earth-shattering consequences. We can practice problem solving and decision making in a piece of art. We can try new things and experiment. We can see our situations or our histories and possibly even ourselves in new ways. Art lets us put the intangible and tangled thoughts and feelings of our inner lives into a visible form where we can attend to them compassionately. We can view our habitual reactions to frustration or  success, and learn new ways to reflect and respond thoughtfully. Art can do all these things, and more …

 … as long as it’s supported by a safe container.


To make art in the pursuit of healing – in the pursuit of higher resilience – the artist needs to feel emotionally safe. A number of factors play into emotional safety.

Freedom from judgment or punishment. Art making to deal with pain, loss, or trauma should be done in a place that is sheltered from the curiosity of those who do not know how to react in a healing way. Art made in this spirit is not to be shared lightly, nor observed out of mere curiosity, or subjected to critique.

Freedom from inner sabotage. Sometimes the danger of judgment comes from the artist’s inner critical self as well. It’s helpful in such cases if the artist is able to rely on someone else’s voice of acceptance and compassion. A supportive therapist can be that voice. So can the knowledge that there are others who have been down the same road and battled the same inner discouragement, and that those inner self-shaming voices are only the voices of fear, not truth.

Respect for the limits of emotional tolerance. One of the more subtle boundaries that need to be maintained around the creation of art as a healing modality is the level of emotional intensity that an individual can tolerate before either shutting down or becoming overanxious. Neurobiology has taught us that only in a state of relaxed alertness does new learning take place. This is different for each one of us depending on character and personal history, and can vary from day to day or minute to minute. For those who have suffered trauma it is an especially delicate balance to maintain. It takes care and skill to create a comfort zone that allows for challenge without boomeranging into deeper trauma. There always needs to be permission to back off, clear grounding techniques to help you do so, and confident encouragement to try again another day.

Next time I’ll write more about some useful grounding techniques to help you find moments of peace during challenging times.

What is an Open Studio?

An open studio is where you are accepted and encouraged, wherever you are on your creative journey.

The Open Studio
Ready for you to come and make art!

Open Studios are places that are built on the principle that engaging in the creative process is a healing activity.

The Open Studio is a concept that has been in place in Art Therapy for many years, and many examples of them exist. Some are found in institutional or residential settings, and others are embedded in communities, offering a place for artistic engagement to people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds.

Open Studios are OPEN! They invite the participation of everyone who comes, at whatever their skill level. The Open Studio at St. George’s in Victoria, BC is an almost-two-year-old program held in the Parish Hall of an Anglican Church in Cadboro Bay Village. Begun in 2013 as a brief, 12 session pilot project, it has bloomed into a vibrant community of artists – teenagers and twenty-somethings right through to retirees – who hang out with each other once or twice a week to create everything from hand-made clothing to acrylic paintings. Certainly sometimes you will find a senior helping a teen learn to sew, sometimes it’s the younger ones helping their elders with taking a digital photograph with their phone, but it’s rarely a stereotypical interaction. I’ve seen tears shared, subtle and tender expressions of caring, and raucous laughter. There is mutual respect, a sense of fun, and true joy in this varied and expanding community.

Lately I’ve noticed that at least once a week, someone we’ve never met before walks in to the Open Studio and tells us “I saw your sign outside and I was curious!” As often as not, that contact is the beginning of another person’s journey at the Open Studio. Of course, it can be intimidating to join something new, especially if your personal history does not include a lot of positive messages about your creativity. Our invitation to you is to check out that feeling of discomfort when you think about creating art in the company of others. What’s it like? When have you felt it before? What  might be different in a place where the focus is on how you feel while you make art instead of on what you make? We try our best to make everyone as comfortable as possible. You can work in solitude; you can work at a table with several others; you can ask for help; you can ask to be left to your own devices. We’ll offer you some coffee or tea!

The unique thing about an Open Studio that practices Art as Therapy is that you will have the opportunity to reflect on your creation with an art therapist. An art therapist is trained to help you look at the images with compassion for yourself, encouraging you to listen deeply to your own inner wisdom. You may find parallels between the way you make art and the way you live your life, or between the image you have created and your life circumstances, or between the way you feel about the image and the way you feel in a particular situation. It is your interpretation that counts – we are there to support you in your search for meaning.

You are invited to join the adventure! Come to the Open Studio at St. George’s on Monday mornings from 9-12 or on Wednesday evenings from 6-9!

Therapy – Am I Too Old?

Art Therapy: Stops Along the Journey
“Stops Along the Journey” 2013, Wool







Mostly, I just want to jump up and down yelling “NO! Of course not!! Never! No No No!” when I hear this question, but I know that’s not really helpful, and probably wouldn’t come across as very professional either, what with all the jumping and everything. Maybe what would help is a quick discussion of what therapy really is (regardless of whether it’s the talking kind or the art kind).

What’s the Point of Therapy Anyway?

Do you feel like you’ve done what you wanted to do with your life? Have you been who and what you wanted to be? Do you believe that human beings are not only capable of growing and learning for their whole lifetime, but actually meant to do so?

Therapy is all about Growth, Learning, and Positive Change!

You’ve probably heard of several theories about stages of growth and development. But in all likelihood, you’ve associated them with childhood and adolescence, and haven’t thought of what happens after that. The reality is, we  don’t stop changing! Certainly, some of the changes associated with aging are in the category of loss, but that’s only part of the story.

We are developing (and that means AGING!) from the moment we are born!

A young adult struggles with defining themselves as separate from their parents, with finding a vocation, and possibly seeking a romantic adult relationship. The middle years of maturity may revolve around the dual roles of providing for one’s family (of whatever composition or size) and caring for children. From mid-life on, you may  be  preoccupied with efforts around your “peak earning years” at your job, possibly with launching children as adults, and increasingly with attending to the needs of an aging parent or other family member. Issues of identity and meaning come up again and again through each of these stages, especially if, along the way, you experience losses (of job, marriage, health, or from a move) that make a re-negotiation necessary. What often gets ignored are the continuing changes past what we think of as “retirement” age, which include concerns with spirituality, legacy, mentorship, integrity, and reminiscence.

Changing priorities and developmental transition can be daunting at any age.

In  my view, good therapy takes the whole person into account: their body, mind, heart, soul, community, culture, and environment. Keeping your eye on all those things isn’t easy, either for a client or for the therapist, but it’s vital to at least be open to information from all those areas. Willingness to be a witness to “the whole story” is something I see as a really important part of my job. Being truly seen and heard is something deeply needed, and deeply yearned for by many people during times of transition. Only by knowing our needs can we meet them. Only by knowing where we are can we choose our next direction.

Therapy is meant to be a safe space in which a person – of any age or stage – can freely explore their journey thus far, taking the time to find its fruits and heal the wounds incurred on the way. At its best, therapy can be experienced as a protected and sacred moment, outside of “ordinary” time, in which a person can meet themselves anew, with fresh eyes. The goal of this exploration, of this sacred moment, will be very different for different people.  It may be moving on to new plans and adventures; it may be the consolidation of your learning and wisdom. It will certainly be to create your best possible present, regardless of your age.

If you do find yourself on the older end of the developmental spectrum, here are a couple of links to sites that deal specifically with positive aging:

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!)

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!)