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Art Therapy

The power of art therapy might surprise you.  We all have two sides to our minds: our conscious mind and our unconscious mind. We are aware of most of our thoughts, feelings, and sensory experiences in our conscious minds. Due to this awareness, it is much easier to delve into it and find patterns of thoughts and experiences in which we want to continue or change for the benefits in our lives.

However, the unconscious mind holds a lot of power. Even though we are not always aware of the thoughts and feelings in our unconscious minds, these are often the driving forces behind a lot the decisions we are making in our lives whether we like it or not. It could be an amazing benefit to tap into our unconscious minds more often so that we can help ourselves move in the direction of the life we want. So, how exactly do you go about tapping into your unconscious mind?

Well, there are several ways you can do this. To name a few: you can make a dream journal and write down all of the details of your dreams to look for emotional themes, motivations, and fears. You can also meditate. The quieter you can make your mind on a regular basis, the more you can reach deep into yourself (figuratively of course) and learn about those unconscious forces driving your decisions. This can include some previously unconscious thoughts or limiting beliefs you have about yourself coming to the surface.

Another great way to tap into the unconscious mind, and the one we will be focusing in on today, is utilizing art therapy. When you create something artistically, the unconscious mind has a way of expressing itself through your art.  If you have never tried to explore yourself using art as an adult, you may be skeptical or you may blow it off as an activity for children and artists only. That is not true though. Once you are creating art, you feel and see the unconscious emotions and themes bubble up to the surface like magic. This goes for any person at any age and is not dependent on your creative abilities. It really blows me away every time I do this for myself.

Creating anything can also be transformative in itself. It can raise your self-esteem and promote self-expression. Plus, it’s fun! It is no surprise that many therapists, including myself, utilize art in therapy sessions to assist the therapeutic process. Art therapy is an amazing discovery tool.

Here is a video to show you the magic of art therapy.

OK, so that was pretty powerful. You may be asking yourself, how exactly do I incorporate art therapy in my life? Well, the first thing is that you should not put it off as something you will just try someday. Make a commitment to utilize art in your path of self-discovery this weekend.  It will be fun to try something new!

To make things easier, I will give you 14 art therapy exercises you can try this weekend. Pick 1-2 to try.  See how you feel and how you respond. Bookmark this page so that you can come back and try a few more next weekend!  It will always be a tool you can use at any time. You can do these art projects alone or you can do this with your family. It can be just as fun and revealing as a group activity as it can be as a solitary experience.

Before we begin, I want to offer a few tips using art therapeutically. If you are doing art with someone else, try not to read into their art pieces. The meanings behind the art is always in the eye of the creator, not the observer.  If you see some themes arise when looking at someone’s piece of art, know that you can ask them to explain the meaning behind their art but you can’t interpret it on your own.  Know that your reactions to your own art and your reactions to someone else’s art are both a reflection of you.

Also, don’t be afraid to share the meaning behind your art with others and encourage others to share with you. Ask questions about the art and encourage each other to use art to express emotions and thoughts. Just make sure that everyone feels comfortable whether they decide to share or not. Art can bring up sensitive things that you may not be ready to discuss and that is ok.

Finally, make sure to explore your art beyond the surface by asking yourself questions and elaborating on the thoughts and feelings that arise while creating art so that you can gain the most from these activities. I have included some of these questions after each activity to help with this.

Ok, let’s get started. Here are 14 art therapy activities that you can do to help tap into your subconscious mind:

1)  Draw a timeline of your life

Find a long piece of paper. You can tape together standard paper, use the back side of some old wrapping paper, or get a roll of paper and cut off a long piece.   Draw a long line on the paper leaving some room on the right side of the paper (for the future). This line represents your life. Start filling in the big moments in your life and put them where they fell chronologically. You can draw pictures of the events or just write them in. When you have filled in as many events as you can remember, think about your future and start to fill in the right side of the page. Write in some of the big events to come as well as some of the hopes and dreams you have for your future. As you do this, feel free to go back and write in more past moments as you remember them. When you are done, look at the timeline and ask yourself these questions:

How do I feel right now and why?

What event came to me first and why?

How have the events in my life shaped the events that came later in my life?

How are the events in my life going to affect the future I want?

What did I learn from the events in my life?

What am I grateful for in my life and why?

Is there anyone from my past that I need to forgive so that I can move forward?

What things do I need to have in place to get to the future that I want? What will happen if I don’t make those changes? How will that change the future?

2)  Draw/paint/create an image of how you think others view you

This one is great because you can use any art modality: paint, sculpting with clay, just a good old piece of paper and a pencil, etc. Draw yourself looking through other people’s eyes. After you are done, ask yourself the following questions:

How do I feel right now and why?

What do others see in me that I do not see in myself?

Do other people really know me? Why or why not?

What parts of me are missing from this piece and why?

How does this view of myself differ from how I see myself?

How do I want others to view me?

3)  Draw a picture and include at least these three things: a boat, a storm, and a lighthouse.

This picture can include other things as well, but don’t forget to include a boat, a storm, and a lighthouse. When you are done with your picture, think about how you would feel if you were in the picture. Think about what happened before the storm, during the storm, and after the storm. Then, ask yourself the following questions:

What emotions would I feel if I was actually in the storm and why?

Who would be most helpful to me during the storm and why?

If I were rescued, how would it happen? How would I ask for help?

Think of this exercise as a metaphor for your life: What is the storm in my life (past, present, or future)? Who or what is my lighthouse? What does the boat represent in my life?

What feelings did this activity bring up for me and why?

What did I learn about myself during this activity and why?

4)  Make a collage of the things you are grateful for in your life

Collages are awesome art tools especially for those who are adamant that they are not good artists even though there is no such thing as a bad artist in art therapy. Plus, it is a great way to utilize the old magazines lying around the house. All you have to do is go through the magazine and cut out words and/or pictures that remind you of the things you are grateful for in your life. Then, take those clippings and arrange them however you see fit on a piece of paper. Glue or tape them down. When you are done, ask yourself these questions:

How do I feel right now and why?

Was there anything that I cut out that surprised me?

Is there a theme to the things that I am grateful for?

How do I get more of the things I am grateful for in my life?

Was there any part of this activity that was difficult for me and why?

Is there anyone or anything I can express my gratitude to right now?

5)  Decorate a jar that represents your heart.

Take a jar and decorate it with images and words that represent your heart and/or love. When you are done with that, take a piece of paper and tear it into small strips. On these pieces of paper, write down the things that fill your heart with love. Think about people, places, things, words, and actions. When you are done, ask yourself these questions:

How do I feel right now and why?

Is there a theme to the things that fill my heart with love?

Who do I rely on the most to fill my heart? Do they know this? What do they do to fill my heart?

Is there anything that I do that fills my  own heart?

How do I feel when my heart is empty? How do I feel when my heart is full?

What does my heart jar look like and why?

What should I do when my heart needs to be filled?

6)  Scribble all over a piece of paper for 10 seconds. Then, turn the scribbles into art.

This is a simple and fun exercise. You can learn things from the scribbling portion and the art portion. When you are done, ask yourself the following questions:

How do I feel right now and why?

How did I feel when I was scribbling and why?

How did I turn my scribbles into art?

Was there anything that I created out of the scribbles that surprised me and why?

What can this activity represent in my life? What did I learn from this activity?

Which part did I like better? The scribbles or the art-making portion? Why?

7)  Make three collages: one that represents your past, one that represents your present, and one that represents your future.

Here is another great collage activity. Using those old magazines that you have laying around the house, look through and cut out images and/or words that represent your past, your present, and your future. When you are done, glue or tape those images and words onto three different pieces of paper representing the three parts of your life. Feel free to add your own drawings and words if you struggle to find what you are looking for in the magazines. When you are done, ask yourself these questions:

How do I feel right now and why?

Are there any themes that show up in all three parts of my life?

Which one of the collages was the hardest to do and why?

Which one is your favorite collage and why?

What can I learn about my past and present collages to help create my future?

Was there anything that I cut out that surprised me? Why?

What did I learn during this process?

8)  Think of someone or a group of people that you admire and create a piece of art that represents the strengths that they embody.

This one can be done using any art modality: collage, drawing, painting, sculpture, etc.  Use your chosen art modality to highlight the strengths you see in your hero/mentor/someone that you admire. When you are done, ask yourself these questions:

How do I feel right now and why?

Does this person (or these people) know that I admire them? If I could tell them, how would I share this with them?

What do I admire in others? Why is that important to me?

Do I have any of the same strengths that I admire in others? Why or why not?

How do I incorporate the things I admire in others into my life for myself?

What did I learn from this activity?

9)  Draw a place (real or imagined) where you feel safe and at peace.

This is a fun activity. You can just draw your perfect place where you feel safe, secure, and at peace. This can be a place you have been to before or a place that exists in your imagination. It can even be a little of both. Make sure to include all of your senses. What are you smelling? What things are around you? What can you feel? Is there anything you can taste in your safe place? What are the sounds in your calm place? When you are done, ask yourself these questions:

How do I feel right now and why?

What makes me feel safe?

Why do the things in my drawing make me feel safe and secure?

Do I feel safe and secure in my life on a regular basis? Why or why not?

What fears do I have when I am not in my peaceful place?

How can I incorporate the things that make me feel peaceful in my life? How would that change my life?

Feel free to use this activity when you are feeling particularly stressed out or unsafe. You can redraw it or go back and look at your drawing. Reflect on the safety in the drawing to help you calm down and then brainstorm ways you can incorporate more of it in your life moving forward.

10)  Draw every member of your family as the animals their personality represents.

First, think of every member of your family. You can do just immediate family, your family from childhood, or your extended family. You can even do your group of friends if you like. Think of each individual that will be in your drawing. Come up with at least three of their biggest personality traits. Think of what makes them different and what drives their choices in life. Once you do that for each member, try to think of an animal that represents this same type of personality. It doesn’t have to be a perfect match, but try to get as close as you can. You can also incorporate animal hybrids if it makes it easier. Maybe your sister is part giraffe, part puppy. That’s ok. Don’t forget to include yourself. When you are done, ask yourself the following questions:

What do I feel right now? Why?

Do any of the animals in the picture not get along in nature? Does this apply to the human beings behind the animals too? Why or why not?

Do any of the animals that I drew surprise me? Why?

What animal am I and how do I feel about that? What animal would I like to be and why?

What animal would others pick for me? How do I feel about that?

What did I learn from this activity?

11)  Draw different sides of yourself

We all have different sides to our personality. Depending on how authentic you are in your life, different people see different parts of you. For this activity, think of at least four sides of your personality. To help get your started, think about the side of yourself that is with family versus the one that is with friends versus the one that is at home alone versus the one that is at church/formal setting. These don’t have to be the exact sides that you choose, but it can help get the ball rolling on identifying how you may act/think differently in these different settings. Next, take a piece of paper and fold it in half twice creating four equal portions of the paper. In each portion, draw a side of yourself. Include things like what you say, what you do, how you act, what you wear, what you think, etc. When you are done, ask yourself the following questions:

How do I feel right now and why?

What side of my personality is the most authentic? What is going on in the setting that allows me to be authentic?

Which side of myself do I like the best? Why?

Which side of myself do I like the least? Why?

What parts, if any, remain the same in all settings? Why?

Is it ok to have different sides? Why or why not?

What did I learn from this activity?

12)  Write a poem using the voice of yourself as a child describing the world as you see it.

This is going to be writing a poem, but really let it flow. Don’t hold back. It doesn’t have to rhyme or be perfect in any way. No one ever has to see this but you. This poem can be very lyrical or it can be more like a story. There are no rules. When you are done, read it through out loud to yourself. Then, ask yourself the following questions:

How do I feel right now? Why?

Did anything I wrote surprise me and why?

What would I tell my child-self now that I have learned more from life? Is there anything I can do to help my child-self feel better?

What would my child-self tell me from their perspective of innocence?

Was this easy or hard for me? Why or why not?

What did I learn from this activity?

13)  Draw or collage your inner critic, & draw or collage your inner coach.

We all have a voice inside of our heads that can be quite critical and mean on a daily basis. Draw this voice as a person. Include some of the common phrases he/she says to you. We also all have an encouraging voice that shows up from time to time. Draw this voice as a person. Include some of the common phrases he/she says to you. Then, ask yourself the following questions:

How do I feel right now? Why?

What do I do when I hear my inner critic? Is he/she right about me?

What do I do when I hear my inner coach? Is he/she right about me?

Who do I hear the most? Who do I listen to the most?

How could I change the one that I listen to?

Where do I fall in all of this? Am I the critic?   Am I the coach? If I am neither, who am I?

Do I ever disagree with the critic or coach? Why or why not? What do I do when this happens?

What did I learn from this activity?

14)  Draw a house – fill the house with images and fill the outside of the house with images

This activity is very powerful. To make sure that it has the most power, the instructions are very simple. Draw an outline of a house on a piece of paper. Draw or write things in the house. Now draw or write things outside of the house. When you are done, ask yourself the following questions:

How do I feel right now and why?

What does this drawing represent to me?

What did I choose to put in the house? Why?

What did I choose to put outside of the house? Why?

If I could make any changes to this picture, what would I change and why?

Did anything I drew surprise me?

What did I learn from this activity?

 

There you go. That should get you started! Notice that I asked three common questions for most activities: How do I feel right now and why? Did anything surprise me? And what did I learn from this activity? These are the basic questions you should ask yourself when creating art like this. It will help you interpret the art and will help you grow the most from the activity.

Remember that art can stir up some deep feelings. That is ok and normal. Feel free to share your art with someone that you trust or a professional to help with this. It can be a great way to start expressing those feelings. If anything becomes too scary or hard to deal with, just stop the activity and come back to it later. These activities are meant to be a safe way to express yourself and to learn about yourself by tapping into your subconscious mind, not to traumatize or scare you.

If you have any fun art activities you have tried and want to share them or if you had a particularly amazing experience utilizing one of the activities above, leave a comment below or shoot me an e-mail at stephanie@selfenvy.com. I would love to hear how it went for you!  Most of all, have fun and have a great weekend!

If you like this article, you should check out the post “2o Fun Things to Do That Will Change Your Life Forever” or the post “3 Amazing Activities to Increase Happiness Immediately”

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