Using art to explore emotions

I love to incorporate creative elements into therapy, whether this is exploring art, songs, poems, books, films or dreams that help you to communicate what you are experiencing. The creation of art primarily utilises the right side of the brain, while writing uses the  language centers in the left side of the brain. As thoughts and feelings are not strictly verbal, they are not limited to being stored as verbal language in the brain, therefore expressive modalities can be very useful in helping people to communicate memories and stories that may not be readily available through conversation. It can also enable those who are prone to censoring themselves to be more freely in the moment and more readily express themselves. Research on the impact of trauma suggests that emotional experiences are encoded by the right brain and limbic system as sensory memories (van der Kolk, 2006). So, the expression and processing of these memories on a sensory level is an important part of right-left brain integration (Teicher, 2000) which is key to trauma treatment.

One tool that I find can be really useful from art therapy is the Tree Exercise:

The Tree of Life: A Simple Exercise for Reclaiming Your Identity and Direction in Life Through Story

Here are also some questions that you can ask yourself once you have completed the exercise:


Perhaps you might like to give it a go for yourself, or we can do this together in a session.

Some other things that you can give yourself 5 minutes to do, or we can do within a session:

Draw a place that feels safe

Draw something that scares you

Draw yourself as an animal

Draw your overall sense of your childhood

Draw a memory from childhood

Draw how you symbolically see yourself

or if you feel that your family places a particular value onto a certain characteristic or way of being draw what that includes/doesn’t include. The drawing is the first part and then exploring the implicit meanings is second.


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