During individual sessions, what are you doing while I’m making art?
This is something we’ll talk about in our first session together. Ultimately, it’s about finding something that feels comfortable to you. Some people prefer that I make art while you make art, and others don’t mind if I watch the process. If me watching feels like staring, judgment, or filters what you do and make, it’s something we’ll want to talk about and figure out together. For me, watching someone create is like being in their process with them. It’s powerful, interesting, and often times helps me attune or connect with what you might be feeling as well. Sometimes I also feel called to make response or empathy art, which helps us connect on a different level than me saying, “Yes, I hear what you’re saying”.
I’ve experienced something terrible in my life and it is the reason I’m coming to therapy. Are you going to make me draw what happened?
No. First, I will never “make” you draw something you’re not comfortable with. You always have a voice in our work together and are encouraged to lead the way in terms of where you want to spend our time. Second, there’s a lot of research about art therapy and trauma and many believe it’s not about the specifics of the story. Trauma memories aren’t stored in the linear, storytelling parts of our brains, and trying to recall a timeline can be frustrating and unhelpful. Our ultimate goal is for that memory to feel like the memory of what I had for breakfast. We can work on this by first doing grounding work, looking at the resources within and outside of you, and slowly uncovering the layers of emotion and beliefs. Making art literally changes the brain and as you’re painting or drawing you’re creating new neural pathways that are changing the patterns of your thoughts. Third, art therapy lives in the realm of metaphor, therefore if you feel it’s important to depict a traumatic memory we can do so using metaphor. For example, one art therapy directive I love is depicting your life journey or recovery journey using the metaphor of a bridge. What is the bridge made of? What’s underneath? What’s helping you get across? How far across the bridge are you? As you might imagine, using metaphor is a powerful, insightful, and interesting way to reimagine what you’ve been through.
Can you give an example of how an individual session might go?
We might start with some kind of ritual or warm-up such as a small mandala (art inside a circle). This art piece helps transition from cognitive, day-to-day stuff to creative and emotional processing. It also serves as a visual check-in, instead of me saying, “How are you doing today?” Next, we’ll transition to another art piece, possibly elaborating on something that came up in the check-in. I’ll almost always ask if there’s anything on your mind that you’d like to explore today. Otherwise, I’ll have a directive or prompt based on what we’re working on. After you’re finished with the art piece, or 5-15 minutes before the session ends, we’ll verbally process what came up during your time, and what showed up in your art. Often, I hear people say that they didn’t realize something about their art until they started talking about it.
Should I do 60 minute sessions or 90 minute sessions?
There are a few factors in figuring out which is a better fit for you. First are finances. If the sessions are financially taxing, you might opt for the shorter sessions. We’ll still be able to do great work together, even in the shorter time. The next consideration is knowing how you operate. Do time limits stress you out? Do you hate not finishing something you started? 90 minute sessions will give you more space to be with your art pieces and to explore the journey your art took you on.