I was first introduced to art therapy through my grief counselling sessions. I was finding it virtually impossible to put my complicated emotions into words, but repressing my feelings was eating me up inside. Despite always having a love for art and artistic expression, I’d never really even considered art therapy before my counsellor suggested trying it in one of our sessions. It was strange at first, but ultimately extremely liberating and completely changed my outlook on how to approach expressing myself in the future.
Art therapy is used as a way to express emotions through creativity for those who find talking about their struggles difficult. It can include painting, drawing, colouring-in and many other different creative techniques. It doesn’t matter in the slightest whether or not you think you’re “good” at art, it’s all about converting those hard-to-talk-about emotions into creativity. In this article, I’ll talk about a few different activities that I’ve tried and how they have helped me. Put on some relaxing music and comfy clothes and you’re ready to go. All you need is some paper, coloured pens or pencils (or just plain old biros or a regular pencil), and even a friend to do it with you if you’d like!
Activity 1: your “happy” place
This first activity sounds simple, but requires a bit of thinking on your part. The phrase “think about your happy place” is something most people have heard of before, but how many of us actually knows what it looks like? When my grief counsellor asked me to think of my happy place, it took me a while to visualise somewhere where I would feel completely content. After a while, I found it was better to stop thinking, and to start drawing. I began with a light blue pen and started to draw water. I knew I always felt peace when I was around water, so it seemed a good place to start. After that, I just kept drawing one thing after another: some trees, blue sky and sun, a small wooden cabin, and a cat. Before I knew it, I’d drawn my “happy place”. So, for this activity I’d recommend thinking of somewhere you feel completely content, the place your mind goes to when you’re stressed. It could be your bed full of fluffy pillows and over-sized cuddly toys, it could be your best friend’s house, sat on the sofa watching your favourite film, it could be absolutely anything and anywhere. This activity is useful for giving you something peaceful to visualise if you’re ever feeling stressed and need something to make you feel safe. It’s also a really fun thing to do with friends and seeing how your favourite places differ or look the same.
Activity 2: body outline
This next activity involves drawing an outline of your body. Think of those chalk outlines of bodies at old-timey crime scenes, but a lot less morbid. This is a great activity for using colour and pattern to identify how you feel and represent this on the body. Inside the body outline you should draw your feelings. For example, you might draw yellow butterflies where the stomach is to represent nervousness, or a squiggly grey mess where the head is to represent confusion. They’re your emotions so it’s completely up to you! Then, on the outside of your body you should draw the things that are external to your body but are still having an impact on your emotions. For example, you might draw some books and an angry-looking laptop to represent that uni essay that isn’t writing itself but is due in about three days (eek!). This activity is especially useful for people who find it hard to put their feelings into words. For me, by drawing my emotions on my body it helped me to realise there was a lot I was feeling that I couldn’t put into words. I found it a lot easier to draw complicated emotions associated with grief such as longing and sadness that were a lot harder to say out loud. Just like the last activity, try to draw and feel rather than think too hard.
Activity 3: what’s inside your heart?
This activity is fairly similar to Activity 2 in that it involves drawing another outline, this time of your heart. Now this could be any shape, a perfectly accurate anatomical heart, a love heart, a circle, or any random blob. Inside the heart, you should draw the things that make up your heart, like the people or things you love and the relationships you have. You might dedicate half of your heart to family using a pink colour, or a quarter to your friends or a partner using a red colour. Again, it’s completely up to you. Once you’ve done this, look at your heart. What colours did you use? How did you feel whilst doing this activity? Who or what takes up most of your heart? What takes up the least? For me, I realised that most of my heart had been dedicated to family, friends, and my boyfriend, who I had recently lost. My grief counsellor highlighted that I hadn’t left any part of my heart for myself, and this gave me a lot to think about. Once you’ve looked at your heart and reflected on what it says about you, you might want to draw it again to see if the reflections you made have changed anything.
These three activities are just a very few selection of art therapy techniques that can be used to help open you up and reflect on your emotions. There are hundreds of different things you can try and they can all be found online. We’ve all seen some… questionable works of art in art galleries so DO NOT WORRY about your creations looking perfect, express yourself!
Words By: Hannah Martin
Edited By: Dasha Pitts-Yushchenko