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My Art Therapy Experience

Updated: Jun 4

In April, I began a 6 week art therapy group session with Ash. It was my first time taking part in art therapy but I do a lot of art based projects in my own time, so I felt comfortable with most mediums I used whilst doing the therapy. I did however find it quite challenging having a task set to base the art upon at the beginning of each session, as it made me feel quite restricted to begin with. I soon overcame this though and felt that it was a really good way to work.

On the first week there were 4 people present and we were tasked with creating a self portrait. One part of the portrait had to be how you see yourself on the inside, the other had to be what you want others to see. I decided to work with chalk pastels as they are one of my favourite things to work with. For the section of the self portrait which showed what I want other people to see on the outside, I used all different colours of chalk pastel and blended them all together. I then used an array of colours of feathers around the outside. This was to represent that I want people to see me as a vibrant and happy person with a lot of different aspects to my personality which blend well together. For the section of the self portrait which showed how I see myself on the inside was done using only black chalk pastel blended out around the edges, and a black biro pen used to scribble over the chalk pastel and make the edges less neat. This was to represent my daily struggles with my mental health and feeling that things feel messy and sharp within my mind.

After we had completed our self portraits, we were asked if we would like to share our portraits and what they meant to us. After sharing my own, Ash spoke to me about why I feel I can’t let my emotions show on the outside to others. After a long discussion about this, I have been more conscious of me trying to hold in my emotions to show the vibrant and happy person I want to be seen as, and I have tried to make an effort to let those emotions out.

I wasn’t present for the second week of art therapy, but I returned for the third week with 4 others and we made masks. We were asked to make a mask where half represented who we are now and the other half represented who we want to be or see ourselves as in 5 years time. I immediately cut the mouth of the mask off and decorated only the top. On the side which represented who I am now, I created a chameleon using different colours of crepe paper after painting the background of it green. However I didn’t get to do anything on the side which represented who I want to be or see myself as in 5 years. This was due to time restraint, and also because I was unsure of where I see myself in 5 years, or who I even want to be in 5 years other than wanting to be happy. When showing our pieces, Ash spoke to me about the fact that the first thing I did was to cut the mouth off. This was almost like silencing myself and I did this for both my present and my future. I explained that I created the chameleon for my present as I prefer to blend into groups of people and every situation I’m in as I don’t like to stand out and bring any attention to myself. When asked why, I had to self reflect and try and think about why I prefer to blend in than stand out. I felt that it was because it means that no one will overly judge me as I don’t have a strong personality to judge, and I wouldn’t want to be disliked for being myself. After discussing this with Ash, I feel that it is important to work on being comfortable with who I am so that I feel that I can be myself around others and stand out without fear of being rejected. This is something I will be actively concentrating on in my future.

I wasn’t present for the fourth week of art therapy and returned for the fifth week, along with 4 others. On week 5, we were making clay sculptures. I didn’t feel as confident creating a clay sculpture as I had never worked with clay before, but I found it very fun and relaxing during the session. It also felt more personal using clay as it is more hands on throughout the creation process. The theme of the clay sculpture was to be around what gets us out of bed in the morning and what we see as a superpower or our superhero. I created one of my dogs and two arms going around him as if holding him. The reason I created my dog was because he is a rescue dog, however he is always happy and really lives in the moment. This strikes me as a massive superpower of being able to live in the present and not let the past define who you are today. The two arms represented my family (mum, sister, grandad, partner, step son) as they have faced many trials throughout their lives, and yet they manage to remain strong and fight against all of the adversities that come their way. They also support me despite their own struggles. Their emotional and mental strength is a superpower to me. When reflecting on this piece, Ash asked where I was in this piece of work. I realised that the arms are my arms also wrapped around my dog as his protector, but when the arms represent my family, I am represented by the dog, as I am being protected myself. It was nice reflecting on this piece as it made me feel both safe and protective.

On the sixth week, the three of us present started out by painting our clay sculptures from the week before now that they were dry, and then we created a group art piece. Firstly I painted my sculpture in blue and white as pottery. I used these colours as they are colours which represent peace and protection and are seen on a lot of classic pottery. Due to time constraints, I couldn’t finish the painting, however my plan was to use gold to mimic kintsugi, the traditional Japanese repair method of sticking broken pieces of pottery back together and decorating the repaired cracks with gold or silver powder. This is used to show that, despite things falling apart or having flaws, we can be optimistic and the flaws can actually make us more beautiful rather than destroying us. I think that that is an important philosophy to live by and is something I strive to live by in the future.

We then went onto our group art piece. We were sat at a large rectangular table with a large rectangular piece of paper on the table in front of us. We were all to start in the corners of the paper that were in front of us using the theme of affirmations. We all interpreted this in different ways, my own being to write different words in different colours. After 5 minutes we then had to turn the piece of paper around so that we had the next persons corner in front of us and we were to start working on that corner. I was hesitant at first as I didn’t want to ruin anyone elses piece of art or to take it in a direction they didn’t want it to go in. I realised that others were doing something different to what was originally on the corner that had been handed to them so I started to feel more comfortable adding to other peoples art. We worked for 5 minutes on each corner and then did 5 minutes on the corners we started with when it came back to us. Upon reflection of this piece, we spoke about what we had started with on our own corner and how it had changed throughout this task. We spoke about whether this is the direction we would have taken the piece in had it remained with us the whole time. We all agreed that our pieces would have been very different if they had stayed with us for the entire session. However, having gotten our pieces back for the last 5 minutes, we were able to make the piece our own and put our own spin on what other people had added to it. We then spoke about the fact that whilst we can control what we do ourselves, we cannot control what others will do or bring to our lives. Our lives may go in different directions because of other peoples influences on our lives and may look different to how we expected them to look, however it doesn’t mean that we have no control over how we react to the things happening in our lives and can still make things fit into our lives the way we want them to.

Overall these sessions have helped me a lot as I have found a brand new way of expressing how I feel very openly without necessarily having understood those feelings before the session began. That is because I have previously struggled to put certain feelings into words, but being able to make them into a piece of art has helped me work through those feelings in a way I never thought I could. This has also made me seriously consider joining art therapy as a regular way of working through my mental health and dealing with my emotions in more healthy ways.


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