Creative Insights: Karen Wallace

Why would you see an Art Therapist?

When people are going through a rough time, such as family problems or life transitions, they often wonder if going to a therapist would help. As someone who is here reading this article on, I am assuming that you are a creative or artistic-minded person. So, if you needed to work on a life problem with another individual, an Art Therapist could very well be a good choice. Why? Because, using the creative process to solve a life problem, is similar to using it to create an art project. Here is an example. Let’s say you have an image for a new series of paintings. You can see the colors you want to use, know what emotions you want to convey. You know what you want the end result to be, but you are not sure how you will get there.

Therapy is no different. You tell me your goals for our work and how you want to feel. In both processes we are creating the intent and have to surrender to and trust the creative process to lead us.

First, we setup the working conditions. You need to feel safe with me, trust my techniques and ways of working and have confidence that this is the right fit. In the art studio, you follow a similar process. You find the time and space, gather the right art equipment and settle in to work. In both processes we are creating something new and fresh. In both situations we usually start off with wonder, curiosity, excitement and at some point things get tough. In painting it may be feeling overwhelmed with choice, not knowing where to go next in the composition, not knowing how to fix a perceived mistake. In therapy maybe you are overwhelmed by past memories, or feel flooded with big emotions. In both processes, we often hit a period of confusion, resistance and/or doubt. We are not sure that things are working, we may want to quit, but we still have the same end goal in mind even though we feel that we have lost the way.

Ebb and flow in the creative process are natural and necessary to the process. When we are deep in the creative flow, we are flexible, free, fluid and thinking in divergent ways. The way to get back into that flow is the same for the therapy room as the art studio. In therapy we try different approaches, ask what if, improvise, challenge, risk take, and engage in artistic improvisation. The traits we use to change our stuck-ness in the art studio are the same traits we use to change stuck-ness in our life.  As you befriend the creative process you gain the ability to tolerate ambiguous circumstances because you start to realize that within the ambiguity is often the new idea, or insight that will free you from an old way of being or thinking. You learn to trust your instincts and body sensations because they anchor you and guide you to what you need to pay attention to. And you lean towards what is not working because it gives you fresh new material to work with in the recreation of the self. So, we can apply the same characteristics of creative thinking that help create an art piece, to creating the self. This is the gift of using creative process in therapy.

If you have a life choice or a habit that you want to change, using the creative process can provide you with a fresh way to get to your desired goal. If you are facing depression, stress, an eating disorder, chronic illness, addiction or a traumatic event using Art or Expressive Therapy as the framework to heal means using what you already know and trust in your life—your creative powers.

Here are some ideas of how to work creatively with a problem in your life:

  1. Work backwards: Imagine it solved and then write 3 different solutions of how you solved it.
  2. Work through Color: Do some deep breathing and get to a relaxed state. Now imagine the problem and visualize what color it is. See the some problem through three different color lenses. Now write down three solutions.
  3. Think of two people you admire and write out how you think they would solve this problem.

For more serious problems that do not have easy-to-find solutions, you may find it helpful to see a professional registered Art Therapist who can help you through the twists and turns of the creative process when you want to re-create a part of your life that needs healing.


Artfully, Karen

Read Karen’s Contributing Editor Profile here.

Listen to a podcast with Karen and Ricë Freeman-Zachery here.



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