by Vanessa Mortillo, LPC
Making art is like giving a gift: evidence of your spirit and that you are here. – Patty Mitchel
I have long been fascinated with the ways that visual images offer new pathways of communication and a deeper way to learn about the self. To give an example, I was recently with a client who was struggling with controlling anger. I prompted him to draw his anger as a creature. The client took to the page readily, intuitively sketching out an anger monster, and surrounding it with images from his life. What I did not expect was how this drawing led to a profound shift in his ability to control anger, and how the image said so much more than he had previously been able to put into words. The insights he gained from seeing it on the page, and the process of art-making itself, offered a new sense of freedom for him.
Making visual art may have helped my client in more ways than one. Art has many therapeutic applications, including art therapy, expressive arts therapy, and even hospital wellness programs. Below are just a few of the myriad benefits employed by visual arts that can make a world of difference.
Externalizing the problem
Art can help us put our problems outside of ourselves. When we put feelings or thoughts into an image, we get separation from our struggles as well as a sense of perspective. We start to see that our challenges do not define who we are. We get a bird’s eye view of the issues at hand. For some, drawing scary feelings — contained in the boundaries of a page — can create a manageable way of exploring traumas.
Doodlers and coloring book enthusiasts experience the relaxing qualities of moving pen, pencil, or paint brush across a page and adding calming colors. The process itself has been shown to have calming effects.
Another Way to Process
Art allows us to use metaphor and symbolism rather than words. Expressive Arts therapist Shaun McNiff writes, “The psychotherapeutic use of the arts offers an opportunity to integrate scientific knowledge about the psyche with the more imaginative and spiritual hemisphere of the mind, where the power to heal lies.” Because visual arts engage our sensory system and both sides of our brain, they offer another way to process our feelings and traumas, especially when we struggle to find words to express our emotions. Our artwork can also be a way to bring unconscious materials into the light of awareness.
Intrigued? Already someone who enjoys creating or perhaps curious to see what you’d discover? I invite you to engage the healing power of visual art-making by exploring some of the activities in the links below or joining me for a new monthly offering of mindful art-making. Let’s create — together.
Vanessa Mortillo, LPC, is a Licensed Professional Counselor specializing in play therapy, mindfulness, and the use of art in play. She has worked with adults and children from a variety of backgrounds in home, school, and outpatient settings and is committed to advancing equity and social justice. She can be reached at 267-507-5793 or email@example.com.