Monday, August 14, 2023

The Healing Power of Art

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

Art Activity for Kids: Feelings Heart

by Elizabeth Campbell, MS, LPC, RPT-S

As a play therapist and a mother of two, I am often encouraging children to find ways to express their feelings.  Children’s language is play, so putting things into words can be a challenge.  Acting out a feeling with behavior or play and expressing it with creative arts give their feelings a release valve.  Below is an activity I use both in play therapy and at home to support kids in learning about and expressing their feelings.

Supplies needed:


Crayons, markers, or colored pencils

Scissors (optional)


Draw or cut out a heart.  Encourage the child to draw all of the feelings in their heart today in the heart using a different color for each feeling.  You may want to give examples about feelings in your heart that day (ie. I felt happy when I saw the sun shining, frustrated when I stubbed my toe).  Note that we all have feelings and they are ok.  

Elizabeth Campbell is a Licensed Profession Counselor who provides empowerment and strength-based support to individuals in personal growth and change.  She specializes in play therapy with children, support for Highly Sensitive adults and children, and EMDR using an integrative, mindful approach to address the whole individual and promote healing.  .If you would like to connect with Elizabeth, reach out at or 610-757-8163 or learn more at