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Monday, August 13, 2012

Keeper Boxes

The Keeper Boxes
An Art Therapy Directive

Goal of Activity:
To give the client a safe place to express negative emotions or memories. Often people keep things bottled up inside of them, not trusting anyone (or themselves) to let it out. This directive gives the client a safe place to express herself and also provides an opportunity to let go of what has been bothering her.
Age Level:
All ages.
Suggested Time Allowance:
20-25 minutes for task, 15-20 minutes for processing and feedback.
          To increase client’s self-awareness.
To provide relief and decrease stress from “holding on to” painful events.
To have clients experience increased self-esteem and self-worth.
Any kind of small box (for this directive we are starting out with a small box in order to keep things to a manageable size), white construction paper, decorative paper (such as the paper used for scrap booking), ribbon, glue, scissors, and markers or pens. Your client can also decorate with paint or any other materials you can find that would work for this directive.

If you do not have access to boxes, you can also make a paper box. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2WpFN8bGQA&feature=related 


1)       Have the client choose a box (shape and size - you can also have the client make a box out of paper Mache or other materials).

2)       Next, ask the client to decorate the outside of the box.
3)       Cut several white paper pieces down to the size of the box so they can fit inside (these will be used as the pieces where the client will draw or color out what she is feeling or any negative memories, etc.).
4)       Place personal, important experiences, emotions, or thoughts on the pieces of paper inside (you can do this in one session, but often I have found that clients will take several session to fill the box and will let you know when they are ready to make another entry). It's important to highlight to the client that although it's alright to use words, the more images and colors that are used the more of a positive impact it will have on the client.

5)       Put the decorated paper in the box for safe-keeping and place the box in a safe place.
6)       Process the experience with the client.

Processing Questions:

1)  How was it making your Keeper box?
2)  What did you place on some of the pieces of paper to go inside the box?
3)  Can you leave it behind when you put the lid on, allow that issue to stay in the box without taking it with you?
4)  What will it take to leave that memory/emotion here with me so I can keep it for you?

Pandora’s Box:  Often, clients struggle with letting go of the pain surrounding a trauma. One of the analogies that I use with the client to help her in the process of dealing with her negative emotions/memories revolves around the story of Pandora’s Box. The idea is that if we open the lid all our emotions will come out (possibly explosively) and we will be out of control. Most clients seem to recognize this fear as being one they have as well.

I then ask, “What if there were several boxes, one that represented each feeling and each experience separately?” (I have them imagine my office wall as being full of shelves and on those shelves are tons of different boxes all shapes and sizes.) I tell them, "You can take down one box at a time, open the lid to deal with that emotion or experience and then put the lid back on and the box back up on the shelf whenever you want." This gives the client a sense of control and begins to shift her paradigm.

Then, each box I have the client use in art therapy is a metaphor for control. I may ask, "How does it feel to be able to put the lid on the negatives so you can let the positives come out?" After she answers, I reiterate that she has the power to do this with her life as well.

Getting It Out:  I further explain that it's important to take the “lid off” now and then so she can work on things in a "safe place" (like art therapy). Doing this helps the emotional pressure from building too much or become too much of a burden.

Pace It:  Taking her time is also very important. She has her own "process" and it is important to respect that process (not rushing or pushing too much).

You, as the art therapist, may need to help your client in the decorating process (depending on the needs of the client). Sometimes, the client does not have the confidence to make it happen. This is where positive affirmations and encouragement can make a huge difference. Usually, the end product evokes a sense of pride and increased self-worth in what was created.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Outside/Inside Masks

Outside/Inside Masks
An Art Therapy Directive

Description:  People often do not realize that they put on masks when interacting with others. We wear masks to get through stressful times. We put on masks when we are with our children being loving and nurturing, at work being professional, and with strangers to keep them from seeing too much (to name a few). There are thousands of masks we wear, sometimes all within one day. This directive is designed to help clients begin to become aware of these masks so that they can choose what masks to wear. They will also become more aware of what is really going on behind the masks in order to learn how to deal with them in healthy ways.

Materials:  There are a multitude of ways clients can make masks. The simple way is to use regular paper and markers or colored pencils. You can also have the client make a mask out of paper Mache, or buy a mask at Hobby Lobby and have the client decorate it.


First – Explain the nature of “masks” to the client. Have the client identify some of the “masks” she wears and why.

Second – Draw an oval shape on a piece of paper, taking up the whole sheet. Put eyes, nose and mouth in a general shape on the paper, inside the oval. Put the word “Outside” at the bottom of the sheet to identify that this drawing will be the mask that the client shows to others.

Third – Ask the client to draw what comes to mind when she is showing others a (general) “mask”.

Fourth – After the client finishes the drawing for the “Outside” mask, take a second piece of paper and draw the oval, eyes, nose and mouth in the same way you drew the first mask features. At the bottom of the paper write “Inside” to identify that this drawing will be what is really going on inside the person, how she is feeling inside. Ask the client to decorate it however she would like.

Fifth – When the client is done drawing both the Outside and Inside faces, ask her to tell you about the drawings. Have a discussion about what she sees in her drawings. Write down what the client says about each image they created and color they chose. (Ask permission before you write or mark on the picture, and then I suggest you do it in pencil.) Make an arrow and then write down each meaning indicated by the client. This will enter in words (which will activate the left side of the brain) and the images (which has already activated the right side of the brain).

It will also give you a clear guide to the image later when you go over these images at the end of the time with the client, for the review of the artwork created and therapy completed.

Follow-up Questions: 

1)      Tell me about the drawings you created. How did it go?

2)     How are the drawings different? How are they the same?

3)     What do the colors mean to you?

4)     What did she see about herself in the overall process?

Objective for this Directive: 

1)     Allowing the client to have a safe space to begin to get in touch with her feelings is imperative. Each client has different ways of looking at this directive. Some will catch on quickly and be able to express how they are feeling. Others will need more guidance. It is always important to make sure to emphasize to the client that this is a “safe space” where the client can express herself and experience acceptance in the process. Also, by creating a “safe space” the client is beginning to learn who may be a “safe” person to open up to and who is not, trusting herself to know the difference.

2)     Increasing the client’s self-awareness and self-acceptance. By encouraging that the client is in a safe space the client is also receiving the message that it is OK to feel what she is feeling, and that it is acceptable. This promotes self-acceptance in general and can increase the client’s willingness to deal with negative emotions, especially when her confidence increases through the use of healthy ways to express and communicate those emotions that may be more uncomfortable.

3)     Identifying the difference between what the client communicates with others versus what she is actually feeling can stimulate conversations for healthy communication and increase the client’s sense of self-control. This exercise naturally opens conversation that highlights healthy boundaries and how they work. It is not always appropriate to share everything one is feeling with others. Conversely, it is not always healthy to keep everything inside, not sharing anything. Finding that balance is key to being mentally healthy. It is important for the client to learn when it is appropriate to share and when it is not.

NOTE:  This mask directive can be applied to any masks you want to create with your client. Have fun with it and allow the client to explore the metaphors in masks. You can add sequence, feathers, beads, and anything else the client would like to utilize. You can pick up basic white masks at Hobby Lobby, which make great canvases to make some amazing masks. There are a myriad of ways to create masks. Explore and have fun with it!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Inspiration Bags

Inspiration Bags
An Art Therapy Directive

Description:  Often clients may need to have something to do at home, or during the times they are not in the art therapy office. This directive allows the client to have a resource readily available to her so that when she is feeling stressed, anxious, or just wants to relax she can pick up this bag, look inside and get inspired to be creative.

Materials:  A small paper bag with handles, various arts and crafts items such as crayons, pipe-cleaners, glue, decorative paper, white paper, and many quotes that are cut out individually and randomly placed in the bag.


First – Explain the purpose of the Inspiration Bag to the client. She is to choose a quote that speaks to her, either randomly or purposely choosing one. After this she is to create an art piece that is an expression of what that inspirational piece means to her. (Note: Make sure to explain that the bag is not to be opened until the client is ready to do something creative and have fun. This will set the client up to see it as a positive and possibly intriguing directive to explore, allowing her to feel more free from expectations and to also begin to explore “choice” and the freedom to choose.)

Second – Let the client know that although there are structured directives (typed out with instructions on a piece of paper) she does not have to create something based on these directives. She can create an unstructured piece of art if she wants, depending on how she is feeling. This is an opportunity to explain the difference. However, it is not necessary so long as you emphasize to the client that she can follow her own intuition.

Third – After the client takes the Inspiration Bag home and works on it, ask the client to bring in what she created to show you and share about what was created.

Fourth – Discuss what was created by the client at home from the bag. You can talk about the inspirational quote that was picked. What did it mean to her? What was the art piece that was created?

Fifth – Once she has shared about the directive, you can ascertain if she needs to do a reparative second piece, which will redirect her to a more positive and empowered view point. (Use your discretion with this.)

Sixth – Give positive affirmations for the work created and continue to focus with the client on the process rather than the end product. Determine whether the client needs more guidance or is able to self-direct with minimal feedback. Determine continual art therapy directives based on these outcome.

Follow-up Questions: 

1)      Tell me about the art piece you created. How did it go?

2)     What inspirational piece did you choose?

3)     Did you work on a structured or unstructured approach? How did that go?

4)     What was your favorite part of the directive/artwork?

5)     How did you feel after completing the art piece/directive?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Recovery Book

The Recovery Book
An Art Therapy Directive

(This directive was originally created by Libby Schmanke, MS, LCAC, ATR-BC, http://www.artandinsight.com/ in her work with elderly. An amazing art therapist, Libby designed the directive so that each of the seasons reflected a different part of life.
It's a wonderful directive that is also very versitile!)

In a simple, straight-forward way, this directive has the client go through the steps for recovery by using the symbolism of the four seasons.

Description:  Using the four seasons the client creates a short, 8-page book that outlines where she is in the recovery process and what she has to expect as she recovers. It can also be designed as a reflection book on the process that the client has been through to get to recovery from an addiction. This book can be as simple or complex as you and the client would like to make it (depending on the needs of the client).

Materials:  Colored construction paper, cut-outs of white paper circles that have images that represent the 4 seasons (having several options available to the client to choose often has the effect of increasing the client’s sense of control), markers or colored pencils, glue, and ribbon (again, providing options helps the client feel more creative/free).


First – Get the materials ready by cutting out four pieces of the construction paper and hole-punch the upper left-hand corner of each (to put the ribbon through, connecting the book). Also print out and then cut in to circles images that represent the four seasons.

Second – Have your client choose what images she would like to use for all four seasons (Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter). Discuss during this time how each season can symbolize the four stages of recovery (Spring = “Sprouting” or “New Beginnings”, Summer = “Blossoming/Growing”,Fall = Harvesting, and Winter = “Celebrating”. Note = you may want to type out each of these words so the client can place them on the corresponding card as a reminder of what each season represents in recovery).

Third – Once the client has chosen the images and words representing each season, have the client color her images, choosing colors that represent for her the experience of both the season and the time of recovery.

Fourth – When the client is done coloring, have the client glue the image on to one side of the page, and a blank piece of paper on the flip side of the paper.

Fifth – Have the client write down what that season meant to her in her recovery in the blank piece of paper, once the glue has dried.

Sixth – Now, the client can choose a color of ribbon to tie the book together. Encourage the client to share what she has created.

Follow-up Questions:

1) Tell me about your Recovery Book. What did you put in it?

2) What season do you feel like you are in with your recovery?

3) Even though you may not have reached the season you want to be in with your recovery, can you imagine what it will be like when you get there?

4) What do you feel it will take to recover?

5) How was this experience for you?

Alternative Procedure:  You can also have client (or the client may request to) create a Recovery Book by using blank circles where she can draw images in herself. This allows more freedom and less structure. It may be important to begin with structure and then later work towards more freedom. Each client will be different at different times, so it will be important to gage the needs of the client at the time of doing the directive.

Outcome: This exercise is designed to have your client get more in touch with 1) How far she has come, 2) What she has to look forward to in her recovery, and 3) Puts a positive spin on her recovery. It can also help to facilitate a great deal of discussion regarding recovery goals, struggles, realistic expectations, and what it will take to be successful in reaching the goals.

Web-Sites/Reference Material:

The Addiction Recovery Guide - http://www.addictionrecoveryguide.org/

Art Therapy as a Treatment for Drug Addiction - http://www.ehow.com/way_5451808_art-therapy-treatment-drug-addiction.html
Art Therapy for Recovery from Drug Addiction - http://www.drugalcoholaddictionrecovery.com/?p=53

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Boundary Drawings

Boundary Drawings
An Art Therapy Directive

Often, people do not understand how boundaries work. This directive helps to define, highlight, and then create the establishment of healthy boundaries/limits. If there were ever an art therapy directive that makes a HUGE difference, this directive would be IT!


Knowing when to say “yes” and how to say “no” can often be a challenge for people. If a client grew up in an abusive (physical, emotional, sexual, neglect, etc.) environment, that person may have been taught that it is not OK to say “no”. The person may have been taught that their body is not their own. In this directive you will do a simple exercise with the client to begin to explore the importance of healthy boundaries – identifying what they look like, how they work, and beginning to implement them in their lives.



            White paper, Colored Pencils or Magic Markers or Crayons       



1)       Begin the session with defining what boundaries are.
a.      There are boundaries/limitations used in every aspect of life, including but not limited to:
                              i.      Relationships
                             ii.      Work       
                             iii.      Time
                             iv.      Health
                              v.      Money
b.      There are three types of boundaries (draw out an example of each of these boundaries quickly):
                              i.      There are overly RIGID boundaries… (This person has shut herself off to the world around her/him, saying "NO" to the bad things, but also saying "NO" to the good things in life. This person feels isolated and lonely, at the expense of feeling in control.)
                              ii.      There are overly WEAK boundaries… (This is where the person cannot say "NO" to anyone. Instead they say "YES" so often that they begin to feel overwhelmed, out of control and unhappy about their lives. They are afraid of saying "NO" because they don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, or they don't want to make anyone made, or they just don't think they have a right to say what they will do with their lives and what they won't.)
                                  iii.      There are HEALTHY boundaries. (This is where the person says "YES" to the things that make her feel GOOD about herself, and "NO" to the things that make her feel BAD about herself - regardless if it makes others happy or not!)
2)     Explore what the client feels her boundaries look like. Usually it will be a combination of overly Rigid and overly Weak boundaries.
3)     Ask the client to draw out what her boundaries look like right now.
4)     Discuss the drawing and have her identify what each color/symbol means to her.
5)     Have the client do a second drawing. This one will be what the client would like her boundaries to look like.
6)     Discuss what it will take to get to this place and specific actions that the client can take to obtain the confidence to establish these boundaries in her life.


Additional Procedure

1)   When the client is ready, ask the client how the boundary-setting is going. Usually, there will be struggles. At this point, have the client choose a color and draw out a circle, first, representing herself, and then other circles that represent others in her life. Have her show in the drawing how much she feels each one/thing is in her space.
2)   Ask the client to make another drawing showing what it would look like if these things were no longer in her space and she was able to have healthy boundaries with each of the areas indicated in Step 1.

3)   Make sure to emphasize the possibility that through the use of healthy boundaries the client can have her life look as complicated or simple as she wants. Discuss what this would take.

Reflection/Processing Questions:

1)      Tell me about your drawing. What do you notice when you look at it?
2)     What is holding you back from creating the boundaries you want in your life?
3)     What will it take to be able to set healthy boundaries?
4)     How do you feel about practicing saying “no” with me? Let’s practice.
5)     How can you let go of wanting to please others or avoid their anger?
6)     What areas of your life are within your control where you can use boundaries?
7)     How was this process for you?


1)      People often struggle with the concept. It will be important to take it slowly and allow the person to take it at her own pace. She may need to think about it before taking action on it. She will more than likely want to come back to talk to you about how it went (i.e., saying “no” to abusive or intrusive relationship, etc.) and could get discouraged with initial results. Keep using encouragements and focus on strengths.

2)     Getting down the details of how this works is important. Letting the client know that she has the right to say when/if someone touches her may be the focus. It may also be important to distinguish “People Pleasing” and how to work on providing self with love rather than avoiding losing it from others. Each person will have their own “spin” on how boundaries will look for him/her. It will be important to allow the client to talk freely about how this process is going.
3)     It may be necessary to continue to reinforce this concept multiple times. Often, this can be such a foreign concept to people that they only grasp bits and pieces of the full importance of how boundaries work. Be prepared to go through the drawings multiple times. You may give the drawings to the client to take home so that she can look at them and remind herself of what healthy boundaries look like.
4)     People often think there is a “wrong” way and a “right” way to create boundaries. It will also be important to emphasize to the client that each person is different and however she feels her boundaries need to be is OK. She gets to determine when she wants to say “no” and when she is ready to say “yes”. Being in touch with how she feels in any moment will also be important and many clients have dissociated themselves from their feelings because of the pain associated with them. You may have to do some work to help them get back in touch with how they “feel” (i.e., feelings versus emotions) so that they can begin to see feelings as healthy and also important indicators to listen to.
Web-sites to Check Out:
“Setting Boundaries: Personal and Professional” - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQ7wKKx4_xg&feature=related
“Becoming Separate” by Cloud and Townsend  - http://www.cloudtownsend.com/changes-that-heal/creating-healthy-boundaries/