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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/  


  1. Very nice ..I will use it

  2. Great exploration - thoughtful, accessible,plenty of room for individual variations. I like the descriptions of how this exploration could grow over time.

  3. this is a GREAT directive!!! thank you so much for the idea!!!!

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