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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!


  1. http://thefineartofdisaster.blogspot.com/

  2. Very nice one...thanks for sharing :)

  3. Mask making projects are a great way to give insights to others about who you are. It's also a great way to take an honest look at the face we put on when we are interacting with others. Check out the article on making masks as an art project at a mental health community center https://thepaintedbrain.wordpress.com/2017/04/07/mask-making-for-mental-health/

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