Art Therapy: What’s In It For You?

We have art in order not to die of the truth.  Friedrich  Nietzsche

Art therapy has been an important part of my healing journey.  Sometimes it helps me deal with difficult and painful emotions, sometimes it’s a vehicle for my unconscious to speak to me, sometimes it’s just plain fun.

It started early in my regular therapy. When my therapist went on vacation, it was really hard for me.  On the outside I would say, “No problem.” But on the inside I felt this urge that roughly translates to throwing myself on the floor, holding his leg and crying, “Don’t leave me.” (Boy is it embarrassing to admit to that.)

Obviously, I couldn’t stop my therapist from going on vacation, so I needed to find a way to self-soothe. My first thought was art.  I had heard of art therapy and the idea really intrigued me.  There are therapists who are specifically trained in art therapy–but decided I couldn’t afford my ‘regular’ therapy and art therapy. So I did the next best thing. I started checking out art therapy books from the library.  I continued looking at different books until one day, I found it.  The book that for me is the perfect art therapy book:

Visual Journaling: Going Deeper than Words by Barbara Ganim and Susan Fox

From the book: “Visual journaling speaks a language deeper than words, drawing from within our beauty, our truth and our wisdom.  It brings to paper the landscape of our life’s serenities and struggles, joys and tears, passions, fears, and dreams.” Linda Hill-Wall

In this book, which I highly recommend, they combine a sort of mediation with art and the result is fascinating. My drawings are rudimentary and childlike,which is alright.  They serve the purpose of helping me understand myself.

But for this post I would like to share my friend Carrie’s drawings.  I was so enthusiastic about this book that I told Carrie about it and she decided to give it a try.  I love her drawings, but that is not the main reason I am sharing them.  I asked her permission to share her drawings and her comments on them because I really like the way she explained how the process worked for her: what she was thinking as she drew and how the outcome managed to surprise her.  She really captured what I am trying to share.  So, here’s Carrie.

Don't Fit by Carrie all rights reserved
Don’t Fit by Carrie all rights reserved


“Here’s my first one! I was going to not bother doing it, but I remembered saying to you that if you don’t give the other parts a voice, they don’t have one – and I knew the ‘right’ side wanted to say something. I remembered you saying that you have to silence the left side in order to find out what’s in the right side. I found that I had a box of craypas, too! And I used my left hand, and although of course the left brain wants to chatter away, I also held an image in mind of a little girl drawing without talking. I asked her what she wanted to draw, and it was amazing how this thing “I” meant to be just a black ball turned into a girl in a fetal position. And how she had to be all the way over to the side. And waaaaaay over there is a wall, a brick wall, with a tiny opening (one brick high). And she has this beautiful flower she’s growing, with many layers of colors. And it keeps getting big, so big, and she’s just curled up trying to hold onto it. But all the good things, well, all the other good things, are all behind that wall. You can’t see it, but that’s where the cozy houses with lighted windows are, full of people enjoying each other’s company and listening to each others’ stories. And there are big overstuffed chairs there where men sit. And things smell good and look pretty, and gardens grow and people cook together from them. And where people care about what you think and feel. Oh, and most important, no one has to pretend. Doesn’t it sound heavenly? But the only way in is this teeny tiny mouse-sized hole. And she doesn’t fit in. Isn’t that amazing? I knew the hole had to be small, but I didn’t know why till I was all done, and then the title came to me.”

Because she was so intrigued with the first experiment, she decided to try it again.
Castle Mountain by Carrie all rights reserved
Castle Mountain by Carrie all rights reserved

“I started out asking myself, what color do you want? And I picked gray. That immediately turned into a castle in my mind. But then I just did some scribbling in a castle-like direction, and it started to take shape. But at first it was up in the air, and I thought, no, it has to have stairs up to it. And the stairs have to reach the ground, because I absolutely have to be on them. And then the air was just not right, it had to be grass, and that turned into a mountain. And when it all filled in and I looked at it, I realized my mind had done one of those pun things – it’s an illustration of a quote from Dan Siegel, talking about how he got along in medical school: “Medical school was my mountain, and I wanted to climb it.” So the caption to my picture is “This is my mountain, and I want to climb it.”

If you have ever thought about art therapy, I recommend giving it a try.  You don’t have to be an artist.  As I hope Carrie’s comments show, in art therapy, it’s not about the art, it’s about discovering you.


  1. I’m an art teacher for adults with developmental disabilities and it’s amazing how they express themselves through art, even when they can’t tell you how they’re feeling any other way. I need to do more art myself for this purpose. Cool pictures!

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