Art Therapy: So You Think You Can’t Draw

Perhaps by sharing my talented friend, Carrie’s, art work in my recent post about art therapy, I have unintentionally given you the idea that you need to be an artist to do this.  While it is true that Carrie is a talented artist (you should see her other work), it is not necessary to be an artist to use art therapy effectively.

I’m willing to put my own art on the line to make my point.  So brace your self…

My results from the Visual Journaling book
My results from the Visual Journaling book

This is one of my drawings using the method described in the book Visual Journaling by Ganim and Fox.  My notes about this picture say only:  Pondering the source of joint pain.  Drowning in sorrow-surrounded by pain and anger both from within and without.

Snapshot_20130628This picture from my journal has no caption only the date, but looking at it I can tell I was trying to work through some anger and pain.  After all what do you do with the anger and pain of so long ago?

Everyone says, “let it go.”  I’m trying!

As you can see by these pictures, the purpose of art therapy is not to create master-pieces, but to help one work through feelings, sometimes very intense feelings.  I know my pictures look childish, reasonably so since they depict childhood pain.  But I’m okay with that because they are an outlet that keeps me from self-harm.  I’m not tempted to self-harm any more, but at one time the desire was very intense.

Besides giving one insight into themselves as Carrie’s pictures and descriptions show so well, or allowing one to release emotions, art can also help one relax.

I enjoy drawing and doodling, though I have never thought of myself as an artist by any means.  (If my artwork about hasn’t convinced you I don’t know what will.)    So when I stumbled upon Zentangle, I was intrigued.  Snapshot_20130628_6First, I looked at a couple websites on line, and then at a couple youtube videos.  Then, off to the library (website) to find some Zentangle books.  Not surprisingly they were all checked out, but I put a few on hold.   While I was waiting, I created this–with my on-line instruction–Sorry it’s not a very good photograph, but the picture is pretty rudimentary anyway.

Then I received my first Zentangle book from the library, this is one I must buy my own copy of: One Zentangle a Day: A 6-week Course In Creative Drawing for Relaxation, Inspiration and Fun by Beckah Krahula.


With her wonderful instructions, I started to “get” it.  I have to warn you here–it’s only right that I do–tangling is addictive.  I can’t seem to stop.  It really is relaxing, inspiring and fun.  I can’t get enough of it.

One day I showed my pictures to a friend, previously I had never let anyone but my therapist see my “art”.  The friend, who happened to be an art teacher was very generous with her praise, so I let other people see it.  Before I knew it people were saying to me, “I didn’t know you were an artist.”

Believe me, I didn’t either.  Actually, I still don’t think of myself as an artist, but simply an art yogi.  I’m kidding.


What I want to say to you is this:

If you have any desire at all, to try art therapy, then do it!  Don’t worry if your creations look childish–those seem to be the most therapeutic anyway.  Who knows, you might just find a new addiction–err–hobby, as I have.


The Official Zentangle website is:

The Zentagle Youtube page:

And here is a sample:


Music Therapy: Good for What Ails You

Fox's U-Bet in plastic squeeze bottle.
Fox’s U-Bet in plastic squeeze bottle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Earlier today (Wednesday) as I drowned my sorrows in Death by Chocolate ice cream with chocolate syrup, my husband said, “Who needs Prozac when you have chocolate, right?”  Funny dear.

He was trying to cheer me, and often his joking is helpful, but today the chocolate was better.  I realize eating is not the healthiest form of coping though, either mentally or physically.  I am working on other forms of coping. I use mediation, art therapy, journaling and blogging. In fact, I wrote a very raw blog post before I ate the ice cream, but I decided not to post that one (you’re welcome).

Today I would like to talk about music as a coping tool.  I don’t know if what I am thinking of would technically be called music therapy, but hey, we’re not technical here, right?  A wonderful blog post I just read inspired this.  Author Jane Kirkpatrick was responding to a question about whether her background in mental health played a part in her historical novels. She said it did and she also said:

“I worked for 17 years on an Indian reservation and I know that some of the healers there said that when they went in to meet with someone ill they asked three questions. The answers determined how far from health the person had fallen.  The three questions:  When was the last time you sang; when was the last time you danced; and when was the last time your told your story.” Mental Health and Historical Novels by Jane Kirkpatrick

This version of “music therapy” intrigued me.  It is true, I remember singing in the shower one morning, and realizing that I had not done that in a long time.  As the healers said, it was a sign that my depression had lifted.

In addition to singing, I have found listening to music very helpful.  I have different music for different moods.  I imagine you do as well. Just a couple of my favorites:

Spiritual:  My Kindness Shall Not Depart From Thee

Comfort Josh Groban‘s You Are Loved

For anger and depression: Brandon Flowers‘ Crossfire, and several songs by Linkin Park

One night, a friend of mine created a list of suicide songs, which I contributed to (we were both in a very dark place), but I’m not going to share any of those, because it would not be very therapeutic.   The point is there is music for every mood!

Jane Kirkpatrick’s post made me think, what other ways could I use music for coping?

Dancing?  Hmmm, I wonder if Just Dance (WII) with the kids count?

Or how about playing an instrument?  I wish I could play the piano.  I don’t have time to learn right now, but I do have a tin whistle and instruction book that I bought for my husband.  I wonder. . .

I’ll have to give these things a try and report back.  In the meantime, have you used music therapy?  What songs do you listen to?  Do you dance?  Or play an instrument?

And just in case you need it–Top 100 Songs About Chocolate— ahh, the best of both worlds!

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.

Betrayal of the Mind–OR–Embarassing Moments with Art Therapy

Very Basic Notan…to see something better check out the google link below

Awhile back, when my therapist was going to be on vacation for a week, which at the time felt like forever, I decided to give myself some homework.  I got some books from the library on art therapy.  I’ve been doing it on and off ever since.

ON–I do it because it helps bring things from my unconscious mind forward, and can be helpful in therapy.  Kind of like dreams.

OFF–sometimes I don’t do it because it helps bring things from my unconscious mind forward, and I don’t always like that.  Kind of like dreams.

In my on again, off again way, I have filled about 7 sketch pads with my randomness, some of it revealing, some mysterious, some dull.  Each sketch pad is more personal than a journal simply because I have more control over what I say in a journal.

If you haven’t tried art therapy, that may seem like an odd thing to say.  But I will give you an example of a time art therapy took me by surprise.  Part of the problem was that I had not intended to do art therapy at that moment, but the subconscious doesn’t care about little things like proper timing.

So, I was in my son’s Kindergarten Art Class.  They were learning Notan.  It is a form of art that uses contrasting colors and paper cutting to make designs.  Some notan is really intricate and beautiful.  You can see some google images of notan HERE

As I often did in that class, I helped my son with his project and then I made my own.  (I had so much fun in that class!)  After we all finished our pictures, the teacher had us hold them up (parents too) and show them to each other.  So I held mine up for this class of Kindergarteners and three or four other moms.  Then we sat them on the table and started on a second one.

That is when I looked down at mine, blushed furiously and turned it over so no one could see it.  This happened on a therapy day, so I took it to therapy.  My therapist burst out laughing when he saw it.  Then said, “Can I take a picture of it for your file?”

“A picture?  You can have the horrid thing.  I don’t want it!”  I said.

He just smiled, took a picture with his cell phone and told me he would email it to me.  Much later, I was glad that he did.  But it has taken me a year to overcome my embarrassment enough to post it here on the blog.  I’m sharing it to show you the power of the mind, and of art therapy.

So….what were we talking about?  The weather…how about that fog we’ve been experiencing in the Seattle area. . .