When I am sitting down with myself or someone else to help them heal through art, we often follow this flow:

  • find the jump off point, i.e. what part of our experience is asking to be explored
  • tuning into that experience by tuning into our body
  • translating that energy, sensation, thought or feeling onto paper through color, shape, or form
  • taking a step back to talk through what has been shared, discovering what is needed to support this aspect of our experience
  • wrapping up the session by titling the piece and writing a few words to recall what has happened

I often close the session with the recommendation that time be set aside for writing, whether it is to reflect upon what happened or to capture the internal response.  In grad school, we called this process an intermodal transfer, because we were moving from one form of expression to another.

This is a critical step, as it is similar to debriefing and analyzing our dreams.  When we are engaging in a meditative art practice, we are tapping into less conscious areas of awareness, similar to how dreams tap into our subconscious.  When we take the time to write and reflect, we pull that material into our conscious mind, allowing it to become more accessible for processing.  This is imperative when you consider what you had to push aside in order to survive treatment.

The writing can take any form: bullet points, short notes, paragraphs, etc.  One form of writing that often organically surfaces from art making is poetry.  Especially when you are in the process of describing what you see in your art work.  When I was contemplating the breast casts I did for each stage of treatment, it was as if the casts were speaking to me- the words tumbled out onto the page.

Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book Big Magic, unpacks the process of tapping into our creative genius, which through research she discovered that the Greeks and Romans did not believe creativity came from humans.  Rather, they thought that creativity was a divine spirit that came to human beings and assisted them in their creative expression. She writes:

“Ideas of every kind are constantly galloping toward us, constantly pass through us, constantly trying to get our attention.”

Having practiced and witnessed others engaging in art therapy, I would thoroughly agree with this notion.  When we relax into expressing the messages coming from within ourselves and through ourselves, we tap into a layer of spontaneity and deep wisdom, which often offers great relief and release from our pain.  It feels magical.

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.