Art Therapy Support Group

Am almost halfway through the 8 sessions of an art therapy support group. I’d like to use this space to process my thoughts, and feelings, and observe the distance I’ve travelled in this journey. When I began, I didn’t know what to expect, except seeing my friends again and making art together. It turned out that while we shared the same space virtually over Zoom, each of us was working in our own worlds, processing our very different lives onto paper.

Session 1 started slowly. I learnt that art therapy is not just about the art, but also about being aware of my process, for instance, what did I choose to ink first, what colours came next, whether I was able to draw or paint my intention, did I cover anything up, and how I felt about any “mistakes” that occurred on paper. The directive was to draw a circle, to see the circle as the life I am currently living, and to fill out the circle using watercolours. This is how my circle looked like:

I spoke about how long I took just to pencil the circle in the first place, and felt frustrated when it took longer than I usually do with circles. Then I inked the green first, because it represents newness and growth and learning, followed by yellow, which to me is joy and happiness and light, and finally the red, which is the intensity of my passions and the enthusiasm towards work and people. Then I added the black parts. I didn’t want the circle to be walled up, so I created a porous, dotted boundary, indicating flow and interaction with the “outside world.” The dots within the circle are the ripples that form in the various parts of the circle, where different aspects of my life, my thoughts, my feelings meet.

As I processed it with the art therapist in the group, the questions I left with were:

1. How do the various colours move and interact with one another?

2. Where do the ripples go? 

Thinking about the ripples was interesting, because then I had to think about where the issues that surface in my life go, how they are resolved, and also how they are ventilated or where do they disappear to.

Session 2 was an opportunity to zoom into our circles from Session 1. The directive was to pick a spot from the circle and enter into it. Really go into that room or creature or space and see what we see there. I choose the small green patch at the top of my circle, which represented an opportunity to, and an exploration into leadership, and the creature that emerged looked like this:

Drawing this bird gave such rich personal insights I never knew, or maybe recognised, were there in my subconscious. One thing I had to admit to myself was, I am struggling with the choice of being a leader or not, and it really doesn’t help anyone, least of all me. Every detail in the bird was symbolic of something I felt and struggled with, and some were also very cognitive concerns I had about this “idea” of leadership. It stayed an “idea” because I was refusing to accept that I should allow myself to develop into one. Some observations and questions from the art therapist that stayed with me till today were:

1. Notice the proportion of the wings to the breast of the bird. Is the bird moving or stationary?

2. Are the fences in the breast area useful or not, and thereby necessary or not?

3. What are the four wings (of leadership)?

4. What is the personality of this bird?

Reflections and insights continue to surface even today, a week later. But one of the things I did manage to answer for myself are that I viewed my four wings of leadership as Connection, Presence, Joy and Meaning. The bird as a whole looked horrible to me, but I grew to accept and embrace it as a phase I am going through and growing through.

Session 3, this morning, gave me the chance to either look at another spot from my circle in Session 1, or expand on the bird I drew in Session 2. Several things had actually begun to move for me in real life after Session 2, and so I chose to expand on the wings of the bird. This is what I drew:

I started with blue watercolour, to draw the skeleton of the wings, extended but stationary. Blue for me is freedom and peace and sovereignty (chastity), the last quality because I associate blue with lapis lazuli, a blue stone often used for paintings of the Virgin Mary and also gifted to nuns living the life of sisterhood. The wings are colourful, filled with joy and purpose and learning and growing, and at the centre I drew a mess of circles because that’s how I feel - a sense of belonging and joy but also a wanting to untangle what I see as messy. The “little black birds” at the bottom circle are actually little wings that move and flap, even though the large wingspan remains stationary. And the line going down represents my connection to people, which is dotted and tentative, while the line going up is braided and strong, signifying my hope and intention to be united with God’s purpose for me and His goals for his people.

I thought I did well with my insights, until the art therapist asked me to rotate my artwork. And wow - I saw so many things after that. My artwork of wings began looking like a broken knee, and then a broken elbow, and then a pair of shoes, whereby my previous “centre” became like the heel. Archilles heel, anybody? The art therapist also pointed out that the line going through the centre of the wings, looked like it was poking through the centre. The reflection questions I left with were:

1. How do I take better care of my body, especially at the joints?

2. What do these somatic experiences in my body mean (how is the stress I am facing externally translating into these bodily tensions)?

3. What is the purpose of the tiny wings? (Are they useless?)

This art therapy support group has been a rich experience so far. I see how my fellow support group mates travel their journeys, and marvel at how our art and the art therapist can bring out so much meaning to reflect on and to enrich our lives. I would highly encourage this experience for everyone, whether in an individual or group art therapy setting.

SO looking forward to the rest of the sessions!

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