Monthly Archives: January 2016

Being the Light Amidst Darkness

I am thoroughly enjoying Jan Richardson books lately. Richardson is an artist, poet and ordained minister.  In her latest book, “Circle of Grace” I was struck by a poem entitled,  A Blessing for Traveling in the Dark. Here is an excerpt:

“But this is what I can ask for you: FullSizeRender (3)

That in the darkness

there be a blessing.

That in the shadows

there be a welcome.

That in the night

you be encompassed,

by the love that knows your name.”

This poem really moved me, but the last stanza was particularly comforting. As a therapist, I meet people in their darkest moments, and it can be gut-wrenching to hear stories of pain and witness the struggles of another human being. I often explain to my clients that I cannot offer all the answers, but I will shine a light to guide them as they take each step. Everyone’s path is unique, and my role is to provide the light when all they can see is misery and pain.

What makes a good therapist is the ability to be in the darkness with your client, and to continue to be a light for each patient as they navigate the healing process.

Find your light or be the light someone is in need of during their darkest times.

Karen Stabley, Art Therapy (ATR)

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Here’s To A Happier and Healthier 2016

The New Year is a time of renewed energy and focus for many people. This is the time of year when we review our ambitions and goals. Some of us stay focused for a few weeks or maybe months, while others are able to follow through with their new year’s resolutions.


I have found a way to help myself (and my clients) stay committed to new year’s resolutions. As I was reflecting on the new year and how to move forward in 2016, I was struck by four questions that came to mind.

I have tried to keep a daily journal, but find myself avoiding the task, because trying to commit to anything that demands our utmost attention and focus – especially after work hours – is simply asking too much! (That’s the key to following through with your new year’s resolutions – keep them realistic, and they’ll be attainable!)

Instead of trying to journal every day, I have chosen to focus on four key areas of my life that I will strive to improve throughout the year.

I was able to gather my thoughts and think about some of the lingering questions over the holidays, and then proceeded to make a plan of action. Ideas are useless without a working plan!

As I tried to organize these thoughts,  the following four questions arose.

  1. What do I want to leave behind in 2015?
  2. What am I looking forward to in 2016?
  3. What do I want to embrace in 2016?
  4. Where do I need guidance in 2016?

Here are some of the answers to my questions:

  1. I want to leave behind judgment of myself and the constant comparisons I make of my journey and the lives of others.  As a therapist, I have learned that I am not alone in this quest. Many clients feel the same way.  The more we compare ourselves to others the more anxious and dissatisfied we become. Social media feeds into this concept as we look at happy images of other people’s lives. Instead of  sharing their joy, we sometimes resent them for having lives that appear easier or more enjoyable than our own.
  2. Looking forward to 2016, I realize that I am really excited about the concept of SoulCollage. I will explain this in a future post, but basically, SoulCollage is a technique that helps you gain insight and clarity. I recently held a workshop with breast cancer survivors and used this concept, and was struck by the powerful results.
  3. I am embracing the idea that I would like to do a few things differently in 2016. One is to  take better care of myself. This includes more balance between work and downtime, and figuring out how to motivate myself to exercise regularly.
  4. I also realize that I need guidance and assistance at work. For me, this is the least interesting aspect of owning my own business, because it includes advertising, marketing, and updating my website. Areas that I am not very familiar with. I now realize that I need a team of people to help with this concept. I also need guidance to connect to who I am and what I want the next 20 years of my professional life to look like.

The point of exploring these four areas of my life has helped me form goals and allowed me to see which path I must navigate to achieve happiness and success.

I will keep you updated on my progress throughout the year!

Now it’s your turn to make a list of what areas in your life require a resolution. This is the best way to ensure a more enjoyable, healthy and happy 2016.

Happy New Year!

Karen Stabley, Art Therapy (ATR)

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How Shattered Pots Help With Grief & Loss

The following recipe was originally used at Olivia’s House – a grief and loss center for children in York, PA. I have expanded on the idea and use it to assist my younger clients as they process painful emotions related to grief and loss.

What You Need:

  • 1 medium size clay pot
  • large towel
  • small hammer
  • sharpie pen
  • large sheet of paper
  • glue gun/white glue
  • acrylic paint
  • a variety of objects: Pictures, words, silk flowers etc. to decorate exterior



Step 1: Break the pot.

Wrap the clay pot in towel to avoid flying shards of clay. Hold firmly in place on its side to break the pot with a hammer. You may have to tap it a few times. Ideally you want 8-10 broken pieces. Light pressure will suffice.

Gather broken pieces and place them (in any order) on a large sheet of paper.

Step 2: Label the broken fragments of the pot.

Ask the child to list 8-10 of the emotions they are currently feeling the most. Try to match the size of each shard in relation to the intensity of each feeling. For example, if the child says that his or her strongest emotion is fear, then label the largest fragment “fear.” Continue until all fragments are labeled with each of the feelings expressed by the child. Take your time with this step, because it is important. Talk about the difficulty of the loss and the various emotions that the child is currently feeling.

Ensure the labeled feelings are on the inner curved sections of the pot, because when you glue the pot back together, you want to see the words inside. (See attached picture.)

Step 3: Glue pieces back together

Hot glue the pot back together. This is not any easy process and is a metaphor for the rebuilding process after loss. This is a messy and sometimes complicated step, and the difficulty of reassembling can be discussed in relation to the child’s emotional rebuilding process. Also at this point, it is a good time to talk about the symbol of the glue. You may want to ask, “Who has helped glue your life back together?”

Allow glue to cool and dry.

Step 4: Decorate the exterior of the pot

Paint the exterior of the pot with acrylic paint and any variety of plastic flowers, healing words, inspirational phrases or pictures. The scrapbook isle of your local craft store is a good place to start for items. Use a glue gun or school glue for this step.

Step 5: Discussion

Talk about how life has changed since the loss, talk about how what steps the child has taken to put his or her life back together. Discuss the people who have helped and how and if they found hope, support and love. This process is completed over a series of days or weeks.

Each step is a contemplative process.

As therapists, we sometimes feel uncomfortable remaining in the shattered stages phase with our clients, and seek to move forward to the “making it better” or healing stage. This is a disservice to our clients, because we should allow each person to take their time and fully process their emotions.

Be gentle with yourself, with others, allow yourself and others to grieve fully and be patient as they open their heart to the next step.

Thank you Leslie Delp, Executive Director of Olivia’s House for everything you do to support grieving children and their families!

Thank you for being here.

Karen Stabley, Art Therapy (ATR)

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Lending A Voice To Your Pain

Body Mapping is a technique used by art therapists to help clients illustrate, identify and voice their pain. Working with people who suffer from chronic pain, I have learned to recognize the connection between emotional trauma and the physical symptoms that may also exist.

Body Mapping


My 42 year old client Christine* suffered with painful abdominal symptoms to the point where she felt immobilized by her physical pain. She became overwhelmed and was unable to continue working as an elementary school teacher. Eventually, the pain became so unbearable that she had to quit her job and became housebound. Feeling depressed, her psychiatrist suggested she try art therapy to help express her feelings. Verbal therapy was stalled because Christine’s pain and depression did not abate, even with the help of medication.

When Christine began therapy with me she believed her depression and chronic pain stemmed from early childhood trauma. She spoke of consistent lower pelvic pain, but was resistant to traditional treatment by her physicians. After completing the initial drawings that I usually require of new clients, I asked her to draw a body map – an outline of a human form, (cookie cutter shape) and then asked her to describe the pain she was feeling with colors and lines; placing the lines at the approximate points on her body where she felt pain. This was in important first step, because when pain is attributed to emotional trauma, it’s better to illustrate the pain to help people “see it.”

I asked her to come prepared for the next session by using her body map image to write about her pain. I instructed her to share her thoughts about the pain, and what she felt the pain was trying to tell her – what the pain wanted her to know.

When Christine returned the following week, she read her description. She expressed that the pain felt “hot and angry” and that it wanted to be heard, that it was screaming at her, but she didn’t understand the language. Christine shared that she felt frustrated, but I encouraged her not to give up, and that I would help her discover what her pain was communicating to her.

That night, she had a nightmare about a trapped child crying alone in a dark tunnel. The following session we discussed the dream. As Christine talked about her nightmare she became tearful, she was tapping into a childhood memory of being left alone in her room, in the dark, essentially vulnerable and unsafe. The dream had triggered a painful memory of childhood sexual abuse.

Christine was shocked by this revelation, because she felt she had resolved the sexual abuse years ago. I explained that she may have addressed the sexual abuse earlier, but the untreatable pelvic pain was proof that her trauma wasn’t resolved. We discussed how her body had been holding onto the pain of her abuse because she was unable to express anger towards her abuser. Christine realized that the chronic pain was indicating that it was time to express that anger and release her feelings. She no longer had to hold onto the anger and store it within her body!

After this session, Christine was able to give herself permission to feel angry, and her whole body seemed lighter. I continue to work with Christine on expressing her emotions in a healthy way, but it has not been an easy process. However, the more she honestly expresses herself, the more her physical symptoms decrease. This has been an ongoing journey and I feel grateful to be able to assist her along the way.

Listen to your body. Never ignore physical pain. Understand that some forms of chronic pain are rooted in emotional trauma that can be illustrated, given a voice and healed!

If you, or anyone you know has ever been abused or traumatized, please seek professional help immediately.

Thank you for being here.

Karen Stabley, Art Therapy (ATR)

Please visit and like my Facebook page!

Visit my Etsy Shop for my hand-crafted healing items.

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