Category Archives: Creativity

Is Art Therapy for You?


Ever wonder what art therapy is about?

Art therapists are trained as psychotherapists with at least a master’s degrees in expressive therapy. Utilizing art as a form of therapy has proven to be one of the most effective ways to overcome psychological blocks – damaging mental blocks that often prevent individuals from reaching their highest potential.

Art therapists analyze the drawings of their clients in several different ways.

Drawings are used to uncover the underlying issues causing difficulty in someone’s life. I use a series of ten to fifteen drawings when I first meet a client. These drawings are used as a baseline to assess where the person exists emotionally. They also reveal unconscious material that lay at the root of a client’s struggles. These initial drawings act as a roadmap to treatment.

Art therapists are trained to understand which materials will be the most productive tools of expression. Often, when an individual begins therapy, they are ready to defend their emotions. They have a well-rehearsed story, but the drawings cut through the defenses and quickly reveal the deeper content. Art therapists provide materials such as paint, clay or pastels to foster the expression of what was previously being kept hidden.

I continue to be surprised by what comes up for my clients – content that has up until this time been suppressed. Often what’s revealed in the drawings isn’t what my clients think they need to address, but turns out to be the root cause of their struggles.

There is no artistic skill required!  As art therapists, we are trained to walk you through the process and ascertain which materials would work best for your course of expression.

It’s the pure expression of feeling, not artistic talent that we are looking for to begin the healing process. Art therapists treat the same emotional disorders and mental health issues that verbal therapists address. In fact, art therapists often work with verbal therapists if a client is blocked and unable to express their feelings verbally.

At the termination of therapy, we review the drawings my client created at the beginning of our sessions. There is such a difference in the drawings from the start of therapy to termination, and they show tremendous emotional growth, insight and healing.

It’s always rewarding to be able to see progress and to keep a visual record of a person’s improved emotional well-being.

If you are interested in more information about art therapy, you can visit my website: or the American Art Therapy Association’s website:

Thank you for your time and happy healing!

Karen Stabley, Art Therapy (ATR)

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In a previous blog I mentioned that I was excited about an art therapy technique called SoulCollage. SoulCollage was created about 30 years ago by a psychotherapist named, Seena Frost. She was interested in combining creativity, insight and healing for her clients who felt they were not creative.

SoulCollage Photo

Art therapists have used the collage process in their practice for years. The SoulCollage process is different because no words are  involved, only images. In addition, the collage is limited to a 5” x 8” card consisting of only 3 to 4 carefully selected pictures. Each person makes his or her own personal deck of cards with no set number of cards. The photograph above is from my personal deck. I made this card when my mother was dying.

In SoulCollage we interpret our own cards. Even as a therapist, I would not interpret a client’s card. The images are selected on an intuitive personal basis and have meaning only for the individual. There is a phrase that is used when you look at the card and are attempting to glean information from the imagery. The phrase is, “I am the one who…” When we consult our SoulCollage cards we use the phrase, “I am the one who…” to begin speaking from the image on our own card and to answer our own questions.

For example, for this card when I begin with the phrase “I am the one who…”, I finish the sentence with, “…. is really scared about the unknown journey of my mother’s impending death.” This helped me realize that fear played a role for me in my interactions with her. At different times when consulting the card, the meaning and interpretation will change.

SoulCollage reminds us that all the answers are deep within us if we work to uncover them. Using SoulCollage can help us recognize these answers and bring clarity to confusing situations in our lives.

Sharing SoulCollage cards in a group or community is an important part of the process. SoulCollage brings people together in creativity, acceptance, and self-reflection.

This is just a basic introduction to the process. There are many more aspects and levels to SoulCollage. To learn more you can visit or contact me for an individual or group introduction to the process.

Thanks for reading!

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)

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Doodle For Your Noodle!

Ten Reasons Doodling is Good for You

 Doodling 3

1.   Exploration.  The same region of our brain that lights up while we innovate and improvise, also activates while we doodle. Doodling is another way to express our creativity.

2.   Concentration.  Doodling improves our ability to focus and concentrate. Students who doodle in their notebooks often retain more information, because they are utilizing both hemispheres of their brains.

3.   MemoryDoodlers retain more information. This should be encouraged from childhood to adulthood, because it creates a higher memory capacity.

4.   Problem Solving.  Doodling is associative and not linear. It allows you to visualize a problem and create solutions based on a wider perspective, rather than on a narrow train of thought.

5.   Mental Time Out.  Putting pen to paper in a random way limits the focus and allows more space in the brain. This aspect of doodling relaxes the mind and creates a mental time-out – which is refreshing in a world of hyper stimulation.


6.   Seeing the Big PictureDoodlers tend to be more skilled at seeing the big picture. This seems to be true for a corporate strategist as well as a parent planning dinner.

7.   Multi-taskingThe ability to multi-task is enhanced by stimulating multiple regions of the brain at the same time. It rewires the brain and creates new pathways that are trained to operate simultaneously.

8.   Thinking Outside the BoxDoodling naturally helps us break out of our habitual thought patterns. It enables our ability to recognize and react to subtle nuances in life.

9.   ImaginationA person who doodles is not limited by what they have seen before. The doodle may start out recognizable, but will become unbounded, as it evolves on the page.

10.   Doodling is Fun!  Doodlers doodle because it is fun and satisfying. Random lines and patterns that emerge from a central source have a natural beauty. Doodling can produce a moment of happiness and pleasure.

What are you waiting for? Start doodling, today!

Doodling 2

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