Tag Archives: Grief

Is Art Therapy for You?

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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: thedrawinganalyst.com or the American Art Therapy Association’s website: arttherapy.org.

Thank you for your time and happy healing!

Karen Stabley, Art Therapy (ATR)

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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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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

shattered-pot

 

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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The Brave Lionhearted Boy

lion with quote One of my younger clients, Cam,* a twelve-year-old boy, lost his mother last year in a fatal car accident. She was killed out of state while visiting friends.

I’ve been working with Cam to help him express his feelings related to this tragic loss.  He’s been painting pictures during our art therapy sessions, as well expressing the anger, sadness and confusion he feels related to this loss.  Cam is insightful, intense, awkward, self conscious etc. –  and all these mixed up middle school feelings that have added to his grief.

He recently talked about feeling stuck, as though he had not made progress, and shared his fear that the heaviness and hopelessness will never go away. He expressed his fear of being the kid who everyone avoids or feels afraid of, because they don’t know what to say to him. I reassured him that he had been making progress, and that his feelings of grief will lift, not go away, entirely.  I asked him if he would be willing to try something different.  He agreed.

I told him to close his eyes and draw a scribble.  A scribble is a technique used by art therapists to help clients who feel blocked, it also helps with gaining insight into underlying or subconscious material.  After Cam completed the scribble, I asked him to make a picture out of it.  He drew a “boy running away.”  We discussed how this made sense, how it would seem easier to run away from his pain rather than face it. We also talked about how facing one’s pain is better than abandoning it.

Next, I asked him to close his eyes and put dots on the page, and then create a drawing from the random dots.  Cam completed this task and drew an image of a lion from the dots. We talked about the meaning and symbol of a lion.  I talked to Cam about what it meant to be lionhearted.  We discussed how a lion is the symbol of bravery and courage.  I pointed out how this was one of the darkest times in his life, and how the lion symbolized his courage and bravery.  I wanted him to know that a deep part of him revealed that he was strong, how he had the heart of a lion, and how I knew he had the courage to go on, even in the face of his unimaginable pain.

Cam's picture of a lion during our session.
Cam’s picture of a boy running away and a lion during our session.

The use of this technique during our session paved the way for Cam to work more closely with the image of the lion, and recognize the parts of himself that were brave and strong.

Try this exercise at home if you, or someone you love is struggling to find their inner lion.

Be strong, be brave, be lionhearted like Cam.

(*Names have been changed to protect the privacy and identity of my clients.)

Peace and blessings to you all.

Thanks for reading.

Karen Stabley, Art Therapy (ATR)

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My Hero, Tara.

This is Tara with her son, Cam.

tara and cam resized

Tara is the woman who took care of my mother in the final six years of her life. She watched her slowly move from one stage to the next in her struggle with Alzheimer’s .

Although I was around, it was Tara who fed her, bathed her and cared for her on a daily basis. She was able to understand that I wasn’t strong enough to spend hours with my mother, and she never judged me for it. I would breeze in and out of the house in those last few years, unable to watch what was happening.

It was a slow, agonizing process to watch my once vibrant, funny, snarky mother, end up bedridden and completely helpless for the last two years of her life. It was simply too much for me to bare.

Even though, as a therapist, I hear my clients’ stories all day long and can be strong for them, I found my mother’s illness to be heartbreaking and unbearable to watch. To be honest, I found the entire ordeal quite frightening.

This is why I thank God for Tara.

The image of Tara with her son is quite significant, because she spent a lot of time with my mother when she could have been spending that time with her son. She was loyal and faithful, and showed up every day until my mother’s death, assuring me she would be with her till the end.

The transition for my mother was lengthy, cruel, heartbreaking and harsh, and I am grateful that I had Tara as a solid, loving presence.

Transitions of any kind can be head spinning, even when the progression is slow moving.

As a therapist, when my clients are experiencing times of stress and chaos, I advise them to look for the helpers in their life, because sometimes, we have to remember to lean on others. Friends, therapists and spiritual leaders can be lifesavers at a time like this, and Tara was my life savor and my helper. She was the person I leaned on heavily, and I am eternally grateful for her presence.

I have never formally thanked her, and would likely to publicly acknowledge her service to my family.

Dear Tara,

Thank you for caring for my Mother in a way that I would never have been able to. Thank you for being patient, loving and compassionate. Thank you for being gentle and kind, and for taking care of all the details when I felt too overwhelmed. Thank you for tolerating the chaos that my family created, at times. Thank you for holding my mother’s hand when she was scared and lonely – something I was unable to do. I need you to know how grateful I am to you for being there during my mother’s moment of passing. You have been a blessing beyond words. You are one of the final gifts that my mother gave me, and for that I am truly grateful.

Thank you.

Love Always,

Karen

 

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Letting Go: A Message for Life Transitions

Thinking back to my son’s graduation from kindergarten, I am reminded of an image of my little boy wearing a white paper graduation cap – secured to his head with masking tape!

Karens son graduation blog
Jordan, at his graduation ceremony!

His father and I watched in amazement as our first born entered elementary school. It’s an image I will never forget! 

Now living in Brooklyn, New York and working as a consultant, I admire my son’s fearlessness as he has approached each new stage of his life.

As graduation day approaches for many parents, I understand the difficulty that many face while confronting the idea of letting go. Releasing not only our children, but also our fears requires a great amount of strength.

We must be willing to conjure up this strength in order fully embrace joy, and to experience our children’s achievements. For some, it can feel as though there wasn’t enough time to prepare for this next chapter.

Many seniors feel just as apprehensive and anxious about this new phase of their life. Most people don’t feel ready to leave middle school, high school, college, or even an old job or a relationship.

No matter where we are transitioning from, moving forward always brings feelings of uncertainty and discomfort to the surface. These feelings are necessary, but, if they are not addressed properly, we risk making the changes in our lives unbearable.

There isn’t a magic wand to make transitions easier, but there are simple steps we can take to make the process less stressful. All you have to do is close your eyes, breath and use your imagination!

The first step is to identify any fears, regrets or sadness that you may be feeling. Make a list of the possible reasons behind these negative feelings to help you uncover all the things that are bottled up or kept hidden. The next step is to write down all the positive things that you hope to accomplish and want to feel.

For example, you may write the words “regret” or “insecure” on your negative list, and the words ”self-confidence” or “joy” on your positive list.

Next, close your eyes and take a deep breath in through the nose. As you exhale through your mouth, imagine your list of negativity being released into the air and then dissolving into smoke.

Repeat this step several times until you have vaporized all the negativity into thin air! Now, inhale through your nose again, and take in only the positive feelings and thoughts on your list. Repeat until you are full of positive energy.

Moving forward, forgive yourself and allow yourself to let go of regrets or fears each time they surface. Letting go of past regrets opens a space for joy to enter. Focusing on positivity also gives you more energy to move through life.

It takes courage to walk through the next door that opens for you, especially when you can’t see beyond the doorway. Surround yourself with people who can light your path and walk beside you to ease your journey, and provide the necessary support and strength that you’ll need. As you become more focused and confident, you will become a guide to others.

Don’t let the changes in your life paralyze you with fear, learn to embrace life as it comes, and most importantly, don’t forget to breathe and enjoy your own graduation from the past into the present!

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