Tag Archives: Sadness

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: 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



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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How To Recognize Depression

Let’s Talk About Depression

How do you know if you are feeling depressed?

Flowers windowsill JPEG

Let’s look at some common signs:

– Are you having difficulty sleeping at night?
– Have you lost interest in things you normally enjoy?
– Has your appetite changed?
– Do you feel less energetic?
– Are you feeling more negative or feeling sad all the time?
– Do you feel hopeless, helpless, or worthless?

How do you know whether those are just normal reactions to life  or something more serious?

The most important question to ask yourself is, “Am I having a bad day, or am I having a bad life?” If you can recognize that you are just in a slump and need to change your perspective or change your routine, then you realize that you have just hit a “bump in the road” like so many people often do.

It is crucial for us to understand that feeling depressed is not uncommon. You have no reason to feel ashamed.

Once you have recognized the signs and symptoms of depression, the next step is to take action. Managing our emotions is crucial.

If it is mild depression, try these simple changes to your routine:

  • Write in a journal.
    • Think of it as documenting your life.
    • Make a gratitude list to stay focused on the positive things in your life.
    • Do this for a month every morning or every evening
  • Try engaging with one person in a small way.
    • Talk to the mail person or a neighbor walking their dog.
    • Start with a simple, “Hello, how are you?”
    • Smile at a stranger or compliment their outfit.

Sometimes brightening someone else’s day can brighten your own day!

  • Think of something small that you can do for someone else.
    • Bring in your neighbor’s newspaper or mail.
    • Pick up trash in your neighborhood.
    • Help someone load or unload groceries from their car.
  • Coloring books.  You may have noticed that coloring books are becoming increasingly popular with adults. There are a variety of books available from complex patterns to whimsical designs.
    • Pack one in your summer tote, along with a few colored markers or pencils.
    • Use it to pass the time while you sit by the pool or spend a weekend on the beach.
    • Color at the end of the day to unwind and de-stress. (Don’t stress about staying within the line.
  • Take a walk every day.
    • Look around your neighborhood.
    • Try to find a new area to explore.
    • Say hello to every person you pass.
    • Give yourself a reward at the end!

If you have tried all of these simple suggestions, and you’re still feeling low, it may be time to call a therapist. A therapist can assess your situation and provide solutions that address your specific needs.

As a therapist, I want  my clients to feel connected, and I want them to walk through life with light in their heart.

The goal I set for my clients is to help them feel “Joyfully Engaged in the World.”

This is my favorite phrase, and I work with them until they can achieve this feeling.

It may sound as if I’m oversimplifying the issue, and you may be thinking, ‘She doesn’t know my situation. It’s impossible for me to feel light in my life, especially with these heavy issues weighing me down.’

Or, you might be like so many other people who try to hide their sorrow.

Many people find it difficult to reach out for help.  A depressed person may think they are “handling it” but everyone around them can see the pain that they are desperately trying to hide. Others notice the flashes of anger, constant sighing, withdrawal, lack of optimism, complaining, vulnerability to illnesses and a general joylessness.

I can assure you that I have heard several stories by people who think they will never overcome their sorrow and pain. Yet, I have witnessed these same people find moments of joy, and have watched them discovered how to reconnect with people in their lives.

If you are feeling depressed, I hope you understand that you matter and that you are important. Invest some time in yourself, because you deserve to feel joyfully engaged in the world!

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