Four Key Lessons from Art Therapy - Michele M. Anderson

Four Key Lessons from Art Therapy

Photo by Alexander Grey, Unsplash

During the first few months of the pandemic in 2020, my father, mother, and a friend all died from non-Covid related causes. Then, seven of my friends moved away to different parts of the world to be near their families.

At a time when I needed support, key people disappeared from my life. I had to come up with new reservoirs of strength and support to get through a desolate period.

As it turns out, 2021 was a year of many fruitful partnerships with an art therapist, vocal coach, business mentor, web developer, and more.

Working with mentors saved my life in 2020/2021.

I found psychological strength from the following two pathways:

  • Guidance from business mentors, diving into a creative project, reinventing my work, and creating a new website.
  • And, working with a grief counselor who specialized in self-expressive therapies: Art.

I found my art therapist through my mother’s hospice care. Hospice offered one year of free counseling, which was covered by insurance, for those who had lost a loved one in hospice.

I jumped in. My art therapist and I worked together for two years.

Here are some key lessons I learned from art therapy:

1. After the death of a loved one comes a major identity shift.

We grieve the loss of a loved one. And, yet that is only the beginning of the grief process. We discover through loss who we thought we were doesn’t exist anymore. What follows is a major identity shift.

For years, I was my mother’s caregiver. She had congestive heart failure, COPD, and was hooked up to an oxygen machine 24/7. Taking care of her took over my life. There wasn’t room for much else. What’s worse, she was grumpy and difficult to deal with most of the time.

After her death, with the help of my art therapist, I started to untangle who she was and who I am. Starting at a young age, my mother groomed me right down to the clothes I wore. In high school, I wore her work clothes. Ugh!

The deeper process of grief was letting go of my role as caregiver, any old roles I played in the relationship with my mother over time, and relearning to Just Be Me.

2. In art therapy, I learned to trust the Inner Child. My art therapist called this inner child “the Divine Source of Inner Knowing – the Gateway to Inner Wisdom.”

My art therapist worked primarily from the teachings of renowned art therapist, Lucia Capacchione, author of Recovery of Your Inner Child, and many other books.

Through writing and drawing with my non-dominant hand, I retrieved messages from my inner child. Our inner child knows instinctively when a situation doesn’t feel right and how to go forward. I noticed a similarity between inner child insight and intuitive insight: both are clear and simple.

Here’s a distinction I learned from art therapy. We can be pedantic towards the inner child, believing the child is “little,” a storehouse of basic needs. Art therapy asserts the child is connected to something larger – the voice of wisdom. To welcome our inner child is to welcome profound insight.

3. Art reveals what is unfolding within us.

The following was a stunning revelation, especially for someone like myself who loves to read signs and symbols. My art therapist explained, “What we draw reveals a future outcome before the subconscious is ready to accept it. An event usually occurs within 4 – 6 weeks after the art is created.”

Multimedia scrapbook art by Michele M. Anderson

I did some scrapbook art in March 2021 (see above). My art therapist pointed out that it shows two pathways, one more direct with three leaves, the other looked like a detour with ladybugs. In reference to the shorter path that looked like an offshoot or detour, my art therapist asked, “What’s this? Where is this going?” I didn’t know at the time. Then, in August 2022, we took an unexpected major detour and made a long-distance move back to “Green Pastures” (see key words in art) our hometown of Eugene, Oregon. My art knew before I knew that we would be moving.

Art reveals the intention subconsciously of the artist before he or she takes action.

4. Art therapy taught me to reparent myself, to nurture my inner family — my inner child, protective father, and nurturing mother. This was especially powerful since I lost both parents around the same time, and I felt orphaned.

Reparenting began with quieting the voice of the critical parent to make room for the inner child’s voice. The critical parent often shows up as the inner critic, an inner bully. My therapist taught me to disinvite the critical parent and show the inner critic the door.

Once I learned to tame the voice of the critical parent and trust my inner voice, I made progress in these areas:

  • Moved from being muted to being heard, reclaimed the voice of my inner child to know what is true – to validate inner knowing and gain deeper insight.
  • Renewed my commitment to watch over my inner child, to listen to my inner child, take care of her, protect her, and advocate for her well-being. Tell her I love her.
  • Let go of unhealthy connections and surrounded myself with people who are relational, emotionally connected. When we are disconnected from our inner child, we look for unhealthy unresponsive relationships. My therapist would say, “Don’t go looking for bread in a hardware store.” Find nurturing and receptive relationships.

I encourage you to have more than one mentor. Three is even better. Create your own support team: a coach, psychotherapist, yoga teacher. Your pastor, Mastermind leader, walking partner. Whether you need help to process an emotional experience or support to build your dream, call on a team to help you.

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