Mind + Body
How I Came to Discover the Healing Power of Art Therapy + How It Can Help You
I will never forget the day my Aunt Bonnie offered me a small tablet of watercolors and said to me, “Paint what you are feeling, Gina.” I stared at her with a look of bewilderment and then stared out the window, where the sun was shining and neighbors were walking their dogs. Everything outside looked like a typical Saturday in our neighborhood. But my internal world was raging with chaos, sadness, overwhelm and the unknown. I was 17 years old at the time, and my mother was in the other room battling for her life with stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Every shallow and rattled breath I heard from her shook any bit of safety and grounding within me. I knew I was going to lose her, and I didn’t know what being “motherless” was going to look like or feel like. All I had ever known was her love, her physical presence of reassurance – a biological anchor in this world.
I grabbed the watercolors feeling pissed off and indifferent.
‘What would painting my feelings do for this situation?’
‘NOTHING’, I thought to myself; this is what children do.
My mother is dying. Most teenagers my age are prepping for their new college dorm rooms, sneaking booze with friends, and having summertime flings.
I started painting a circle. It started out blue, then I added red, and I just kept painting and adding colors to the circle. I looked at my Aunt Bonnie and said, ‘Well…this is what I made.’ It was a defining moment in my life when I realized I was at a loss for words, and this painting depicted all of it. I was able to physically release the sadness, rage, and spinning questions from my body, if even only for a moment. I was able to be present, find stillness in chaos, and externalize so much of what was internally drowning me. It was a few minutes of making art that profoundly impacted how I processed my grief for the next several years of my life.
I then went on to teach art in various mental health settings, and finally get my Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy with a specialization in Clinical Art Therapy. I now use art therapy in my private practice and outpatient settings.
Here is a simple but powerful art therapy exercise for you to try at home:
Feeling so anxious that you could crawl out of your skin? Wanting to create a vision of your future? Sad, overwhelmed, not loveable, stuck, or numb? Are you saddled with a large decision?
***First, put your emotions on paper.
Then, grab these materials:
- Oil pastels
- Chalk pastels
- Magazines you’re ok with cutting
- Glue stick
- 8x11 piece of mixed media paper
***Make one art piece (can be collage, painting, drawing, all of the above) going with one decision and another with other potential directions/options.
***What do you notice for each of them – visually, emotionally, spiritually, mentally?
***Keep your art pieces somewhere sacred for you to revisit in the coming week week/s and watch what comes up for you around the art and the emotions and situations you were processing.
Gina currently works as a Psychotherapist at Saltwater Sessions and her private practice. She obsessively surfs, hikes, loves her friends, her partner, her dog Lou, and has a more moderate relationship with wine, and pushing her fears/boundaries. Because she believes life is about love, lessons, and growth.
To inquire about a session with Gina, visit HERE.