What to Expect in Art Therapy

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A common question during a consultation calls is, “What is art therapy like?”

If you’ve been in therapy before, art therapy is much like a “talk therapy” session. Therapy is an opportunity to explore your thoughts and feelings in a space that promotes trust and safety. An essential component in therapy is your relationship with the therapist. If a therapist isn’t a “good fit,” as we often say, then it may be more difficult to feel comfortable in opening up. Therapy requires vulnerability and the trust you develop with your therapist will help you feel safe in session.

You and your therapist will identify patterns, coping strategies and personal strengths that influence your world. By bringing awareness to your past and present experiences, you can begin to explore how to align with your values and promote balance in your life.

So, how is Art Therapy different?

The difference in art therapy is that talking is not required to share your experiences. Making art in session provides an outlet, a reflection of your inner thoughts and feelings, and a tangible representation to notice subtle shifts in your life. Creating a piece of beautiful artwork is not the goal; It’s about the meaning of your imagery and the story you share.

GETTING STARTED AT ALEXANDRIA ART THERAPY, LLC

Consultation

All prospective clients have the option to schedule a consultation call with me, the Clinical Director. Chatting over the phone about your needs allows me to help you find the best fit at our practice or refer to you a clinician in the community who can better serve your needs. Clinicians at Alexandria Art Therapy specialize in a variety of mental health needs; you can read more about our specializations here.

Intake

Next is scheduling an intake session. An intake session is a session in which you and your clinician will discuss your needs and begin building a framework for therapy by exploring family history, past experiences and current life stressors. This is also an opportunity to meet your clinician face to face and get a sense of what it might feel like to work together.

An art therapist may also prompt you to create a series of images for an art therapy assessment. This is another tool that art therapists use to help hone in to your treatment needs. Making art in session is not about creating a piece of beautiful artwork; the process of making imagery (lines, shapes and colors) serves as a reflection of your inner thoughts and feelings. There is no good, bad, right or wrong.

REGULAR Sessions

Based on information you shared verbally and nonverbally, your clinician will work with you to come up with an appropriate treatment plan. This means frequency of therapy and goals for your work together. During the first 4-6 weeks, we recommend weekly sessions to get into the flow of therapy and establish a therapeutic relationship.

A FEW ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS

Can you read my inner thoughts by looking at my art?

Nope. We’re not mind readers and don’t make absolute interpretations of your artwork. Art therapists are, however, trained to understand global characteristics (e.g. colors, textures, shapes) in artwork that can point towards specific themes. Your story is essential in understanding your artwork. An art therapist may share curiosities about artwork, feelings evoked from the imagery and symbolism that the imagery is reminiscent of. Art therapy sessions typically provide an opportunity to verbalize meaning in the artwork to connect verbal and nonverbal experiences.

What if I just need to talk in the session?

Then we’ll talk. Working with an art therapist provides the opportunity to use the creative process in session, but it is not essential each time.

Do I need training in art to get something out of art therapy?

Not at all. The aesthetics of your artwork is less important than the meaning. If guidance is needed to best portray your message, an art therapist will show you how to use specific materials and techniques.

A NOTE ON TRAINING

Art Therapists are mental health clinicians who have completed graduate level coursework, internships, and post graduate supervision with specific training in the creative process, psychodiagnostics, and art therapy theory. To read more about training and credentialing, visit arttherapy.org


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Adele Stuckey, LPC, ATR-BC is a Board Certified Art Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor. She is the Founder and Clinical Director of Alexandria Art Therapy. She works with women who feel stuck in life, especially those seeking support during fertility, pregnancy and postpartum experiences.

How to Be Unapologetic about Your Self Care Practice

I write A LOT about prioritizing self care. For one, it can be quite a challenge to make time for self care. Our lives are structured to go, go, go and our culture views “busy” as a status symbol. Which brings up point number two: Self care is not viewed as necessary by many people.

You’ve probably noticed an upswing in talks of self care in the media over the past couple of years. I understand it can feel like a constant battle to establish a practice that feels good, accessible AND guilt free.

Negative self talk (those unkind things we say to our selves) create a gnarly wall in your ability to establish healthy self care rituals. Thoughts like:

I don’t have time for this.

Self care is silly.

I practiced self care last Thursday. I’m good for now.

I’ll go for a walk if I get done with this work.

I don’t deserve this.

I shouldn’t ignore others’ needs.

I’m fine.

I don’t need this.

I should be able to do everything without needing a break.

I’m not a good [fill in the blank] if I can’t do it all.

A common strategy to work with negative self beliefs is to begin using mantras. Mantras are simply words or phrases that you can repeat to yourself. Think of mantras as armor for negative self talk. A negative thought comes into mind? Start repeating your mantra. Let’s also acknowledge that guilt may come up. It’s normal and common; and you have permission to keep moving forward. Guilt does not have to stop you. Remind yourself that you’re a badass and don’t apologize for it. A few unapologetic mantras for self care:

I will practice self care when I want it.

Feeling good is my birthright.

My wise self knows what I need; I will listen to her.

I make space and time for myself first.

I will not apologize for putting myself first.

I channel my inner badass by saying NO to that which does not serve me.

I am worthy of addressing my needs.

I prioritize myself.

I create boundaries that support my self care practice.

I will refill my energy before I help others.

I will not allow guilt to control my self care practice.

Self care is not selfish.

I am strong AND I need rest.

I acknowledge feelings of guilt that arise and choose to focus on an unapologetic practice.

So, how do you practice an unapologetic self care practice? Simply, don’t apologize.


Adele Stuckey

Adele is a Board Certified Art Therapist, Licensed Professional Counselor and founder of Alexandria Art Therapy. She works with women who feel stuck in life, including those experiencing fertility, pregnancy and postpartum stress. As a mom, she understands that prioritizing self care and establishing balance is tough. She enjoys helping women find their voice and tap into their intuition.

"What If I'm Not a Good Client?" and Other Thoughts about Starting Therapy

Photo by Kira auf der Heide

Beginning therapy can feel terrifying.

“You want me to share details about my life, talk about my feelings and unveil my secrets with a stranger?”

Well, sort of.

Therapy is about building a healthy, trusting relationship.

I don’t expect any client to trust me immediately. Initially we are focused on getting to know each other. Are we a good fit? Does my experience match your needs? Do you feel comfortable?

It can take 4 - 6 weeks to settle in to the therapy process.

So much of therapy is about diving into the unknown. Art therapy has the ability to explore the unconscious, the experiences that exist under your cognitive “thinking” brain. It takes trust to feel safe enough to tap into these experiences, thoughts and feelings. So, it’s important to take it slowly.

Building a relationship in therapy allows you to practice healthy boundaries, communication and self-advocacy. It is within this relationship that you will grow.

You may be wondering, “What if I’m not a good client?”

A “good” client doesn’t actually exist; there are no “good” or “bad” ways to participate in therapy. Therapy does require commitment and a openness to explore your experiences. Each person’s experience in therapy will differ and there is no set timeline for the healing process.

My role of therapist is to support you, offer my expertise, and help you explore your healing process further.

How do I find a therapist who is a good fit?

I’ve mentioned several times the concept of establishing a relationship with a therapist who is a good fit. But what does that actually mean?

Therapy works best if you feel comfortable and safe.

You may also consider a therapist’s expertise. For example, finding a therapist with training in Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders is important if you are struggling with postpartum anxiety.

Sometimes connection isn’t quite explainable. Trust your intuition. After all, this is for you.


Adele Stuckey, LPC, ATR-BC is a Board Certified Art Therapist, Licensed Professional Counselor and founder of Alexandria Art Therapy, LLC in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. She works with adults experiencing stress during life transitions, including motherhood. Read more about her practice here.

Journal Prompts for Introspection

It’s not uncommon to hear about journaling as a form of introspection, self care or processing thoughts. But where to begin? Today I share several journal prompts to get the writing process started.

Step One

Grab a journal, notebook or piece of spare paper and a writing utensil. There are no rules for the materials you use; simply find something that allows you to physically write your thoughts down. (There’s a bit of magic in the tangible / kinesthetic method of writing.)

Step Two

Choose a prompt from the list below.

Step Three

Write without editing. Allow your thoughts to flow freely onto the paper. This is for you and you only.

Journal Prompts

  1. In this moment, here and now, I feel …

  2. I’m most calm when …

  3. What energy would you like to channel into your life? Write about that.

  4. Create a space in your mind, real or imaginary, that feels safe, comfortable and relaxing. Imagine surrounding yourself with an environment that allows you to let your guard down. This space is for you and no others. Now, begin writing about this space. Explore the senses with the following questions and paint a picture with words. Be as descriptive as possible.

    What do you see?

    What is the temperature of the air?

    What do you smell?

    What do you hear?

    What textures surround you?

    What comforting items exist in this space?

    Is it inside / outside / neither / both?

    Is it light or dark / both or neither?

    How do you feel in this space?

    How else can you describe this space?

  5. I would like to let go of …

  6. Write a letter to your past self. What would you like to share?

  7. Make a list of your favorite self care rituals (small or large)

  8. Scribble on the page (who said journaling has to include words?)

  9. I feel okay when …

  10. Stream of consciousness writing: Allow your thoughts to flow onto the paper without judgement.

Recommended Reading

In graduate school, I was introduced to the book Journal to the Self: Twenty Two Paths to Personal Growth. I appreciate the variety of writing styles and journaling prompts discussed in this book and offer it as a tool to guide your writing process. Give it a read if you are looking for journaling inspiration.

Keri Smith writes a variety of books in the Wreck This series: Books that are made to be written in, modified, dirtied, and maybe even destroyed. Take a look at the Wreck This Journal to break out of the mold.

This post contains affiliate links.

Self Care in the Real World

The habitual practice of self care will change throughout your life — that’s a given. Life is comprised of transitions; transitions elicit stress; and we turn to what we know to cope. When resources are depleted, the ability to cope with stress in a healthy manner can feel overwhelming, burdensome, or simply exhausting. Tuning in with awareness can bring insight to patterns and habits, both healthy and less healthy. Ask yourself: How do you handle stress (“good and “bad”*)?

Transitions can serve as a catalyst to discovery.

The way in which you cope with stress during specific times in your life will depend on your internal and external resources.

Internal resources = personal strengths, abilities, skills
External resources = therapy, loved ones, friends, pets, jobs

Life in college will look different than life in high school. Life as a working adult will look different than life in retirement. Grief and loss complicates day-to-day living; and new parenthood presents challenges that are often unexpected.

No matter what phase of life you are experiencing,

a consistent self care practice is possible.

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I am constantly shifting and modifying my self care schedule. You read that right; I schedule self care. Scheduling self care is a way I can ensure that I prioritize myself. My Sunday evening ritual entails sitting down with my digital calendar and paper planner. By plotting out my week, I can check for gaps in self care and ensure a healthy balance of work, life and relaxation. Honor your needs by giving it space, literally and figuratively.

What does self care look like in the real world?

My self care practice shifts depending on the day of the week. Some mornings provide the opportunity to move (i.e. kind way of saying exercise), spend time with others, make art or practice any other moderate level of self care — things that take 5 - 30 minutes.

Throughout the day I practice mini moments of self care. These include drinking sparkling water, pulling an oracle card, listening to music, repeating a mantra, or smelling an essential oil. These ground me in the moment and allow my brain to focus on the here and now.

Take a look at two versions of a daily self care practice highlighting micro self care throughout the day and a mega self care practice.

Self care can be as simple as taking a deep breath.



 

* A note on “good” and “bad” stress: The brain and body reads all types of stress similarly. The body may respond to a joy filled wedding in the same way as the loss of a job. Practicing self care in both of the so-called “positive” and “negative” experiences is important. Decompress your body and bring a sense of peace for the mind - body connection.

 

Give yourself permission to prioritize your needs today.

Cultivating your Tribe

In the world of therapy we talk about support and resources a lot— probably every session. Our (healthy) support systems remind us that we are not alone.

Support systems do NOT include:

toxic family

unsupportive friends

people who push boundaries

Using the term “tribe” to discuss your community isn’t a new thing. A tribe is a distinctive, close-knit group. You have the power to cultivate a tribe that you trust to reciprocate vulnerability, trust and authenticity. You know these people are connected with your true self.

Tribes can be made up of:

people from school

People of the same gender

People of the opposite gender

people that love making art together

people who love improv

people that love coffee

people that love noise music

people in a book club

people who play sports together

people who have corgis

people who share the same career

people who play video games together

.. the list goes on


But how do you find your tribe?

Consider what you love and value. Go to meetups, shows, book readings, art classes. Join a sports league. Cultivating your tribe can be really hard. It requires you to be vulnerable and put yourself in an uncomfortable spot. How can you motivate yourself to enter into this space? Imagine what life would feel like with intimate connections, mutual respect and shared curiosity.

A member of your tribe:

respects your boundaries

listens

asks for support from you

adds value to your life

gets you

And even when you struggle to find your tribe, know that you are not alone.