Art Exercises for Embodiment: Drawing from Art Therapy Activities
Art therapy is more than just making time to create. It is a field of intervention with proven methods that support healing, integration, and processing.Dr. Cathy A. Malchiodi says, “Expressive arts therapy–the purposeful application of art, music, dance/movement, dramatic enactment, creative writing, and imaginative play–is a non-verbal way of self-expression of feelings and perceptions.
“More importantly, they are action-oriented and tap implicit, embodied experiences of trauma that can defy expression through verbal therapy or logic.” (Malchiodi, 2020). Art therapy is an established and growing domain of psychology.
The American Art Therapy Association further explains that “art therapy is an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship…
“[It] is used to improve cognitive and sensory-motor functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress, and advance societal and ecological change” (Association, 2022). Art therapy activities can be essential elements of a holistic psychological treatment plan.
Art therapy activities can facilitate healing in many ways. Within the therapeutic setting, art activities such as painting, drawing, and collages can be analyzed and interpreted by the professional to see if there are underlying associations, themes, and non-verbal cues of the individual that can assist in the treatment process (Today, 2022).
Additionally, art therapy activities can be a transformative part of integration and embodiment for individuals with trauma because they can facilitate embodiment as the person creates art. Embodiment is the practice of “giving a body (to)” and synonyms include “incorporate” (Merriam-Webster, 2022). Within the therapeutic art activity, the therapist may ask questions as the individual creates to further gain an understanding.
Moreover, since art creation is a kinesthetic activity, involving the senses like touch, smell, sight, and sound, it readily creates opportunities for embodied engagement- noticing what your senses are picking up and drawn toward. Particular textures, movements, patterns, colors, and more are all insights into how your body is experiencing, interpreting, and relating.
Art therapy activities for embodiment.
The following section includes examples of personal art exercises that are not a replacement of or a form of therapeutic art therapy. They should not be utilized as treatment outside of the oversight of a licensed art therapist. These activities are examples of how a person can begin to enrich their life with creativity as a means of fostering personal development and growth.
“Creating artwork allows your mind to be in a safe place while it contemplates the tougher issues you are dealing with. One can use the tools of brush, paint, pastels, crayons etc. to expose and even for a short time color those issues in a different light.” – George E. Miller
Within her sessions, Dr. Malochiodi encourages her clients to do the following: “use colored pencils or oil pastels, [and says], “Show me through colors, shapes, and lines what you’re feeling. Don’t worry about making it into ‘art.’ Just put something on paper” (Malchiodi, Kindling the Spark: The Healing Power of Expressive Arts, 2019).
Emotion mapping art activity.
Materials needed: paper, multi-colored pens
This activity involves mapping where you feel emotions held in your body. First, draw a body (it does not have to be detailed but having a face is helpful). Next, take a few deep breaths to center and ground yourself. Then, think of an emotion and choose a color to represent it (e.g., red for anger, blue for sadness, etc.).
Follow the body scan protocol and paint that color on the body part where you sense you are holding that emotion. This can be done for one emotion at a time or several. It often ends up looking like a thermal image.
Create to music.
Materials: paper, writing utensils, paint/brushes
In this activity, listen to a song and draw or paint what comes to mind as you listen. This could be lines that represent the tempo or instruments you hear, colors representing the emotions you feel. This can also be done focusing on a particular song that has evoked emotion in the past.
Dance play list.
Materials: music/speakers, open space to move around
For this activity create a playlist of your favorite songs, or songs tied to a particular emotion. Then, dance to the playlist, noticing what movements to which you keep coming back, emotions that arise or how the emotion is moving through your body (e.g. waving your arms high for happiness, or swinging them slowly with sadness).
Materials: crayons, pencils, markers, or pastels and coloring books
There are many adult coloring books available to purchase or print. For this activity make time to color by selecting images, colors, and media that can be combined to do this art activity for embodiment. As you color, pause and reflect on the emotions and body sensations that you notice. How does the material feel in your hands? What colors are you using? These questions can help you process your emotions.
Materials: magazines, newspapers, catalogues, old mail, etc. paper, scissors, glue.
In this activity, first take several deep calming breaths. Then, select a magazine/paper and simply cut out anything that stands out to you. Do not edit or second guess. Do this until you have at least 15-20 items. Next, begin to review them, organize, and glue them into a collage on the paper.
Then, review your collage. Pick out any themes or emotions you see. Ask where do you feel the emotions. See if things close together or spaced. Notice if there more words than photos, or an even amount of both. Study the colors and ask if there a variety of colors or is one color more prevalent than others.
Materials: modeling clay, scissors
This art activity for embodiment is centered on tactile play through sculpting. Make whatever comes to mind or whatever feels natural. Even if it’s a simple shape like a ball, snail, or bowl. While creating, take time to notice how the material feels in your hands, when you roll, pinch, or cut into it. Reflect on the emotions and body sensations that you feel as you sculpt.
Materials: photos from the memory, magazines, newspapers, catalogues, old mail, etc. paper, scissors, glue.
This embodiment art activity is like the spontaneous collage but is centered on a single event or memory. First take several deep calming breaths. Focus on the memory, or the pictures you have from the event.
Then, select a magazine/photo and simply cut out anything that stands out to you. Do not edit or second guess. Do this until you have at least 15-20 items. Next, begin to review, organize, and glue them into a collage on the paper. Then, review your collage about the specific memory.
In conclusion, there are many art therapy activities for embodiment. Art therapy facilitated by a trained practitioner can be beneficial to fostering healing of trauma and stress, and to cultivate embodiment and body awareness.
Outside of the therapeutic setting, taking time to be creative is one way to support your holistic health as you mindfully engage with your body. Please see the reference list below for further information and guidance on art therapy activities for embodiment.
“Art can permeate the very deepest part of us, where no words exist.” – Eileen Miller, The Girl Who Spoke with Pictures: Autism Through Art
Association, A. A. (2022, April 02). About Art Therapy. Retrieved from American Arth Therapy Association: https://arttherapy.org/about-art-therapy/
“Painting”, Courtesy of Daian Gan, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Pastels”, Courtesy of Анна Малышева (Заволока), Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Cutting Paper”, Courtesy of Anastasia Shuraeva, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Collage”, Courtesy of RODNAE Productions, Pexels.com, CC0 License
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