Healing with art therapy
Growing up, I was often told to “shush”, to “get over it”, and “get on with it”. Essentially, as a child, I was told that feeling things was “bad”. That emotions were not to be felt and definitely not expressed.
As a human, I need connection, growth and belonging. I need to be seen, heard and valued to feel safe. I need to have a voice to express myself and to say how I feel. And I connect best with others who have the capability to do the same.
After many years of healing and forgiveness, I have learned and accepted that my parents were doing their best with the tools they had. When I put myself in their shoes and envisioned how their parents treated them, I imagined what style of parenting they received. Each generation has a different form of parenting.
When I became a mother, I chose a conscious and aware parenting style. I knew deep within that I wanted to parent in a way that made my child feel seen, heard and valued — as I certainly didn’t feel this way growing up. I want my child to know that I support him every step of the way, that what he feels matters and that his opinion matters too. I want him to have a voice and stand up for what he believes in. I encourage him to follow his dreams and passions — whatever that means, I wholeheartedly support him.
In 2019, I separated from the father of my son. These were the most challenging two years of my life. I had to process a barrage of pain and I had to hold space for my baby. At the time, he was six, so he needed me more than ever.
What I found worked well with my son was the expression of colour and art. He was too little at the time to express how he was feeling so we used art. When he had difficulty registering emotions, we would get a piece of paper and draw circles. I would then ask him to put faces in these circles about how he is feeling. He would draw sad, disappointed and angry. So we then attached a colour to these emotions. For example, blue would often be sad, red was angry and green was disappointed. Next I would ask him to feel into each feeling to explain why he was feeling this way. This process gave him space and time to feel what he was feeling and the strength to express it with love and support.
This was art therapy and my journey with this style of therapy started over 20 years ago. Art therapy is a unique healing and supportive therapy process. A therapist works with their client to help their unconscious thoughts become conscious and to help them realise their full potential. The empowering and reflective process of art therapy helps support self-awareness, feels into emotions and encourages building a deeper level of resilience to allow processing through adversity. The approaches that apply to art therapy include psychoanalytical, psychodynamic, humanistic, cognitive-behavioural, solution-focused, narrative, developmental and multimodal art therapy.
After experiencing how art therapy helped me and my son to heal, it is now my vision to work with children. I hope to teach kids how to self-regulate and control their emotions in order to make more connected decisions without taking away from their life experiences that form the basis of who they are.
Self-regulation is the ability to understand and manage your behaviour and reactions to feelings and things happening around you. It includes being able to:
- regulate reactions to strong emotions like frustration, excitement, anger and embarrassment
- calm down after something exciting or upsetting
- focus on a task
- refocus attention on a new task
- control impulses
- behave in ways that help you get along with other people
I am a firm believer in feeling into emotions and feeling into what needs to be released from the body. I encourage tantrums as I believe tantrums happen when a child is dysregulated. When they have big emotions rising it often scares them as they haven’t learned how to self-regulate. In these moments, they might not feel safe.
My calling is to teach children and parents the tools I have learned to process big emotions and practise self-love. I have learned these lessons (and mistakes) through my own life experiences, my son’s journey and our traumas.
When a child reaches seven or eight, their brain develops. They begin to learn more words. So teaching kids these tools at an early age helps and supports them to develop the capabilities to be able to say, “Mummy, I’m sad and I need a hug” or “I need to have a big cry.” A new language starts to develop and creates deep emotional safety. When a child becomes a teenager, the teenager feels empowered. They are also aware that the parent becomes the safest place to come to confide.
Art therapy helps kids to let go and to find their creative identity, which helps build inner confidence to manage their big feelings. Art therapy helps them to engage in self-exploration. It has also been used to help children develop social skills and raise self-confidence. It’s a fantastic addition to positive psychology, as at its core it seeks to help individuals overcome emotional or psychological challenges to achieve a greater sense of personal wellbeing.
For children who may not be able to articulate thoughts, sensations, emotions or perceptions, art therapy is one way to convey what may be difficult to express with words. In addition, the sensory characteristics of art effectively improve mood and sensory integration, and calm the body and mind, especially with children who have experienced traumatic events.
If only art therapy had existed in my day, I might not have spent most of my adult life processing my childhood traumas. But then again, if my past was altered, I wouldn’t be who I am today.