Seeing a therapist can be vulnerable. We bring our awareness to the most sensitive places within us. We are witnessed in our fragile, powerful, beautiful, messy humanity. And, if our therapist is attentive, attuned and supportive, we experience acceptance in all of that. We find new ways to relate with ourselves, new ways of being.
A couple of days ago I was preparing for a presentation on art therapy for university students. I came across a piece I had written following an art therapy session about five years ago when I was really struggling with severe PMDD symptoms. I wondered whether to include it in the presentation, but decided it wasn't appropriate for that context. I share it here as a window into art therapy for those who are unfamiliar.
"Tonight in art therapy, I cry tears of frustration and anger as I talk about my struggles. I am premenstrual, incredibly sensitive in the world, and the inner critic is running rampant. I notice that my hands are pressing and forming the tissue that I’m holding. My arts therapist asks if I want to move into creating an artwork, and I reply, “I am already”.
I go to the cupboard and select a range of materials: silver shiny strips of paper, white silky material, bubble wrap, blue frayed material, needle and thread, two pairs of scissors. I wrap the ball of tissue, covering it with the white silk, add strands of silver and blue. I hold it all together with a rubber band while I sew. I make eyes of little fluffy balls.
I hold the form aloft by a little leftover thread, allowing the tendrils to trail, looking at it. I notice my mind is searching for some meaning to make of it and ask aloud, “Why would I make a jellyfish?”
I suddenly have the image of a brain, spine and nervous system… and this jelly fish shape makes sense to me… Raw nerves in the world... Vulnerable.
I reflect on my recent learning about the nervous system, and the tools I have learned to support my system to regulate. I can see how perfectly my jellyfish is a mirror, the rawness of my state when I'm premenstrual. It is easy to see why I long for solitude and quiet when I'm so raw. My nerves are exposed.
My arts therapist asks how I might comfort these raw nerves. I tell her some of the ways that I self-soothe: Being aware of pleasant things in my environment. Feeling comfort in my body. Simply feeling my connection to the chair or the earth. Going for a walk in nature. Making art.
As the session is drawing to a close, I wonder how to transport this artwork home. I don’t want to mess up the tendrils or crush them. I want to put it cotton wool somehow. I find some fluffy material, peeling it back to make a bed and doona. I am able to lay out the tendrils and not crush them. I giggle to see the jellyfish so snug in its bed. In the end, I wrap it up in the white silk, creating a beautiful protective doona cover to get it home safely.
My arts therapist says, "how precious it is". And she reflects that it is the antithesis to the critic that I live with, especially at premenstrual time.
It's home now, and tucked in safe in my bookshelf. I want to take care of it, this little raw being. I want to keep it safe when it's feeling exposed and vulnerable. I want to cultivate the comfort of lying in a cloud-bed. I want to do this for myself. I am grateful."
Chelle is a practicing art therapist, researcher, and multi-modal creative. She regularly dives into the unknown to discover what is ready to be born, deepening her trust in the abundantly creative source. For Chelle, art is a means to inquire, express, and transform. If offers the capacity to soothe, making space for new perspectives and ways of being.