You don't have to be a professional artist in order to benefit from art therapy. Whether you are struggling with everyday stressors or more difficult mental health concerns, art therapy offers the opportunity to express your emotions in new ways.
Bradenton art therapist Amanda Shaw, MA, LMHC, ATR-P, opened her private practice, Create Flow Heal Art Therapy & Counseling LLC, virtually in 2022, after working with trauma patients at Suncoast Behavioral Health Center. Now she sees clients in her physical location at co-working space Station 2 Innovation in downtown Bradenton.
Shaw works with the intention of helping clients connect more deeply with themselves and find healthy ways to cope. She offers individual and family sessions, support groups and retreats, and other treatments like crystal bowl meditation and reiki healing.
"Art therapy is especially helpful for those who've experienced trauma and need to process it," she says. "Our brains tend to shut down when we're traumatized in order to protect us, but art therapy can break those barriers and help us heal."
Sessions include working with materials like markers, crayons, paint and clay to see if symbols come up that connect to client's lives. For example, if someone is trying to work on self esteem, Shaw will challenge them to draw an image without the safety net of an eraser. Clients learn to accept how the images comes out, no matter what it looks like. "Then, we relate it to their life on a larger scale," she adds.
For those suffering with dementia, Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease and autism, art therapy can improve cognitive and sensorimotor skills. Art, cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy can improve self-esteem, awareness and emotional resilience, and reduce distress.
Here are five exercises Shaw says you can start with at home.
Try making a vision board.
They help to put our goals and dreams into perspective. Shaw says vision boards consist of positive affirmations, images, personal and professional goals and entice creativity. "To make a vision board, anyone can collect materials around their home like magazine clippings, paint, markets or pictures," says Shaw. "It is a fun activity to do with friends or family and helps build a sense of accomplishment."
Paint with watercolors or acrylics.
"Painting is great for loosening up and going with the flow, especially with watercolors or acrylics," says Shaw. "If you are feeling stuck, rigid or low, I encourage the fluid process of painting to open up."
Shaw says clients can try painting at home on any size canvas and bring their work into a session to reflect on it.
Draw a weekly mandala.
Mandalas are circular, intricate drawings that are used as a spiritual guidance tool for many Eastern medicine practices. However, drawing one does not have to be spiritual. It promotes focus, steady movements and slowed breathing. Shaw encourages her clients to draw mandalas once a week in a dedicated sketchbook and bring it to session to talk about what came up while doing it.
You can draw mandalas yourself or find prints of them online to color in.
Find other creative modalities that you enjoy.
Shaw encourages trying meditation, writing poetry, dancing, playing a musical instrument, cooking or any other artistic endeavor that connects mind and body. She believes in a bottom-up approach when working with clients—that is, using the body to work through emotional, energetic, mental and physical blocks. This is opposed to a top-down approach, focused solely on cognitive processing.
Try making art with family or friends.
Working on one big art piece can improve communication skills and trust among your family and friends. It's a great bonding experience and can promote a sense of accomplishment and connection.
"When we have families come in for art therapy, I observe how they work together as a unit, verbally and non-verbally," says Shaw. "I notice who takes the lead, who sits back and ask them to reflect on the experience after."
For more information about Create Flow Heal, click here or call (321) 557-6389. Create Flow Heal is located at 912 7th Ave. E., #2, Bradenton.