Mindful Arts Therapy
15 Art Therapy Activities to Bring You Healing
Mindful arts therapy is a form of therapy that uses art to help people express themselves and work through their healing journey. The process of creating art can be therapeutic in and of itself. While many people associate arts therapy with painting, it in fact covers all aspects of art including music, drama, origami, drawing and journaling.
Mindful arts therapy is a powerful modality that ensures healing from a diverse range of traumas. Its success is partly because it is non-verbal. In other words, you don’t have to speak to a counsellor and tell them what has happened. Instead, your subconscious can process your pain through art and relieve the emotional stress and burden caused by trauma. The brain processes images differently than it processes words.
In this article, you will discover 15 mindful arts therapy activities to help you heal from trauma. These activities were taken from the very popular book, Art Therapy Activities for Healing. Each one was created by mindful arts therapist, Susan Day, to help you recover from your healing and enhance your well-being.
Before you start these activities, it is important that you center your mind and become calm. To do this, sit comfortably and relax your body. Take one deep breath in and hold for the count of 4, then slowly release. As you empty your lungs, hold again for the count of 4 and repeat three times. As you take this time to steady your mind, imagine you are surrounded by a warm, golden light of healing that permeates your entire body, healing and revitalizing as it moves through and around you.
1. Stress Relief with Clay
Your task is to express your stress through clay. Complete the mindfulness activity above and concentrate your thoughts on the negative emotions you are feeling in relation to your trauma. For example, you might be feeling sad, angry or frustrated.
Physically shaping the clay helps to express your negative emotions and release them. Don’t worry if you find yourself smashing and squeezing the clay hard. Some people use two hands to mash and tear the clay. This is a healthy response to the negative feelings that are dwelling inside you.
Once you feel you have done enough, mash the shapes down into a physical blob. Use as much force as you need to release the negative feelings that have been holding you back.
Whether you keep the clay as a reminder of how you have released your negative emotions or throw it away, it is up to you. The important part of this activity is releasing your negative emotions in a safe place.
2. Abstract Drawing
Your task is to create an abstract drawing that expresses how you feel about your trauma. You will be required to fill the paper completely with color. You are not allowed to paint objects or people. Instead, you must only use shapes and lines. However, you can use as many colors as you choose.
Before you begin, take a deep breath and think about your feelings. Where do they sit in your body? Breathe out and release the pain. Don’t judge or think about what you are doing. Instead, let your subconscious do the work.
Display your work to remind you of how far you have come on your healing journey.
3. Setting Yourself Free
Your task is to write your negative emotions onto small pieces of paper, attach them to a balloon and let them go.
You might feel angry, sad and frustrated about what happened to you. You may be feeling distressed, jealous or sad. All these are valid responses to trauma. But for you to fully heal you must acknowledge them and let them go.
As you release your balloon, take a deep breath and imagine what it will be like when you are free of your trauma. Close your eyes and project yourself into your future to a place where you no longer feel held back by your trauma.
4. Boxes of Hope
Your task is to fill a small box with images cut from a magazine that give you hope.
Flipping through magazines, think of what it means to be hopeful. Where does the feeling of hope sit in your body?
The images you choose must relate to you and you only. They might be a peaceful scene of a beach, a smiling face or a fun, quirky chair.
Place these images into your box of hope. Whenever you are feeling hopeless, open the box and look at the images you have chosen.
You can also add to your box at any time you find images that bring you a sense of hope.
5. Healing Roadmap
Your task is to create a road map of your healing journey so far. This can be a short or a long exercise, it is up to you. Before you begin, repeat the mindful breathing activity above and center your thoughts on your strengths.
On a piece of paper draw a road. It might be straight or windy and it might be long or short. Mark the times and events that helped you along the road at intervals. Examples might include talking to a friend or visiting a counsellor, painting your self-portrait or getting a new job. As part of your healing recovery, it is important to focus on the events that have helped you heal so far.
Now, decorate your roadmap with images that bring you joy. You can cut them out of a magazine or draw them in.
6. Cook and Enjoy
Your task is to make something delicious for yourself to eat. You can share it with someone special if you want to, but this activity is about spoiling yourself with your favorite dish.
If you aren’t sure what to cook, go online and search for your favorite dishes. You may enjoy Italian or Mexican food. Or cook something a family member used to cook – it is up to you!
The purpose of this activity is for you to spend time thinking about how special you are as you prepare the meal. That’s why you aren’t allowed to buy takeaway. The time taken to prepare and cook the meal will allow you time to reflect on and expand on valuing yourself, your strengths and your unique understanding of how far you’ve come.
7. Happiness Portrait
Your task is to create a drawing of yourself being happy. There are no rules, simply pick up the first color that comes to mind and begin drawing.
You can draw yourself in any position, using any colors – you don’t have to stick to the traditional colors. You can also add things which are most important to you if you want to.
You have a free hand to draw whatever you want. Enjoy the process.
8. Reflect on Your Trauma
On a piece of paper, draw a circle in the middle and four circles around it. Draw a line from the inner circle to the outer ones.
Complete the mindful breathing exercise at the beginning of this post. Now, think about your trauma and name it. Write it in the middle circle. In the outer circles write, who, what, where and when.
Along the lines that join the inner circle to the outer circles write how you feel and what emotions came up while completing this exercise.
On another sheet of paper, draw how you are feeling right now. Use whatever colors you wish and draw whatever you want. Recognize your feelings and release them onto the paper. Do not judge them or yourself – simply identify them and let them go.
9. Charcoal Smudges
Your task each day is to create an image with charcoal smudges.
Charcoal has been used in art for hundreds of years, but it can be difficult to work with. It smudges easily and rubs off on anything and everything. It’s also difficult to draw exact, distinct lines and shapes.
Your task is to use this disadvantage to your advantage. Taking a piece of charcoal, create a circle in the middle of the paper. Now, using your fingers, smudge and draw out the charcoal. Dab your fingers in it and make lines and shapes. Fill up the paper with your creations.
Don’t allow the texture or the messiness of this activity to put you off. Instead, enjoy it and revel in its complexities and roughness.
As you work through this activity, identify any feelings that come up. Don’t judge them or let them overwhelm you. Instead, breathe deep and let them go.
10. An Appreciation Letter
Your task is to write a positive letter and post it to yourself.
Before you begin this activity, make a list of all the kind things you have done for yourself and others. Be specific, using as many details as possible.
Take a deep breath and begin writing your letter.
Write as if you were someone else (in third person). You might start with something like this:
I saw you pick up that wriggly worm and put it on the grass to save it from drying out in the sun. Then I noticed you cleaned the bathroom and refreshed the cat’s bowl of water. You also sent a text message to someone in need. I really think you are a kind and considerate person and that I think the world of you!
Lots of love, Me!
Post your letter and wait for it to arrive.
11. Paint and Play
This activity is designed to help you relax and get in tune with your inner self. You can choose any music you like. It might be songs from your childhood or new music you’ve just discovered.
Get your paints, art journal or canvas, brushes and cleaning up items ready and hit play! Close your eyes and take three deep breaths. Now, you are ready to begin.
Let your mind freely choose the colors and shapes it wants. Don’t analyze or overthink this activity. Instead, enjoy the process of painting freely and listening to your favorite tunes.
Most of all, enjoy yourself and reconnect with a happier version of yourself.
12. Joyful You
Your task is to use small pieces of torn paper from magazines and create a picture titled “Joy”. You will need your art journal, glue and pictures from magazines.
Get your art materials ready and follow the mindful activity above. Now, choose random images from magazines that have a wide variety of colors.
Write on the sheet of paper the word, “Joy”.
Tear up the images into small pieces and arrange them on a sheet of paper. As you do, think about what brings joy into your life. When you are pleased with the result, glue them down carefully.
Once dry, put your picture somewhere to remind you of the feelings of joy and happiness.
13. The Key to Healing
Your task is to draw a key on a piece of paper and around it, write down all things you need to heal.
Before you start, take a deep breath and think about all the things you will need to continue with your healing journey.
Try to include as many items as possible and be very specific. You may include your therapist, your friends, your favorite pens, paper and your art journal. You may also include your pets, the sunshine, the rain and anything that makes you feel good and that gives you hope.
14. Calming Circles
Your task is to sit peacefully and draw circles on a sheet of paper while listening to music.
This activity might seem simple or too easy, but it will help bring peace and calmness to your life.
Follow the mindfulness activity above before you begin. Draw circles of any size. You might draw circles inside the circles or draw them over each other – it doesn’t matter. Fill up the page and if you wish, continue on another sheet of paper if you don’t feel like stopping.
Once you have completed this activity, take a deep breath and go about your day.
15. Your Future Self
Your task is to paint an image of what you will look and feel like when you are released from your trauma. Use your favorite colors and any other images you wish.
What will life be like when you have healed? What colors come to mind when you think about your future, joyful self?
Where will you situate yourself? At home, in the garden or the beach? Will you be stopped on top of a mountain or relaxing with your pets?
Your painting doesn’t have to be realistic. It will be something to remind you that, with time, there is always healing.
Put your painting somewhere to inspire you and make you feel joy.