SHOW Me – The Positive Energy of Art Therapy



I’m always asking my clients to “show me.”


Show me where in the image you are feeling a conflict.


Show me how you would change that.


Of course when I ask someone to show me something, I’m actually asking them to show themselves (very meta). So in an effort to explain art therapy to you, lovely reader, it is only fair I show you in 3 acts.






Alright, you’ve arrived. Welcome! The hard part is over (therapist joke). You take a seat… glance around the room… glance at the schedule.


9:45-10:30 ART MAKING. Your pulse quickens.


“Preparing the space” is an important part of the therapeutic process, because it provides the client with predictability, reliability, and consistency. Art therapy necessitates a large, clean surface and quick access to tools and materials. The session begins with some background about art therapy. I go into all of my sessions with (coffee, and) the assumption that folks may not have a complete understanding of what art therapy is. Or what to expect from art therapy treatment.


I also begin all of my group sessions with a warm-up. Watercolor is popular at Sanford House. We spend 15-20 minutes doing what I refer to as “mark making” or “moving color across the page.” The goal of our warm-up is to wake our hands and eyes and brain. Our warm-up art is “non-objective.”


You may be surprised at how quickly the 15 minutes passed… and feeling pretty zen from the quiet time and meditative movement of the watercolor.



One of the wonderful things about art therapy is that it’s practiced in a number of different ways. The structure of the session depends on the therapist’s style, theoretical orientation, and preferences. Some art therapists talk very little. Some rely heavily on counseling techniques and do lots of talking. Still other art therapists incorporate a strong educational element into their sessions and you’ll walk away with a new skill.


As long as your art therapy session is led by an art therapist, and as long as that art therapist is respectful, knowledgable, and acutely engaged, there isn’t really a wrong way to do art therapy.


The Directive




We tend to focus on one activity per session, called a “directive.” Each directive is based on an artistic style or technique, and tailored to meet the therapeutic goals and needs of the group.


Today, the schedule reads: 9:30-9:45 DIRECTIVE: Mask Making


We talk about the purpose of masks and how masks have been used in art. Our discussion stems from a few prompts that I display during art making. And then we make art! I don’t really know how to explain this to you, except to say that the energy in a room full of art makers is one of my favorite things in the world.






This part is important. We’ve expressed with our hands, and now we’ll express with words. Discussion centers around what we made, how the process felt, and the metaphors illuminated in assigning words and phrases to our images.


Then things get a little weird.


Alright, so I’m an Art Therapist, correct? I move through the world as an artist and a free spirit, and this very much affects the way I practice. Additionally, I come from a school- led by Dr. Bruce Moon- that emphasizes expression, metaphor, and using all parts of your body and brain to emote. Each year the program spends a weekend in the woods – I swear to God this is real – to explore our artistic identities and connect more fully with one another.


Asking the “Leading” Questions

So at this point in the discussion, I may ask some questions that feel silly, nonsensical, and “out there.” For example:

Marilyn, I absolutely love the expression you’ve captured in your mask… You mentioned in discussion that her mouth is open because she is screaming! What is she saying? Can you say it the way she would?

You described your mask as “unrecognizable.” Have you met this person before? Where would you have to go to meet her?

I’d like you to complete the following sentences: “When I look at all of our masks together, I see _… I feel _… I am _.”

After we finish discussion and everyone has had an opportunity to speak about their art piece, we wrap-up with a guided meditation.


And that’s it! Nothing to be too scared of, right? You got through it! And made art! You talked to your art! And you expressed yourself. That’s the most important part. You’ve expressed yourself both visually and verbally, exercised your ability to use metaphor and think reflectively and critically, and participated in treatment and self-work.


Stick around to learn how you can utilize some therapeutic properties of art from home.




This is what I created today. How did you express yourself?

All artwork created by author Jessica Kimmel


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Kimmel, MSAT, LPC

Author Jess Kimmel has always had a passion for art and when she discovered art therapy it just made sense. Jess is an Art Therapist who serves as Clinical Manager, Sanford House at Cherry Street for Women. Jess has a B.S in Psychology and an M.S. in Art Therapy. Art therapy allows her creativity to shine through her work and she thrives on seeing the confidence grow in the individuals she works with at Sanford Behavioral Health. Jess is from Hartland, Michigan and currently lives in Grand Rapids.