How I Work

Responsive Tree - multi-media collage

Responsive Tree - mulit-media collage

I want to describe what happens in what I consider an ideal art therapy session. My hope is that visitors to this blog, and potential new clients, can glimpse how I work. The following story is an account of one session with a fictional client named Claudette. Although Claudette comes from my imagination, she is based on what I have experienced working with women like her for over 20 years. She is fictional in order to protect the confidentiality of my clients while also describing, in story form, what could really happen in an art therapy session.

Claudette’s Story

Imagine Claudette, a divorced woman in her mid forties, seeking therapy from me after a relationship ended. In our first sessions together, we talk about her feelings of being unsupported and unnourished in most relationships, especially after her mother died when she was 16.

We are currently exploring how she under-supports and under-nourishes herself through restrictive dieting, and not pursuing career goals. For homework this week Claudette has journaled about what needs to be fed and supported within herself.

Today she comes to therapy with a written description of a dream which she had after writing about her nourishment needs.

The dream (as written by Claudette):
In a dim, dusky place, there is a solitary tree with a large hollow cavity, like a small cave. The tree is old and dying. I feel drawn to it and realize the tree wants me to enter it. As I do, I realize the tree is – at heart – young, feminine, and very sad. The tree needs me to cry because it can’t. My tears fall on the ground within the hollow place and the ground changes from hard and dry to soft and alive. The tree drinks in moisture now and grows younger, filling in with new wood. I am afraid that I will be trapped inside. But the tree tells me to wait. I feel a glowing, warm energy and strength. The tree’s new heart begins to undulate, like muscles gently pushing me out, and I step from the tree into a bright day-lit forest.

The intensity of the dream frightens Claudette but she feels unable to forget it. She had vivid dreams when younger but over the years her dreams seemed to fade.

Claudette wants to create the tree in the dream because she knows it is her. She feels old and dying on the outside but young and deeply sad inside. The weeping in the dream is what scares her the most. But she wants to feel the energy and strength that she had in the dream and the new born hope with which it ended.

She works intently, quietly, urgently using paper, collage materials, oil pastels, to piece together her tree. I create a tree also. As I work, I think about how often trees occurr as healing symbols in client’s art, and in my own. I am struck by the dark center in what we both have made. This dark hollow makes the image more powerful, just like truly grieving connects us to the soul.

Claudette describes her tree as “coming back to life” and points out the “old, grey haired woman” side of it next to a younger, colorful self. She wanted the hollow place to remain unfinished. We talk about how she is becoming conscious of her own sense of emptiness and loss and that it will help her stay present to those feelings by allowing the tree its hollowness. We also talk about the tears she will need to shed as she becomes more accepting of her own grief. Claudette acknowledges that she feels ready to “go there” in our future sessions. We talk about how we can use the imagery of going inside a hollow but also motherly tree to help set the stage for her grief work in future sessions. She takes the tree sculpture home with her with the intention of setting it on her desk and writing a dialogue with it before our next session.

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3 Comments on “How I Work”

  1. Janet Walters Says:

    Wow! I think you have found a perfect place for your work, it is a joy to ‘hear’ your voice & see your work again!

  2. Elizabeth Frazee Says:

    Beautifully told.

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