Contemporary feltmakers have long recognized not only a primal connection with natural fibers but also a multi-sensory experience involved in the felting process: smell/texture of dry wool, sensation of felting with soapy warm water, and the fulling process (throwing wet felt). This kind of sensory work has implications for self-soothing for all age groups, from simple felted balls to step-oriented layered pieces. The therapeutic benefits of feltmaking are beginning to emerge in occupational therapy and now in art therapy. Applicable to all ages, feltmaking is a non-toxic and safe process that only requires wool, water, and soap. Feltmaking can be done individually or within a group and is process oriented: involving repetitive compression and agitation to the wool, which moves the individual fibers together forming a felted surface. From an art therapist’s perspective, the tactile process of feltmaking addresses the Kinesthetic/Sensory (K/S) level of Lusebrink’s (1990) Expressive Therapies Continuum (ETC). Further, the neurological mechanisms of the haptic sense of feltmaking have the ability to stimulate emotion and memory; this positions feltmaking as a viable option when working with people with Alzheimer’s, brain damage, dementia, and developmental disabilities. Therapeutic experiences in feltmaking are emerging in geriatric and pediatric populations and in substance abuse counseling, centering on stress reduction, strengthening self-perception, and sensory engagement.
As an avid rider and a descendent of horse and mule trainers, I know first hand the healing power of a horse and herd behavior. However, my journey as an equine specialist, and now an equine-assisted psychotherapist, evolved from the expressive arts. This combination of equine and expressive arts is a healing art in itself culminating in a co- and self-regulatory sensorimotor practice, resulting in transformational meaning making experiences. My own drawing practice as child–literally on any surface–signaled to my artist, writer, and horse-riding grandmother that art would be a pathway to my career as an expressive arts therapist. What has unfolded in my practice, since 1997, is the integration of expressive arts and therapeutic riding for residential treatment centers in the form of process groups; the use of phototherapy techniques to create personal narratives from therapeutic riding/groundwork experiences with youth offenders, individuals diagnosed with TBI, sensory processing disorders, acute stress disorder, ASD, and PTSD. However, for me, equine-assisted expressive arts therapy as an embodied “felt sense” experience emerged from our collaborative programs that were “situated” in indigenous communities: this approach reaffirmed the healing aspects of “bottom up” interventions. As a result, sensorimotor exploration and hemispheric integration across the midline (bilateral stimulation) comprise the foci of the equine-assisted expressive arts therapy approach with respect to regulatory processes, for example, response artwork (painting, clay, nature art), mindfulness-based and bilateral movement, visual journaling exercises, fiber art (felting, weaving), and sound (humming, drumming, singing).
How exactly do we operationalize Equine-Assisted Expressive Arts Therapy?
Equine-Assisted Expressive Arts Therapy incorporates all five disciplines of the expressive arts (visual, dance/movement, music, drama/theater, and writing/poetry) with equine-assisted psychotherapy. This multimodal, sensorimotor-based approach interweaves the healing power of the expressive arts with established equine-assisted models to provide a dynamically oriented approach to therapy.
The following is a list of visual journaling exercises from our previous collaborative research and community-based programs in indigenous communities. These were “situated” within a particular community so please build from these ideas to create context and meaning for your own community.
- Create a symbol of how you feel in the present moment and write one word to describe this feeling.
- Create a symbol of your day and write one word to describe your day.
- If you are having a not so good day, draw or trace a circle. Using lines, shapes, and colors create a symbol of this feeling in the circle. Write down words that describe this feeling. You can take this drawing out of your journal if you choose to.
- Create a drawing of your favorite place. Share this place with someone.
- Create a symbol of tension and write down a word to describe this state of being. Starting at your feet, focus on tensing up each muscle and then releasing it. Do this until you reach the top of your head. Create a symbol of relaxation and write down a word to describe this state of being.
- Create a circle of wellness. Draw or trace your circle and divide your circle into 4 sections and include symbols of physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental activities. Label each activity and share your wellness circle with someone.
- Create a circle of family and friends. Draw or trace a circle. Paste copies of pictures (or magazine images) of family and friends (past and present) who have been a source of support. Be sure to include a picture of you. Share stories about each person.
- Look at a favorite plant, vegetable, or fruit and create a symbol of it. Share a story about why it is your favorite.
There are a number of proven health benefits correlated with artmaking. For instance, engaging in brief artmaking has been shown to enhance immunity and decrease cortisol levels (Lorance & Warson, 2012; Hayes et al., unpublished raw data). Although, many of these benefits can be transferred to the effects of the visual journaling process, research on the specific effects of visual journaling demonstrated a decrease in anxiety levels and negative affect (Mercer, Warson, & Zhao, 2010). As a result, there is growing evidence for visual journaling as a promising intervention for stress reduction.
For maximum benefit, choose a consistent time of day to work in your journal. Keep a small container of favorite art supplies close by in addition to a small travel case. Health benefits such as increased dopamine and serotonin production can be achieved after 5 min. of sustained visual journaling.
Research on visual journaling has demonstrated that a self-directed approach is just as beneficial as using specific cues (Mercer et al., 2010). Create your own approach and vary it as your awareness grows. For example, visual journaling in response to a specific open-ended theme over a period of time can elicit new themes to emerge. Themes could be as broad as your depiction of wellness. Mindfulness-based practices are a natural fit with visual journaling.
In a 2012 study with southeastern tribal elders, visual journaling was sustained over a two-month period with a 95% response rate among 26 participants (Warson, 2012; Warson et al., unpublished raw data). Preliminary data analysis indicated a preference for depicting every-day life events such as picking peas in the garden, designing quilt patterns, as well as references to family and spirituality. These preliminary findings suggest that mindfulness-based awareness was evident in the re-experiencing of important daily tasks and events.
Why combine images with words? In a comparative study on the efficacy of art and writing therapy on stress reduction, Pizarro (2004) noted that the combined effects of art therapy and writing demonstrated more significant positive changes in terms of perceived levels of stress than writing alone.
Faculty: Cathy Malchiodi, PhD & Elizabeth Warson, PhD
Join us at the beautiful BP Center in Anchorage Alaska for this three-day course presenting the foundations of trauma-informed practice and the latest research and approaches to expressive arts and play, stress reduction and resilience. Participants will learn art therapy and expressive arts therapy strategies and applications to increase their understanding of trauma-informed approaches, enhance resilience in various client populations and reduce stress responses to trauma and loss. Participants will engage in a variety of hands-on experiences using mind-body, mindfulness, wellness and strength-based best practices grounded in emerging research. The essential practices presented in this course can be applied to individuals of all ages and families, groups and communities from a culturally-responsive, trauma-informed approach. By attending the entire three days, participants will learn:
1) the five components of trauma-informed practice;
2) at least five arts-based methods used in culturally responsive, trauma-informed intervention;
3) at least three reasons why sensory-based, arts interventions are essential to reducing the body’s response to stress;
4) at least five aspects that enhance resilience through culturally responsive, trauma informed intervention;
5) at least seven ways to apply course material to work with families, groups or communities that have experienced acute trauma, chronic trauma or intergenerational trauma.
Mark Your Calendars: Connections Counseling TNT meeting , April 24th, 8 to 9:30am.
Light breakfast snacks will be served :o)
Presenter: Elizabeth Warson, PhD, ATR-BC, LPC, NCC
Topic: Woapiye Ocanku: Discovering Healing Pathways among the Oglala (Lakota).
Objective: Dialogue about how integrated programs, combining traditional Oglala healing practices and Western counseling/art therapy approaches, are benefiting the Pine Ridge community.
Location: Touchstone Health Partners Building
After a long hiatus Connections is bringing back our training forum and it has a new name. The meeting will now be known as TNT, Therapist Networking and Training. They will be high powered and impactful! The former group was known as TLC. The forum will remain the same for recruiting presenters. All of you have such varied expertise and practices, that combined, you present a wealth of information and the ability to share it. With that in mind please feel free to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, if you would like to present at one of the meetings. We will also enlist trainers form the community. (Emily Leetham)
Acquire advance skills in arts-informed counseling in the comfort of your home or office. Please visit HealingPathwaysLLC.com to learn more about our ethical guidelines and online format for supervision. (Artwork: Elizabeth Warson “Cyclical Directions”)
Geographical barriers, long commutes, and demanding work schedules prevent many of us from seeking counseling services. Online therapy can be an alternative to office visits, providing live, face-to-face counseling through HIPAA-compliant, high quality video conferencing technology. A recent study conducted at the University of Zurich indicated “psychotherapy via the internet as good as if not better than face-to-face consultations.” Participants in the study demonstrated a decrease in symptoms of depression after 8 weeks of cognitive behavioral written and verbal exercises, completed online and between sessions. Based on this study, Dr. Warson has adapted a cognitive behavioral approach to visual journaling. Please view Dr. Warson’s profile on eTherapi.com.
Dr. Warson is a trained group psychotherapist and has 20 years of experience facilitating group art psychotherapy sessions for medical centers, residential treatment facilities, educational settings, community centers, and out-patient facilities. As a group art psychotherapy instructor, Dr. Warson has explored theories belonging to Janie Rhyne’s gestalt art therapy approach, Yalom’s inpatient group psychotherapy and outpatient existential group framework, and Corey and Corey’s group counseling approaches. In addition, Daniel Spiegel’s group therapy format for cancer patients influenced the workshop approach Dr. Warson incorporates in her research on psychosocial care for American Indian cancer survivors and their family members. As a group facilitator in adolescent treatment facilities, Dr. Warson received further training in Larry Brendtro’s strengths-based Positive Peer Culture approach resulting in the development of an arts-informed curriculum for adolescent experiencing adjustment-related issues. Group offerings will change on an annual basis, please sign up for our news feeds to receive updates.
- Arts-Informed Therapeutic Groups for adults (8 weeks)
This group is for the professional person who is experiencing interpersonal difficulties with co-workers in professional environments. Emphasizing feedback, decision making, and problem solving, Therapeutic Groups or T-groups focus on enhancing organizational skills through group process. Our model incorporates this method with directed artmaking to provide an experiential component to externalizing feedback.
Groups goal: Group members will co-construct group goals during the first session identifying specific group process and individual outcome goals.
- Identity Groups for adolescents (4 weeks)
Conflict in relation to identity formation is often the root of adolescent cognitive dissonance, a state of disequilibrium. This group explores cultural and social factors involved in identity formation with an emphasis on peer support and “witnessing” techniques in the co-construction of healthy verbal and visual narratives of self.
Group goal: From a narrative and experiential framework, group members will deconstruct “myths” and misconceptions about self-identity to co-create healthy narratives of self.
- Grief and Loss Groups for children (4 weeks)
Nonverbal forms of communication are essential in the processing of grief and loss with young and elementary school-age children. This art-based group incorporates the creation of sculptural memorials/altars, visual legacies through phototherapy and collage techniques, box art as a form of containment and sense of safety, as well as an ongoing visual exploration of the meaning of grief and loss.
Group goal: Using gestalt art therapy techniques, group members will utilize the art process to explore “here and now experiences” to support children grieving.
Closed group sessions consist of 4 members and range from 4 to 8 weeks. The fee is $50/person/week and covers art supplies and related materials. To schedule a session, please contact Dr. Warson at 970-222-4674 or email@example.com
Posting a long list of Dr. Laura Markham’s meaning-making practices that can enhance family connection, decrease stress related to holiday “expectations,” and provide a path for renewal. Be sure to create meaningful memories this season and reserve some time for your own well-being.