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Art Therapy as a Transitional Tool
by Karen Adler, Dip TPAT
ATH Asst. Editor of Arts and Art Therapy


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“Just when the caterpillar thought the world had ended, he turned into a butterfly.” - Anonymous

Life transitions come to us all. Like the progression from caterpillar to butterfly, they’re woven into the fabric of our lives as we move from one stage of being to another. And seen in this light, they reflect both the beauty and wisdom of nature, of life itself. When applied to our own lives, however, there are innumerable extraneous factors that can make this natural part of life and of growth into a minefield of indecision.

I always find language - and particularly the roots of words - helpful in clarifying concepts that are often nebulous and difficult to understand.  Defining words can provide extra layers of concreteness to difficult concepts, thus making them easier to use in our lives.

The most basic definition of transition is ‘the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.’ Transitions appear in literature – ‘a passage in a piece of writing that smoothly connects two topics or sections to each other;’ in music – ‘a momentary modulation from one key to another;’ and in physics – ‘a change of an atom, nucleus, electron, etc., from one quantum state to another, with emission or absorption of radiation.’

The origins of the word date back to the mid-16th century from either French or Latin, from transire - ‘go across.’

The naturalness of transitions, however, and their presence in so many diverse areas of life, does not make them any easier to navigate. Whether the transition be from adolescence to young adulthood, from marriage to divorce or widow/widowerhood, from the workforce to retirement, from an abusive relationship to regaining a sense of self - the range of choices we’re faced with can be overwhelming.

The person we are who chooses a life direction - or, quite often, has it chosen for her – when we leave school is not the same person choosing a life direction when we cease employment… or when we discover that the career or partner we chose at age 18 has nothing whatsoever to do with who we are now.

Having the ability to make choices from a firm basis of self-knowledge, I believe, makes our lives happier. Making these choices from the perspective of being responsible for our lives, I also believe, gives us a greater sense of freedom. And using art therapy at those times in our lives which will determine the next stage of our life’s journey, I firmly believe and have found to be true, makes conscious choice and self-responsibility, infinitely more possible.

Scribble drawings done with either the eyes closed or using the non-dominant hand, are a simple and effective means of introducing people to the notion of art therapy. Scribble drawings provide visible proof that something done unconsciously can indeed reveal something hitherto unknown, unacknowledged or unrecognised within a person. Scribble drawings also provide tangible evidence of how we make meaning in our world, that this meaning is subjective and may not necessarily relate to the actual event in the world. But that this making of meaning, subjective or not, is both a healthy and a necessary thing to do for ourselves, particularly in times of suffering or loss.

Having this simple tool available to us on an ongoing basis can give us an anchor in turbulent seas and a link to ourselves when we feel lost and cut off from who we are or who we thought we were. All of which can happen as a result of being at a major transition point in life.

Using art to bridge the gap between our internal world and the external world can give us back a sense of trust in ourselves. This innate sense of being able to trust our own judgement often gets lost in the storms of information that come our way and the well-meaning advice from friends and family. Art can bring us back to ourselves in a way that enables us to sift through all these external influences and find what really fits who we are now.

© Karen Adler 2011


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About the Author

Karen Adler, ATH Asst. Editor of Arts & Art Therapy, is a Transpersonal Art Therapist, an artist, writer and researcher. She is a firm believer in the inherent healing qualities of the Arts. She has run art therapy workshops for the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction, self-harming behaviour, eating disorders, for post-flood and cyclone trauma and for people seeking to bring about positive change in their lives. Karen also uses Art Therapy to help in the resolution of her own life difficulties and is continually surprised by the insight it brings. 
Contact Karen at karenadler222@gmail.com or karenadler@allthingshealing.com.







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