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10 Stories, One Theme: An Art Exercise to Promote Insight and Self-Awareness

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC

Throughout our lives, we consciously and subconsciously seek to make sense out of our lived experiences. These experiences are shaped by our external worlds and our material life. Our experiences are also shaped by our internal life, a life that is embedded with thoughts and emotions that drive our behaviors and compel us in various ways to survive and thrive. Our spiritual life also influences the life story that we tell ourselves and others, a story that portrays our values, our beliefs about ourselves and others and our perceptions about the ‘hows’ and the ‘whys’ of life- the meaning that exists throughout the daily rituals and choices made.

This idea that our personal narratives and views of the world are greatly impacted by past experiences and personal biases stems from philosophies of intersubjectivity that exist in the world of psychology. I was introduced to this theoretical approach in college and was influenced heavily by its proponents. I distinctly remember taking a class with a Psychology professor who was in support of personality theories based on intersubjectivity. What I learned from him and what stuck with me was the power of our own experiences. Our perceptions of life-of how things happen, why things happen- can be greatly influenced and transformed by the experiences that we have had and the meaning that we take from those experiences. There are times in our life where patterns repeat, where we find ourselves navigating familiar territory- dilemmas about next steps in our romantic relationships, career moves and family planning.

In art therapy, our images contain personal symbols and viewpoints so to speak, in which we are able to provide a unique perspective through our line quality, mark making and artistic style. When I think about my own symbols in personal drawings, I often find myself creating steps and mountainous landscapes near bodies of water, and various portals with doorways. It is fascinating how certain symbols can exist over time and transform slightly or greatly depending on our emotional state and needs. Consider a childhood drawing that you can remember that you often repeated or fell back on if asked to draw a picture.

For this activity, we will be combining drawing with writing as a way to promote insightful self-reflection and meaning-making through our words and symbols. The directive is to find ten different images. These images can be found on the internet, in a magazine or from a book that you do not mind tearing from. Choose images at random, but that intrigues you. Make sure to eliminate any words about the image so that your perception is not influenced by this information ahead of time. These images may contain people, animals, objects- anything of your choosing. Make sure that in whatever image you choose there is a subject and an action being depicted.

Once you have chosen ten different images, you will then take a moment to write a 1 page story for each of the images. These stories have no restrictions in terms of content. It is important that the elements of a story exist in the ones written. These elements include a setting, plot, characters, some form of conflict or problem, a resolution, a point of view and a theme. Allow yourself to write freely as you develop the story at a pace that is comfortable for you without pressure. It might be helpful to write 1 story per day or to create all of the stories back to back. You decide what way of working feels best.

After you have written your 10 short stories, take time to read them over with the ‘lens’ of looking for a common thread, a shared theme that exists across each of the stories. It is best to just write freely without having this intention in mind ahead of time, as that could shift the outcome. Your common thread or theme is greatly connected to your life story and an important part of your narrative.

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