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Art Therapy Directive: Exploring Boundaries

by Lauren Fallat, MA LPC ATR-BC

Boundaries represent the emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental limits that exist within our interpersonal relationships with others as well as the personal limits that exist within ourselves. Often when we discuss boundaries, we are exploring through words the ways in which we have been impacted by a situation, interaction or experience that left us feeling uncomfortable, unsafe, anxious, angry, sad, or any other feeling that we may struggle with understanding and managing. Sometimes it is difficult to understand what may have triggered an internal response in us that is signaling that we need a boundary and sometimes we may know the feeling that is surfacing, but have a hard time identifying what we are needing and how to communicate that to others.

Children, adolescents, young adults and adults can all benefit from the exploration of boundaries in an art therapy session. For children and teens, it can be challenging to fully understand what limits there are or limits that they can assert between themselves and their caregivers or authority figures. Often children and teens can feel responsible for the feelings and behaviors of others, especially if they are used to hearing “That hurt so-and-so’s feelings” or “Every time you don’t listen, you cause Mommy to yell.” Adults also may struggle with understanding people-pleasing tendencies or challenges with saying “No” in response to requests or invitations in which they experience an internal dilemma. Young adults and adults may also struggle with accepting support or asking for support during difficult times.

One way to explore boundaries in an individual art therapy session is to physically draw them. You might be asked in a direct way to depict what your boundaries look like- would they look like a symbol or structure that you see in reality- a wall, a fence, a hole, tall grasses, a painted line, a drawn line in the sand? Or maybe they look more abstract- representing your boundaries with shapes, lines and colors can also be an effective way to explore what you are already effective at doing and what you may be struggling with. You may also choose to explore this activity utilizing clay- model magic, air-dry clay or plasticine. By creating a 3-dimensional sculpture, you have a chance to interact with your boundaries- change them, mold them and transform them as you go.

As a way to dig deeper, you may consider these art journaling prompts as you brainstorm before creating your boundary art or as you reflect on the creation and creative process:

  1. What is your relationship to your boundary? Do they feel solidified and known or are they more ambiguous and fluid or even transparent and unknown?

  2. Are your boundaries meant to be flexible or to hold their shape?

  3. What symbol best represents the type of boundaries you have? The type of boundaries you might want to have?

  4. Think about your boundaries as layers? Do different relationships require a different set of boundaries?

  5. What scenarios would you be referencing as you create these boundaries?

  6. What emotions are difficult for you to feel or respond to in others?

  7. When thinking about how you want your boundaries to look- consider what textures, shapes, colors, symbols and objects they would be created with. Are these boundaries new or old, clear and organized or messy and chaotic? Think about what type of energy these boundaries would have- solid, liquid, gas?

Boundaries can also be explored within a family art therapy session. To learn more, please reach out to the Holistic Health Counseling Center to learn more about art therapy and options for individual or family art therapy.


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