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Art Therapy Meets Narrative Therapy: Creating Your Story through Collage

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC

Throughout our lives, we continuously create a personal narrative containing stories about who we are, where we came from, what we do or don’t do, and what we find meaningful in our lives. Our life story encompasses both what we have experienced, as well as our beliefs about them and the hopes and wishes in what could be. Our life stories are dynamic, while we might often seek to hold onto a common thread or personal theme- one in which we are the survivor, the seeker, the abandoned, the warrior, the engineer and so forth. We are able to find parts within ourselves that enable us to move forward and continue building our narratives in resilient and unexpected ways.

This story- the narrative of our life- shapes our identity, the way we see ourselves and the world around us. Your personal narrative can be positive or negative, but it's always important. It helps you make sense of the world and gives you a sense of purpose. It defines who you are, both to yourself and to others. Our personal narrative is always evolving, as we learn new things and experience new events. We are often influenced by what feedback we have received from others- parents, caregivers, family members, friends, teachers, mentors, classmates, coworkers, and strangers.

When we reflect on our stories, we might encounter questions, such as “What shaped me?”, “Who was my greatest influence?”, “At what point in my life did I start…. Or stop…..” or “When did I realize ….was important to me?”. Our stories may be tragic at times, especially during moments in which we encountered great struggles internally, dilemmas, pressures from our environment and relentless obstacles. The beauty in recounting these stories lives in the constant writing of them. At the moment we recall a memory, we are rewriting it within a new context. And in that space, we have the power to shift the trajectory of the story, the meaning of the story and the impact that it has on our life in the present.

For this art therapy directive, we will be translating these narrative therapy concepts into visual forms, allowing us to encounter a visual and material image along with the emotional counterparts embedded in the symbols that come through. For this directive, we will be utilizing the technique of collage within a series of three separate images. It is recommended that you utilize a surface that is no larger that 5”x8” for each of the images in order to contain the information that surfaces and to allow yourself to hold what comes through, physically and metaphorically. It is also recommended that you take time to collect various images ahead of time. I will often separate images into categories based on what I feel might be relevant for my process- separating them by theme, objects, colors, moods, people or figures, landscapes, and/or actions for example. You might also want to have small scissors on hand for details as well as a glue stick. I recommend UHU glue sticks for collaging.

When you have gathered enough images and materials, you can begin the process of creating three 5x7” images with the focus on your past self, present self and future self. You might think of a tone or mood for the images, what is it that you want to capture about the essence of that time period for you. Consider themes in your life that might seem appropriate as a ‘headline’ for that period of your life. As time is relative, what you consider to be your past can be years ago, childhood, months ago- whatever is pulling you in the moment and wants to surface. Your present self can encompass what is significant for you right now in your life- professionally, socially, individually or family-related. And your future self might include hopes and wishes for yourself and goals for where you see yourself or where you would want to be. Allow the images from the magazines or books you have collected to bring in their own energies as you put them together. Once you have create your three separate images, you may want to write in a journal and document your thoughts on what you see collectively in the 3 images as well as the story that they create.

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