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Art Therapy & Mindfulness: Bring Observation into our Practice

by Lauren Fallat, MA LPC ATR-BC

What is mindfulness and why is it important to consider in the context of art therapy?

As a forward note, mindfulness-based wellness practices and concepts have been greatly influenced by and directly stem from ancient Eastern and Buddhist philosophies and spirituality. By no means does this blog post intend to claim to define the practice of mindfulness across religions and spiritual practice. Rather, this post is meant to provide a simple way of understanding how mindfulness has been adapted to mental health wellness practices as a means to improve daily living and connection.

So, let’s explore the topic of mindfulness and how employing its principles can positively impact our art therapy session. As a very basic definition, mindfulness, in the context of wellness and mental health, is a way of being and interacting with ourselves and the world around us through an intentional practice of remaining aware and attentive to the present moment and accepting of what is in our reality without judgment or attachment.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) offers a useful way to understand what it means to be mindful and how this way of being can influence our experience of our artmaking and final artwork or creation. The “What” skills in DBT’s mindfulness component outline 3 main factors for taking hold of your mind: observe, describe and participate. To observe, one is called to focus on body sensations through our five senses, pay attention on purpose, practice wordless watching, and observe internal and external experiences. To describe, one is called to acknowledge one’s experience by putting words to it, labeling what you observe (calling a feeling, a feeling and a thought, a thought), and removing interpretations and opinions (stick to who, what, where, when). To participate, one is called to completely immerse oneself into the activity of the present moment, throw your attention completely into the moment, do just what is needed in the present situation, and go with the flow in a spontaneous manner.

Based on these principles, mindfulness has the ability to deeply expand our experience of the artmaking process as well as open our ability to visually see and observe the creation or art product. As expressed above, art therapy through the lens of mindfulness allows us to dispense of judgment, opinion, under-serving and critical beliefs, and embrace a practice based in discovery, courage, curiosity, awe and gratitude. Within this type of practice, there is no room for “This wasn’t a good drawing”, “I shouldn’t have done this”, or “This doesn’t look like anything”. Rather, our statements will sound more like “I created this blue shape next to this green line”, “The colors that I see are shades of reds, blues, greens and yellows”, and “I am going to add more of these zigzag lines next to these curved lines and then add tissue paper to this corner.”

Once our attention and focus are allowed to shift from a source of judgment and critique, then the act of creating without limits in that space will foster a sense of freedom and joy in allowing yourself to do just what you need to do and the art to be just what it needs to be.


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