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CBT in Mind: Using Art to Reframe Our Perception

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC



Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most popular and effective forms of psychotherapy. CBT is a short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy designed to help people identify and change distorted thoughts and feelings that contribute to emotional problems.

It is a relatively new form of therapy that was first developed in the 1960s. Since then, it has become one of the most popular forms of therapy used with a variety of mental health related issues, including anxiety, mood dysregulation and trauma.


Thoughts play a huge role in our lives. They dictate our moods, our actions, and our overall well-being. If you’re struggling with negative thoughts, anxiety, or depression, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be an effective way to reframe your thoughts and reclaim your life.


CBT is based on the idea that our thoughts and feelings play a significant role in how we behave. If we can change the way we think, we can change the way we feel and behave. CBT is a modality that helps you to change the way you think about and experience your life. One of the key techniques used in CBT is reframing, which is essentially the process of viewing a situation from a different perspective.


Reframing is the process of changing the way you think about a situation or problem. It can be used to change your emotions and behavior in response to a situation. Reframing is a way of viewing a problem or situation in a different light, thereby changing the emotional reaction to it. This can be a very effective way of dealing with negative thoughts and feelings, and can help to change our overall outlook on life.


Is there a way to combine this concept with art making in an art therapy session? Of course! Often, many CBT principles can be adapted to the realm of the art process. One directive in particular focuses on reframing our perceptions about _________ (you can fill in the blank). We might have thoughts about our identity, our professional self, work ethic, social interactions, caregiver role, family role, etc. We might even have perceptions about our own artmaking abilities and or art that we create.


For this directive it is recommended that you gather two pieces of 9x12 drawing paper, a variety of drawing materials (oil pastels, markers and colored pencils), scissors, and a glue stick. There will be two parts to this directive and different levels of control. Remember that the intention for this piece is to change or make different your perception about a particular theme, emotion, thought or behavior in your life.


For the first drawing, have in mind what it is that you see as a problem. This could be incessant crying spells, feelings of loneliness, thoughts that you are not good enough. Challenge yourself to create an image that reflects this idea. You might create an image or scene from your life that visually describes what you are thinking, or you could work abstractly using colors, lines and shapes to reflect a mood or feeling. Consider working with both hands or your non-dominant hand if you are choosing to work abstractly and experiment with different movements. Is your image meant to look contained, chaotic, dark, empty, filled? Some people choose to work with one color, but that is up to you. It is encouraged that you take up as much space on the page as you see fit and remember that the goal of this is to represent your problem, not to create something visually appealing or ‘perfect’.


Once you have created your image, look at it. Identify parts of the image that stand out to you, that disgust you, intrigue you, embarrass you or make you feel proud. Allow yourself to experience these different emotional responses to the ‘problematic’ image that you have in front of you. When you are ready, cut a piece of the image. This piece can be one that you dislike the most or that you find most intriguing or interesting to expand on. This part of the directive is meant to reinforce that within a problem are areas of growth, learning and discovery. We can work with what we dislike and choose to engage with it rather than ignore it.


Once you have cut a piece from your first drawing, glue it anywhere on your second page. The goal for the second drawing is to transform the image from where it started and challenge yourself to use color. Allow this piece to fit into a new image and function in a new way. Perhaps it was at the center of your last image and now it sits at the corner or the bottom. Perhaps it was disconnected from the first drawing and you connect it with something in the second drawing. Allow your creativity to work with the image and follow your instincts.


Once you have created your second drawing, allow yourself to move back and forth between the two images and notice similarities and differences. How was the piece ‘reframed’? In what ways do you see the two images connected? Is there a story between them? What was your solution to the problem of needing to transform this piece in some way? Allow yourself to reflect on and journal about this process.


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