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Creating Memory Altars in Art Therapy: A Journey of Healing and Connection

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC

Altars in art therapy provide a powerful means of self-expression and exploration. They allow individuals to communicate their emotions, experiences, and innermost thoughts through symbolic objects and creative processes. Altars can serve as therapeutic tools for healing and processing various life experiences, traumas, or losses. Altars can also be utilized for mindfulness practices and meditation. Engaging with an altar can help individuals focus their attention, cultivate presence, and connect with their inner selves, promoting relaxation and stress reduction.

An altar, in the context of art therapy, is a physical space or structure created by individuals as part of their therapeutic process. It can be a small table, shelf, or designated area where symbolic objects and art materials are arranged and displayed. The arrangement of objects and art materials on the altar becomes a visual representation of our inner world. Each object and art creation placed on the altar carries significance and tells a part of the individual's story. The altar serves as a visual and tangible representation of personal experiences, values, emotions, life goals, and intentions. They provide a focal point for setting and affirming personal goals, enhancing motivation, and fostering positive change.

The following are some guidelines on how to create altars in art therapy and the purposes they can serve:

  • Set an Intention: Before starting the altar creation process, it is important to set an intention or purpose for the altar. Clarify what you hope to explore, express, or achieve through this creative endeavor. This intention will guide your choices and actions throughout the process.

  • Select a Sacred Space: Choose a physical space for your altar creation. It can be a tabletop, shelf, or any area that holds significance for you. Ensure it is a quiet and private space where you can concentrate and reflect without distractions.

  • Gather Symbolic Objects: Collect objects that hold personal meaning, symbolism, or evoke specific emotions related to your intention. These objects can include photographs, keepsakes, natural elements like stones or leaves, written affirmations or quotes, religious or spiritual symbols, or any items that resonate with you.

  • Arrange and Decorate: Arrange your chosen objects on the altar space. Experiment with different layouts and placements until it feels visually balanced and resonates with your intention. Consider the colors, textures, and overall aesthetic of the altar. You can also include candles, incense, or other sensory elements to enhance the atmosphere.

  • Engage in the Creative Process: Incorporate art materials into your altar creation to further express yourself. This can include painting, drawing, collage, or any other artistic techniques. Use these materials to add layers of meaning, symbolism, or visual representations to your altar. Allow your creativity to flow freely and intuitively.

  • Reflect and Engage: Once your altar is complete, take time to sit with it and reflect on its significance. Observe the emotions, memories, or insights that arise as you engage with the altar. You can use this space for meditation, prayer, journaling, or other forms of self-reflection. Allow yourself to connect with the energy and symbolism present in the altar.

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