by Lauren Fallat, MA LPC ATR-BC
The use of guided imagery and visualization in art therapy is an effective way to incorporate components of grounding and self-soothing skills to aid in stress management. By engaging the imagination in an imagined sensory experience as well as by transcribing that image through the creative process into a drawing or painting, one is actively utilizing a stress-reduction technique to improve coping and emotional containment. Safe Place guided imagery prompts can be accessed online. For some it may be helpful to print out the prompt and read it to yourself quietly or aloud. For others, it may be helpful to listen to a pre-recording- you can find these on YouTube most often.
By engaging with your imagination and intentionally calling on senses of vision, sound, smell, touch and taste, one is disengaging from an emotional overwhelm and bringing attention to sensorial experience rather than emotional. The goal is to use guided imagery as a way to promote healing and relaxation so that we can better regulate our emotional responses and engage in effective problem solving from a more grounded and stable internal foundation.
Prior to engaging in this guided imagery meditation, it may be helpful to practice mindful breathing and deep breathing techniques for a minute or so to set a foundation for focusing in and staying present.
Here is an example of a common ‘Safe Place’ script that one can use for this activity:
“Take a deep breath in, slowly inhaling in. As you exhale, begin to create in your mind an image that is safe for you. Perhaps you will experience an immediate image or multiple images will come forward as you start to explore further in your mind what feels safe to you. Recognize that there is no right or wrong. Allow the images to flow through your mind, letting go of any judgments or reactions to the images that appear. Imagine in your mind, a cloudy horizon in which you start to notice the clouds slowly dissolving, giving way to a special, safe place.
Experience your body in this moment and what is felt as safe. Where is that feeling initiating for you? Can you allow that feeling to expand to other parts of your body?
Allow yourself to become immersed in this new world. Notice the vibrancy or mutedness of the colors around you. What can you see- shapes, objects, nature? Are there any smells or sounds in your environment? Can you sense movement or stillness?
Gently remind yourself that you are safe in this place and that it will always be there for you. As you inhale through your nose, begin to gently sway your body, wriggle your fingers and toes, and as you exhale, invite yourself back into your current room.”
After engaging in this short mediation or engaging in another form of a safe space guided imagery visualization, one can then utilize the art making process to externalize what was seen and imagined. With the first level of the experience calling on imagined sensory experiences, the incorporation of artmaking will enhance the grounding experience by calling attention externally to the created space.
In an art therapy session, you may find it helpful to create a smaller drawing that you can carry around with you of your space, or perhaps there is an aspect of the safe space that you want to explore further, like the image on the wall or the texture of the blanket in the room. Remember that it is not about drawing the image to match exactly what you imagine, but perhaps creating an image which captures the essence of what it feels like to be in this room- is it warm and inviting, is it guarded and protected.
No matter what your artistic ability, you have the creative freedom to express this part of yourself, the part that can feel safe.
Consider your physical and emotional state prior to engaging in the activity and your physical and emotional state afterwards. Allow yourself to experience any aspect that is challenging about this exercise and process these challenges safely in a psychotherapy or art therapy session.