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Finding Your Element Part 2: Incorporating the Four Elements into Art Therapy

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC

For centuries, people have looked to the elements of earth, air, water, and fire for symbolism and introspection, seeking to understand the mysteries of the universe and our place within it. As explored in the previous blog post, we explored how each of the four elements has its own unique symbolism and meaning. In addition, each of these elements is associated with a certain quality, which can be seen in nature and in human behavior.

In this blog post we will review the symbolic qualities of the four elements as we see them in nature and manifested in human personality and behavior. We will then discuss ways of incorporating these symbolic concepts into our art therapy practice. As we review the four elements, consider what aspects of these descriptions resonate with different areas of your life- socially, professionally, sexually, psychologically, and intrapersonally.

Let’s start with the element of earth. Earth can be seen as a symbol for stability, security and groundedness. In nature, earth is manifest as the solid rocks and mountains that provide a foundation for life. In people, earth energy manifests as strength, determination, and practicality. These qualities can help us to feel stable and supported in our lives. Grounding yourself in the earth can help you to feel more connected to your physical body and the world around you. This can be used to represent the aspects of our lives that are stable and reliable, such as our relationships, our careers, and our sense of self.

In nature, air is manifest as the wind that shapes the landscape and carries pollen and seeds from one place to another. Air can be seen as a symbol for change and flexibility as it follows the saying “going with the flow”. These qualities can help us to connect with our intuition and inner wisdom as we take in the changes around us. Thinking about air can help us to gain a new perspective on a situation or problem. In people, air energy manifests as intelligence, creativity, and communication skills. This can be used to represent the aspects of our lives that are always changing and evolving, such as our interests, our beliefs, and our worldview.

Water can be seen as a symbol for emotion and intuition. These qualities can help us to connect with our inner guidance and gut instincts. Water is associated with the qualities of change and flow. Water is the most essential element for human life. It makes up more than two thirds of the human body. In psychology, water is often used to symbolize the subconscious mind, which is thought to be the part of our mind that stores our memories and emotions. It is also responsible for our intuition and gut feelings.

Fire can be seen as a symbol for passion and energy. From the earliest times, we have been drawn to its power and potential for destruction. At the same time, we have recognized fire's ability to provide warmth, illumination, and protection. It is the element of transformation, and represents the creative power of the human spirit. When used correctly, it can help you to overcome your limitations and achieve your goals.

What do the four elements of earth, air, water, and fire mean to you? To many people, they represent different things, depending on their personal beliefs and values. Each element is associated with unique attributes that can be used for introspection and reflection. By exploring the symbolism of these elements and how they manifest in our lives, we can come to a greater understanding of ourselves. We can see the ways in which we are out of balance, and we can begin to take steps towards restoring equilibrium.

To explore this further through art, think about your relationship with the elements and how they might affect your own life. Start out by acquiring a piece of paper, paint and brushes, collage materials and glue. Think about which element you would like to focus on- this can be based on astrological sign, your mood or attributes that resonate with you upon reflecting on each of the elements.

Once you have chosen the element you would like to work with, consider how you might incorporate it into your artwork. It may be helpful to first engage in a sensory experience with your elements. For instance, running your hands through running water, sitting near a fireplace or lit candle and experiencing the warmth from this element, being near a fan or area with air movement and/or picking up sticks, stones or soil from the earth. Once you have had this experience with one of the elements, consider how you might visually represent this experience onto your paper using paints and mixed media collage. After creating your collaged image, consider writing a reflective response to what you have created.

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