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From the Inside Out: Exploring Identity in Art Therapy

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC


Art is a form of self-expression that allows us to externalize our innermost thoughts, feelings, desires and passions in such a way that we can build self-awareness as well as courage to disclose these parts of who we are. One directive that art therapists often use is the inside outside box. The "Inside outside box" refers to an art directive in which we are able to depict both the way we see ourselves and the way we want others to see us. We can use this tool to explore our identity and our own understanding of other peoples’ perceptions of us.


In art therapy, we often use boxes as a way to explore our identity. The inside of the box is meant to represent the innermost aspects of ourselves, while the outside of the box is meant to represent how we present ourselves to the world. It can be helpful to use this exercise as a way to self-reflect on our identity.


What are the things that make up our innermost self? What aspects of ourselves do we keep hidden from others? What are the things that make us unique? It can also be helpful to think about how we present ourselves to the world. Are there any aspects of ourselves that we downplay or hide? Are there things about us that we want to change? How do we want others to see us?


By exploring our identity in this way, we can gain a deeper understanding of who we are and how we relate to others. This is important as we work towards understanding our values and sense of direction in life. It is also important as we learn to navigate relationships and learn ways of connecting with others in healthy ways.


To create an inside/outside box, one will need a box, such as a shoebox with a lid or shipping box of small to medium size. One will also need a variety of materials, such as paint, markers, glue, magazines, photos, and other embellishments. Once the materials are collected, one can begin the process of adorning the box with various elements representative of one’s identity.


On the outside of the box, one is encouraged to reflect on what they portray to others, what others know about them, and how other people might see them. These ideas are meant to be portrayed using colors, symbols, words and imagery. On the inside of the box, one is then encouraged to consider how they view their true identity through their innermost thoughts and feelings. The inside of the box may contain information that is not readily shared with others or that is not often known about a person upon first glance.


As you create your own inside/outside box, you may want to reflect through journal writing. Consider what aspects of the outside of your box seem congruent with the inside, what parts seem inaccurate and which external parts seem protective. Consider which aspects of the inside of your box are most valuable to you, what parts of yourself do you hold in high regard? Think about what might be missing or what areas of yourself are continuing to transform or develop.


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