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Sculpting Resilience: Art Therapy and the Healing Properties of Paper Mache

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC

Paper mache can be used as a therapeutic medium in art therapy due to its tactile nature, versatility, and the creative process involved. Papier-mâché, or paper mache, is a crafting technique that involves using strips of paper and a paste mixture to create various objects and sculptures. The term "papier-mâché" is French and translates to "chewed paper" or "mashed paper."

Paper mache provides a non-verbal means of expression, allowing individuals to communicate their thoughts, emotions, and experiences through the creation of tangible objects. It can serve as a symbolic representation of one's inner world, enabling individuals to express and explore complex feelings that may be challenging to articulate verbally.

Engaging in the tactile process of paper mache can offer sensory stimulation, which can be particularly beneficial for individuals who may struggle with sensory processing or have sensory integration issues. The process involves not only touch but also visual perception as individuals observe the transformation of the materials and their creation taking shape. This integration of sensory input can enhance sensory processing and integration skills. Working with the paste, paper strips, and various tools in paper mache provides tactile stimulation. The sensory experience of touching and manipulating the materials can be soothing, grounding, and help individuals connect with their physical sensations.

Additionally, manipulating the paper mache materials requires physical effort and movement, providing proprioceptive feedback. This feedback, such as the resistance and pressure applied during shaping and molding, can contribute to body awareness, coordination, and a sense of control over one's movements.

Paper mache also lends itself well to symbolism and metaphorical representation. Through the choice of objects, colors, textures, and shapes, individuals can create artwork that metaphorically represents their experiences, struggles, or aspirations. Exploring and discussing the symbolic elements of their paper mache creations can deepen self-awareness and insight. In one way, papier mache involves transforming simple and often disposable materials, such as strips of paper, into something meaningful and enduring. Similarly, art therapy and the healing process involve transforming pain, trauma, or difficult emotions into something meaningful, empowering, and healing. Through the creative process, individuals have the opportunity to transform their experiences, finding new perspectives and possibilities for growth.

The process of building layers in paper mache mirrors the process of personal growth and healing. In papier mache, layers of paper are added one by one to create a structure. Similarly, in the healing process, individuals often need to build layers of understanding, self-reflection, and personal growth. Each layer represents a step forward, gradually forming a more solid and resilient foundation. The incremental nature of papier mache reflects the idea that healing is a gradual and ongoing process. Just as multiple layers of paper create a sturdy structure, individuals can explore the idea of building resilience and strength through their art. The act of transforming simple materials into a cohesive and meaningful artwork can inspire a sense of accomplishment and empowerment.

In the process of papier mache, there may be moments when a layer tears or the structure doesn't turn out as expected. These "imperfections" are part of the process and can be seen as opportunities for repair and adaptation. Similarly, in emotional healing, setbacks or challenges are natural and can offer opportunities for learning, resilience, and self-compassion. The art-making process in papier mache allows individuals to embrace imperfections and find ways to repair and rebuild, mirroring the journey of emotional healing.

By engaging in the process of papier mache, individuals in art therapy can experience a metaphorical journey of transformation, resilience, integration, and self-discovery. The tangible nature of papier mache allows for a deeper connection to the art-making process, fostering self-reflection, insight, and emotional healing.

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