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Stepping Stones: Reflecting on Our Past, Present and Future Experiences in Art Therapy

Updated: Nov 5, 2022

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." - Lao Tzu

Many cultures have legends or myths about stepping stones. In many cases, the stepping stones are said to be miraculous creations that allow people to cross otherwise impassable waters. The symbolism of the stepping stone is one of progress and overcoming challenges. Stepping stones are a symbol of progress, journeys, and change. They are used to cross difficult terrain, marking a path to follow. They are also used as a way to honor and remember loved ones who have passed. They are a way of marking our progress and helping us find our way when we're lost. They remind us that we can always take the next step, no matter how difficult things may seem at the moment.

When we consider the symbolism of stepping stones as they show up in our lives, in stories, in images, we are often guided towards the idea that they represent a path in life. Using this metaphor, we can start to consider creating our own stepping stones as a representation of our own past, present and future pathway. Since stepping stones are often seen as symbols of progress, of moving forward despite challenges and obstacles, we can use that idea as we begin to create and design our own stepping stones.

Creating personal stepping stones is a powerful way of using art therapy to work through difficult experiences and emotions. It allows us to symbolically remove the weight of our burdens and leave them behind us as we move forward. Creating personal stepping stones in art therapy can also help you process grief, trauma, and other difficult life experiences. They can also help you celebrate your accomplishments and milestones.

To create a set of past, present and future stepping stones you will need 3 sheets of 12”x12” paper. You can decide if you would like to keep the square shape of the stone or cut away different areas to create your own unique ‘stones’. You will also need drawing materials, scissors, glue, embellishments and collage materials, such as scrap papers, fabrics and textured, three-dimensional items. It is also recommended that you have a journal to write in as a way to brainstorm ideas as well as reflect on the final images.

Take a moment to think about key transitional moments in your life- moments that have shaped you, milestones, challenges, losses and achievements. Allow yourself to focus on positive moments within those experiences- your strengths, resiliency, motivation, and tenacity. Write down these key moments on paper, including moments from your distant or more recent past as well as current experiences. You might also consider creating images or symbols representing these varied moments.

For your first stepping stone, the past, choose one of the key defining moments and create a collage, 3 dimensional assemblage or sculpture or 2-d image representing this experience symbolically. Consider a proud childhood moment, or a time where you accomplished something or overcame something difficult. Perhaps it was a moment you believe was a turning point in your life or a defining moment in defining your own values and life direction. For your second stepping stone, concentrate on where you are right now in your current life and represent a defining moment on your stone using a similar process to your first stone. For your final stone, let this represent your future hopes and dreams for where you envision your past and present decisions will take you. Allow yourself to be as realistic or as fantastical as you like, as long as you are true to your goals and hopes.

Once you have finished creating your stepping stones, place the images on the floor with a few feet in between them. Allow yourself to stand in front of each one and take in how you are feeling and what thoughts arise. Write down one statement that best describes or captures this experience for you. Repeat this for the present stone and the future stone.

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