by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC
Often written stories and narratives have the ability to elicit emotions in the reader as well as provide a sense that one is somehow understood and not alone in the thoughts and feelings that surface in our daily lives. In my own work as an art therapist working with individuals and groups, I have found that art in combination with bibliotherapy, or the use of books for therapeutic purposes, can help with the process of identifying and expressing certain emotions and/or with understanding an experience or concern through an alternate lens. One story that I have found to be particularly thought-provoking and impactful is Shel Silverstein’s The Missing Piece, copyrighted in 1976.
The story of The Missing Piece follows an unnamed shape on a quest in search of what it believed to be missing, a piece of itself. The shape was able to identify how it initially felt in acknowledging it was missing a piece and the reader is meant to believe that happiness would be achieved once the piece was found. Throughout the pages of the story, the reader witnesses the journey that the shape embarks on, singing, experiencing different weather patterns, engaging with its environment and navigating various landscapes. The shape eventually encounters various other shapes that it then experiments with in hopes that the other shapes will be its missing piece.
Spoiler alert! Skip this paragraph if you do not want to know the ending of the story! The pages of the book truly capture the process of what one might go through in searching for something or someone that they think they need. In this narrative, it is the shape that is longing to feel whole and is believing that its wholeness would be achieved once it found the missing piece that would allow it to be a full circle. At the end of the story, the shape ends up finding a wedge shape that does in fact fill the void of its empty space. The two make an attempt at ‘completing’ each other, but the original shape realizes that in being a circle now, it is unable to appreciate and interact with the world in a way that seems meaningful and fulfilling. The shape ultimately decides to separate itself from the wedge shape and carry on its journey while embracing the beauty around it.
This story sends a powerful and unexpected message that can be felt and interpreted by individuals of varying ages and life experiences. In an art therapy session, I might invite someone to reflect on the message of the story and the feelings that come up as well as the thoughts that might stem from the beginning, middle and end of the story. I also might encourage that someone create a unique shape that they think best represents themselves and how that shape might interact with the world. I also might encourage someone to create a circle and cut or section off different ‘slices’ or sections of the circle and then label or draw in each section parts of themselves that make up who they are.
The story sends a beautiful message to remain mindful of our purpose and our ever-changing beliefs about what makes us feel happy and whole. For many of us, we might be striving for a higher paying job, straight A’s or finding a partner and we might then believe that when we achieve that ‘thing’, then we will be happy. This book provides a great stepping stone to discuss what we truly believe to be at the core of happiness and how we can apply mindfulness, gratitude and observation as key factors in maintaining our sense of happiness and fulfillment along this journey of life.
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