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Utilizing the Road Drawing in Art Therapy to Explore Goals, Purpose and Motivation

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC

The road drawing is an effective directive used in art therapy to promote insight into the impact of one’s lived experiences as well as current values and goals. In drawing a road, it allows individuals to explore different aspects of their lives while engaging in a creative process through the use of symbolic metaphor. These aspects that may be explored in a road drawing might include current decisions we are making about our future, obstacles or barriers that we have faced or anticipate facing, changes in our direction and choices that have led to ‘road blocks’ in our lives. The road drawing can provide insight into an individual’s current state, as well as past experiences that have shaped who they are today.

Art therapist, Michael J. Hanes initially presented research on his own observations of using road drawings as an art therapy intervention while working on a psychiatric hospital inpatient unit. He found that these metaphoric drawings were effective in providing individuals a foundational image in which they could create visual timelines of their past, present and future experiences. In his observations, he wrote about ways in which roads become meaningful in our daily lives- as paths in which one or more people travel towards a destination or direction. Hanes also expressed that roads over time become impacted by the wear and tear of being walked on, ridden on and exposed to changing weather patterns, resulting in the need for repair and upgrade.

When creating a road drawing, one is asked to simply “draw a road” using drawing materials, such as colored pencils, markers, oil pastels, chalk pastels, or graphite pencils. One is encouraged to consider aspects of the road, such as the type of road it is (windy, straight, narrow, wide, curved, multi-directional), the material that the road is made out of (asphalt, dirt, stones, grass), the condition of the road (potholes, cracks, newly paved and painted, faded lines/unclear boundaries), the location of the road (city, countryside, near the coast, near mountains), the accessories that may or may not be present on the road (road signs, construction blockades, speed bumps, fences, bridges) and the foreseeable destination- where is this road headed toward or leading to.

It may be helpful to gather inspiration for your road by looking at images of roads across the world and see which ones reflect your own path. Have your recent experiences felt straightforward and clear or are there obstacles to reaching a certain destination, such as changing careers, moving to a new home, or dealing with a sudden loss. While creating the road drawing, we are able to not only self-reflect on significant experiences, but we are also able to create a narrative around our experiences- deciding how these moments have shaped us and continue to influence our current decisions and emotional state. We are also able to use creative imagination to shift, develop and plan new ways of following a direction or path or identify when we need to turn off of a road we are on. The goal of this drawing is to allow the imagery to provide a foundation for deeper insight and understanding into your current values and direction for where you are going literally and metaphorically.

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