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Witnessing Our Vitality through the"Tree of Life" Drawing in Art Therapy

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC

The term “vitality” can be understood as “the capacity to thrive and grow”. In this way, vitality is at the root of describing our sustained energy and enthusiasm to live a full and meaningful life. It is not simply the absence of illness or problems, but rather a state of positive well-being in which we are able to meet life’s challenges head-on. For some of us experiencing periods of heightened overwhelm, stress or depression, it can be difficult to discern glimpses of hope or relief when we are in the thick of it. For many of us, we might often decide to enter into mental health treatment in order to discover again what we believe to be meaningful and how we might be struggling to identify parts of life that are worth living for.

As a mental health counselor, I truly believe in the human capacity for resilience in the face of suffering. If we become disconnected from our life force or inner drive, our sense of vitality may dim and our feelings of helplessness and hopelessness might begin to overshadow our vision for what is possible. When our motivation and drive dissipate, it is important for us to actively reconnect with our values, what is important to us and let that provide us with a direction to move forward with.

With the assistance of the artmaking and creative process, we have the ability to visually and spiritually explore our own vitality in a symbolic drawing that utilizes the image of a tree to aid our own self-reflective process. The symbol of a tree incorporates many different aspects of the life force, which we can project onto and develop our own sense of meaning. When we consider the roots, we are looking to understand perhaps what grounds us, what nourishes us and the sources of our sense of self. The trunk, the branches, the leaves each symbolically tap into our lived experience and allow us to reflect on how we both grow and remain grounded. More specifically, we can use the ‘Tree of Life’ drawing to visually map out our values, our strengths and our goals for moving closer towards our most authentic selves.

To create a ‘Tree of Life’ drawing, one will need a large piece of paper, no smaller than 12”x18”. If you have the space and ability to create a larger image on 18” x 24” paper, this would be ideal as it gives larger amounts of space to expand different aspects of the tree or larger opportunities for negative space. You can decide what drawing materials to utilize, ranging from colored pencils, markers, oil or chalk pastels. This drawing can be adapted to your own abilities and needs and can include writing on the drawing or separately in a journal. In an art therapy session, I have instructed individuals to choose inspiration from a set of oracle cards containing images of trees, but you can also look for inspiration on the internet if you choose on different types of trees.

For the drawing, you are encouraged to think about the analogy of a tree as it pertains to your lived experience. In this way, you will slowly build your tree from the roots, through the trunk, up to the branches and the leaves. As you work on the roots, consider what is at the foundation of your core self. What do you believe in or is a common mantra in your life, what do you value or what is most important to you in your life right now and what traditions or rituals do you hold onto from your upbringing or ancestral ‘roots’. As you move towards creating the trunk of your tree, consider your strengths and what helps you remain upright despite challenges you might face. You might consider drawing symbols representing different strengths, words etched onto the tree or any other creative way you think. As you move to the branches, consider what you have to be grateful for in your life- family, job, achievements, mental health, sense of peace, positive habits. Your branches might also represent what you hope for or would like to have more of in your life. Once you have created these branches, place leaves with specific goals on them relating to the different branches. For instance, if your branch states you are grateful for your family, consider goals that you might have for maintaining or continuing to support that positive aspect of your life, such as making board game dates or family dinners.

As you create your tree of life, consider aspects of your tree that are thriving and other aspects that may need further nurturance or care. It might be helpful to view a wellness wheel and consider finding balance through new opportunities for growth.

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