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Got Art?

Why Art ?

Art it is a valuable tool for Self Inquiry, serving both Introspection and Extrospection. Creating visual art literally gets things (from the inside) out – in front of you. By using a “hands-on” participation of the Mind and Body, engaging your Whole Self, you create a Life “experience” which has an effect like a pebble in a pond. The possibilities are endless!

Getting things outside of you not only relieves pressure and stress as a Cathartic release, but it allows us to see a different perspective on what’s going on inside. Processing feelings and experiences visually; using symbols and images, helps to simplify complex issues in order to ‘digest’ them more easily. Life is a continuous process of learning, and the more experience you have the more resources you will have to use and build upon.

In addition; practicing Self-care, working without judgement and learning to be empathetic with your self, are important to promote personal growth and development. It is not the quality or level of skill that matters as much as the experience you get out of it. Without judgement labeling it “good” or “bad”, there is less interference achieving self-awareness and self-acceptance of the qualities and life experiences that constitute the power of you!

Self – Help starts with your “Self”

I have been researching and developing my program for the last 28+ years, influenced primarily by my own life experience with Childhood Cancer. After having the opportunity to use art in my own healing and recovery, and have continued its use throughout my education and professional experiences. As a teacher and therapist, I have had opportunities to work with individuals of all ages and abilities; Art is something we all have in common, with simple images, ideas, colors…we can “relate” to one another. We are communicating, based on simple interaction and exchange of behavior and emotion, without saying a word.

For example, a simple symbol, item or color can hold tremendous value and influence, often our feelings are beyond words, and can be felt in the body triggering memories and reflection. In present time, where interpersonal communication is diminishing and sending an emoji for example, is indicative of the average time “put in” to checking in with our feelings. But largely this demonstrates how an exchange of simple images can carry/hold so much meaning.

In my workshops I focus on the use of Expressive Healing Arts, symbols and images throughout.  Conceptually this “Process-Art" focuses on the journey and process of the experience, rather than on an expectation of projected outcome (which is often a measure of skill or ability implying judgement). My program focusses on empowering individuals to celebrate their uniqueness and to express themselves without judgement. This means working towards a goal of accepting your “Self” unconditionally, and just by implication conceptually revokes failure as a possibility, and therefore relieves any pressure of expectation! Creating art as a process can be used as a practice of self-reflection, as a way of “tuning in” to your self, and in my workshops you will learn how to use it and apply it to your life. This process of checking in with our self in a non/judgemental, supportive environment promotes self-awareness, self-acceptance and personal growth.

Program Fundamentals ~ My Research and Thesis

The principles of Carl Jung helped me to prove the that art is not only a valuable tool of introspection. It is beneficial as a process and practice, because it is filled with all you put in to it. It is a gesture of action, dedication, focus, intent to name a few, and even greater, serves as a record of a life experience. Hanging your art-work on the wall offers an opportunity for true self- reflection; seeing and experiencing your self in a new perspective. Jung’s theory of the “Transcendent Function” explained it to be the gateway to connecting with the “Authentic” or genuine self. In order to reach this place of transcendence, one must travel through the Imagination. What is a better way to reach the Imagination, than by using Art? Where we can create a dialogue with our self, working to explore, discover and integrate our self as a whole.

The following excerpts are taken from my thesis, regarding the process of Individuation; technology vs imagination considering the obstacles of modern society.

The desire to achieve the unattainable is a common motivation that may be felt in each person at one time or another. “Perhaps life is meaningless, but we are meaning-seeking creatures that are driven to understand it” (Hollis, 2000, p. 9). In modern Western culture, people are often subject to a vicious cycle of urgency, in which the journey is sacrificed for the prompt arrival at the destination. This same philosophy can be applied to the concept of defining the self; in the process of formulating an identity, the future goal of one whom might be in the future often seems to outweigh the value of who one is in the present. Incidentally, this urgency to move forward can create a reverse effect on developing adolescents, launching them into adulthood without the proper tools to survive.

Modern Western culture is frequently superficial, projecting a fairytale image on top of a nightmare. Many societal images focus on falsifying one’s self in order to measure up to a projected image. Working to achieve an image of an ideal self or desirable goal increases the risk of fusion, rather than differentiation from the external locus of control.

The term dis-ease has been used is used by “individuals and healing communities who are aligned with wellness, choosing not to empower health issues by focusing on a particular ailment. The intent is to place emphasis on the natural state of ‘ease’ being imbalanced or disrupted” (Desay, 2009, “Answer”). Referring to such dis-ease in children, who are in the process of attempting to form a healthy sense of self, psychologist and author Alice Miller stated that “what makes us sick are those things we can’t see through, society’s constraints that we have absorbed through our parents’ eyes” (1979/1987, p. 104). It is considered human nature to desire definition and to continuously strive for acceptance, love, and survival. The destructive cycle of conformity to desired behavior for approval and acceptance is unrelenting, returning one undoubtedly to a place one has been before. Miller provided an example of this dynamic: “One can therefore hardly free an addict from the cruelty of his addiction by showing him how the absurdity, exploitation, and perversity of society cause the neuroses. . . . The addict will love such explanations . . . because they spare him the truth” (p. 104). Miller explained that oppression and suppression from the even the earliest phase of life, at infancy, can remain as an experience that is influential in the construct of later life experience.

Life can be seen as traumatic, no matter how it is viewed. The level of trauma experienced can only be derived from one’s own personal perspective, experience, and understanding. By association or by definition, all people may be considered victims of life, yet many are also heroes by their own accord. Life is considered by some to be an affliction from which all suffer and endure. It is considered human nature to desire wholeness and to blindly seek one’s destination. Many are misled by the implication that, with age and knowledge, they will have the choice to take the reins and experience life as a whole, but this is often mediated by the unconscious drive of the shadow that exists within us. Although, consciously, “we find ourselves engrossed in the business” (Henderson, 2005, p. 221) of knowing and believe that everything that follows is deemed freedom, true “freedom can be found in the inward way only” (p. 221).

The media at large, communicated through manufactured devices, are swiftly replacing interpersonal relationships that existed in the past. Technology in modern culture has manufactured products to meet the expectations of the demands of a high-paced society and is moving full speed ahead and setting the “dangling carrot in the sky” (Koehn, 2007) as the unattainable standard of measure. Technology has become a supreme external locus of control, a fabricated ideal that has hooked the egos of many of today’s developing youth. The external object often presents an irresistible image that may engage a relational cycle of mutual dependency.

Contemplating why the caged bird sings, with empathy, I am grateful to my achieved awareness, although ignorance at times can be a desired alternative. At times I imagine operating instinctively and unconsciously, as do the birds and the bees, fulfilling only my essential duty and obligation to the greater good to instill my survival. Considering that this may be similar to how most people began their lives, I feel that blame cannot be placed on those who have come before them, although people do have the ability to change. There are many challenges that await as people attempt to navigate their lives safely and meaningfully. The holes and obstacles are not failings as much as just part of the terrain; each is an opportunity to live in a bigger world. “The fall into the abyss is our destiny, at once our undoing and our salvation” (Neumann, 1989, p. 252).

For a developing self to be measured against these standards, with the pressures to be accepted and fit in, the concept of freedom can be terrifying. Rules, boundaries, and guidelines are theoretically constructed to derive the potential best from an individual, but consequently, they also often create an obstruction of layers that build up between the true self and the projected persona. Considering the conundrum, the same rules that are in place to protect and mold an individual are the same that often stifle his or her individuality and self-expression. By the time a definable independent self attempts to emerge in adolescence, it is often molded to fit into the current environment of a yes-no or good-bad, conditional response to ensure it’s survival. To survive, many adolescents believe they must learn and adapt to the rules constructed on the basis of the projected fears of their parents. This is the family shadow’s “cruel way of challenging us to learn the lessons that our ancestors failed to learn—in turn, we fail to change” (Zweig & Wolf, 1997, p. 64).

In seeking the road to salvation, I have found that it is often when letting go of the map and a predetermined destination that I have found my way. On this road there is no right or wrong direction for each turn inspires another journey for self discovery. I have found that the farther I move from expectation, the closer I have come to the realization and awareness of what is present and what is real for me, my existence and my destiny.

Jung wrote,

The categories of true and false are always present, but because they are not binding they take second place. The presence of such thoughts is more important than our subjective judgment of them. But neither must these judgments be suppressed for they also are existent thoughts which are part of our wholeness. (1961/1963, p. 298)

Art is a fundamental tool that can be utilized in several capacities to yield the results of emotional healing and recovery and can also be influential in promoting a reduction in physical symptoms as well. The use of art engages the imagination as a tool in exposing parts of the self that are disguised by the conscious mind as unknown and foreign. If one can work to become aware of these unknown parts, one can also work to understand them and what they reveal about the self. One can work to learn from them and accept them as elements of an expanded, more inclusive identity.

The utilization of art as process of expression generates presence, mindfulness, and intention, providing a catalyst to regeneration of the stagnant and repressed parts of the self and direction toward integration. “Art provides a clear path to the difficult task of reaching the whole child. . . . The inherent connection of the arts to emotion and collaborative process directly addresses their social and emotional needs” (Illinois Art Alliance, 2008, p. 15).

Art provides a mean of witnessing and knowing the self, alleviating the need for one’s value to be held by others. Utilizing symbols for means of communication dates back to prehistoric times of cavemen, before language was developed. Symbols are a timeless form of self expression; even in archaic terms, they represent the basic need of human nature to communicate a story, to be witnessed, and to be known. Seeing image as archetype, delineates the transcendence of the numinous connectedness between human beings. Jung described archetypes as “primordial images [that act as] natural blueprints” (as cited in Johnson, 1986, p. 28) determining our instinctual values, behavior, feelings, perceptions, and qualities. Archetypes are radiated uniquely through each individual as symbols that resonate throughout time and history.

The use of recurring symbols and images can help to normalize the state of circumstance allowing separation from an unconscious, consuming archetype, creating a conscious process of awareness and acceptance. This process of recognizing the separate parts of the self contributes to a greater sense of self awareness and is an invaluable step toward integration of the self as a whole.

None of us is just one thing, we are rich combinations of the infinitely varied archetype. Each of us is part heroine or hero, part coward, part parent or child, part saint and part thief. It is learning to identify the motifs within ourselves, learning to honor each one as a legitimate human trait, and learning to live out the energy of each in a constructive way. (Johnson, 1986, pp. 34-35)

Jung articulated the emptiness that exists without a connection to the unconscious parts of one’s self: “As conscious beings, we all go about with a vague sense that we have lost a part of ourselves, that something that once belonged to us is missing” (as cited in Johnson, 1986, p. 10). Artistic expression is essentially an unlimited exercise and moves beyond using words or definitions; it focuses instead on simply reaching internally, through free and creative expression, to connect with the self.

The creation of art is a symbolic expression of the self without boundaries or restrictions, free of the projections placed on an individual, and is a door to the wealth of the unconscious. The process of doing the actual work may be simply having the tools and the knowledge of how to use them or having no tools and no knowledge but just a strong desire to follow a creative impulse. Art can be used as a means to engage active imagination. The use of active imagination and art to give expression to unconscious symbols and images represents establishing a conscious relationship with the unconscious and creates an ongoing opportunity for creative dialogue. As Jung often explained, this process of communication allows an opportunity to commune with parts of the self and, in activating the self as the witness and participant in reestablishing its ownership, opens the door to the transcendent function. I believe that present-centered awareness and empathy are key in working toward establishing a more cohesive sense of self. The ritual of art incorporates these factors into an alchemical process of rebirth, growth, and development.

If we work at individuation, we begin to see the difference between ideas and values that come out of our own selves and the social opinions that we absorb from the world around us. We can cease to be mere appendages of a society or clique of people. We learn that we have our own values, our own ways of life, that proceed naturally out of our inborn natures. (Johnson, 1986, p. 12)

Utilizing Jungian depth psychology’s process of engaging the active imagination creates an opportunity for discovery, dialogue, and acceptance that can prove to be an invaluable catalyst for today’s youth in nourishing a relationship that is conducive to integration and development of the true self. As a large contributor to this work, the use of art and imagery opens a channel of inquiry and exploration between the conscious and the unconscious as a means of reestablishing the lost connections. The collaboration of Jungian perspectives and art therapy, within a safe environment, can benefit developing adolescents by redirecting their attention internally and educating them on ways to discover their true selves.

Describing imagination, Jungian analyst Robert Johnson wrote, “The unconscious has developed a special language of symbolism so that the unconscious and conscious levels may speak to one another and work together. One natural pathway is through the imagination” (1986, p. 25). Singer described a technique of self-inquiry, active imagination:

Active imagination is an attitude toward the unconscious. It is different for each person that is able to use it. The use of active imagination can help to heal the split between the conscious [ego] and the unconscious [shadow], using the resources of the unconscious itself to help bring the dissociated materials back gradually into a relationship with the conscious ego. (Singer, 1994, p. 288)

When events take place in the imagination, they are neither conscious nor unconscious, they are on “equal ground [and are like] two rivers merging together, complimenting each other and working together to form one powerful stream” (Johnson, 1986, p. 140). A new perspective and functionality is often birthed as a result of this alchemical formation and collaboration with the components of the self. The synthesis of the conscious and unconscious illustrates the presence of the transcendent function, which is the pathway to reaching the self in all its parts. The road to the self is found through the “conscious participation in experiencing the imagination” (p. 140).

The self can be defined by a number of symbols and descriptions that transcend time and history, as most commonly expressed in the symbolism of the mandala. The word self seems a common label used loosely to describe the existence of a physical being, but the perspective of depth psychology explores the existence of the self in relation to the intangible aspects of the unconscious, revealing the true nature and motivation of the collaborative efforts of all its components. The self, as a whole, encompasses all that is held within the tension of definable terms of both the desirable and the disdained. Similar to the symbol of ying and yang that represents one pole as a conditional reflection and proponent of the other. In relation to the self, with the awareness of one aspect, one is able to hold the other. A reciprocal relationship works to sustain a stable integration of all its components, while also remaining flexible to development and change within an intrinsically alchemical process. This tension of the opposites “generates the transformation” (Henderson, 2005, p. 205).

The symbol is the best way to speak of something which is in the large part unknown, since it evokes the feeling and associations which make it possible for us to be in a relationship with a mystery that cannot be touched. The self, then is most aptly expressed through the language of the symbol. (Jung as cited in Singer, 1994, p. 212)

According to Jung’s theory in relation to images, images given form through artistic expression are also a way to connect with and examine influencing archetypes that are present. The use of story to communicate these images is another way to connect to the self. The reoccurrence of images in this process allows an awareness and acceptance of what is present, establishing a connection to presence, mindfulness and empathy; working toward a greater level of self-actualization.

Rules, boundaries, and guidelines are theoretically constructed to derive the potential best from an individual, but consequently, they also often create an obstruction of layers that build up between the true self and the projected persona. Considering the conundrum, the same rules that are in place to protect and mold an individual are the same that often stifle his or her individuality and self-expression.

Children are often helpless under these pressures and may learn to hide and devalue the parts of themselves that do not fit in. “Denied, disowned parts of our souls—anger or depression, jealousy or resentment, intellectuality or sensuality, athletic or artistic ability get exiled into the dark” (Zweig & Wolf, 1997, p. 148). Through modeling, individuals observe and mirror the desired values presented to them and often create a persona, or false self, that reflects the ideal image of the accepted self. At the stage of adolescence, when one is seeking an expanded and more independent identity, a large part of an one’s true self can exist in the shadow, often due to emotional trauma incurred in childhood.

By the time a definable independent self attempts to emerge in adolescence, it is often molded to fit into the current environment of a yes-no or good-bad, conditional response to ensure it’s survival. To survive, many adolescents believe they must learn and adapt to the rules constructed on the basis of the projected fears of their parents. This is the family shadow’s “cruel way of challenging us to learn the lessons that our ancestors failed to learn—in turn, we fail to change” (Zweig & Wolf, 1997, p. 64). As the idealized false self, or persona is constructed out of the need to be accepted, it leads to a diminishment of the true or authentic self, which remains unconscious and cannot be grieved. A loss of self in childhood, whether conscious or unconscious, is traumatic. Trauma researcher Judith Herman (1992) explained that “traumatic events call into question basic human relationships. They breach attachments and shatter the construction of self that is formed and sustained in relation to others” (p. 51). Within the discovery of the self, comes the process of self-reflection and exploration. The journey begins with introspection..

Peeling Back the Layers

Wholeness and healing requires a process of peeling back layers within the psyche in order to reveal the source of wounding, similar to the moral portrayed in the story of The Princess and the Pea (Andersen, 1835/1982), in which a stack of mattresses on which the Princess lies must be removed, one-by-one, in order to find the pea, which is the source of her discomfort. Healing is a both a physical and emotional endeavor, in which an individual may work to uncover the underlying authentic self. In my view, a successful outcome is not the cure of the problem but clients finding the means to adjust their attitudes toward the complaint and accept this deviation from the expected norm within a new life view. The healing in this context is not the eradication of the complaint, but its integration and assimilation. Like the pea, which is essentially a seed, the source of the problem may contain possibilities for nourishment and growth.

Seeing oneself imaginally or symbolically invites depth and an opportunity for reflection in the continuing quest to define oneself. Jung believed that “through active imagination it becomes more clear that the images that appear in imagination are in fact symbols, representing deep interior parts of ourselves” (Johnson, 1986, p. 139) and are essential clues necessary to answer question about identity such as Who am I? Am the raging bull, a shark, an eagle? I am a gentle lamb, a butterfly, a flower? Symbols hold a small piece, a possibility of self, to try on, in a sense. The symbol, as a separate entity, can be observed and loved or despised within a safe container. Regardless of its individual nature, each image is separate from the individual, and, within the embrace of understanding and acceptance, an individual will not be fused with the fragments of a whole self the images symbolize, but they can rest as simply one note in a symphony of expression. Symbols, like words, tell a story of their own creation and existence through their own unique conductor or creator. It is up to each individual to become the conductor of his or her life and arrange these images in a manner similar to any artist.

My unique experiences in life have left me with an understanding of myself and my desire to help others establish a greater understanding of the self. I have found a healing quality in the expression of my own feelings and emotions through the use of art. Over my lifetime, I have found that art, in any capacity, creates within me a resonating burst of expression. When words have lost meaning or simply do not suffice, I find that color, shapes, and images can take their place in helping to resolve any disquiet. With the feelings brought into the open by artistic expression, they can now be acknowledged and experienced. It is my view that when individuals feel detached—out of fear, loss, or trauma and have lost sight of themselves, artistic expression can provide them an image or process of restorative reflection.


Andersen, H. C. (1982). The princess and the pea (Adapted by J. Stevens, Illus.). New York: Holiday House. (Original work published 1835)

Jung, C. G. (1963). Memories, dreams, and reflections. (A. Jaffe, Ed.) (R. Winston & C. Winston, Trans.). New York: Vintage Books. (Original work published 1961)

Johnson, R. (1986). Inner work: Using dreams and active imagination for personal growth. San Francisco: Harper.

Henderson, J. L. (2005). Thresholds of initiation. New York: Chiron.

Herman, J. L. (1992). Trauma and recovery. New York: HarperCollins.

Hollis, J. (2000). The archetypal imagination. College Station, Texas: A & M University Press.

Singer, J. (1994). Boundaries of the soul. New York: Anchor Books.

Zweig, C., & Wolf, S. (1997). Romancing the shadow. New York: Ballantine.

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