By: Eileen Stamato, MA, LAC, ATR-BC
“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced” -Vincent Van Gogh
Have you ever searched for the right words and never been able to find them? Have you ever had an image inside your head that you wanted so badly to have someone else witness with you, but you just could not find the words for it? Have you ever felt that you just needed distance from something? Just a little bit of distance, or a break of carrying a burden?
As a Board-Certified Art therapist, I have been able to see the power that externalizing emotions can do. Below I share ways I have personally witnessed externalizing emotions through imagery benefit clients in both their personal and therapeutic expression.
Taking space: When given the chance to explore emotions through imagery, we can take what is inside of us and put it onto something else. Creating physical as well as emotional distance allows us to separate these emotions from the self. What can this do? Allowing ourselves to remove our experience of intense emotions and put them into an external image may bring us a sense of relief or give us a break from those emotions, even if it is just for a little while.
Decreasing intimidation: Creating images about intense emotions allows us to see them in a different light. Some say that through the creation and exploration of images, they feel less fearful. They can give the “scary hallway” a light to make it seem less scary or give their “depression monster” fuzzy eyebrows so the depression can seem less consuming and overwhelming. Externalizing something allows it to be manipulated and changed right in front of our eyes.
Sharing your experiences and receiving validation: Allowing others to view your emotions and experiences with you creates a level of validation and togetherness for those ready to share. “Wow, that feeling you created is making me feel overwhelmed, is that how you feel?” Allowing someone else to witness your image with you, allows a new perspective and an opportunity to receive support.
Making external changes for internal benefits: After an emotion is externalized, this allows the creator the space to make changes as they wish. For example, what would you change if you could? Would you add anything to make this image less intimidating? Would you like to rewrite the end of that troubling dream? What if you added something to the image of the depressed emotion? Would that help? Allowing the option for the creator to explore and change images can increase a sense of control and mastery. Through making external changes to images, we allow the possibility for emotions to shift internally.
About the Author:
Eileen Stamato is a Licensed Associate Counselor and board-certified Art Therapist. She received her Master’s Degree in Art Therapy and Mental Health Counseling from Drexel University. Eileen has additional training in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and enjoys working with adults in their 20s and 30s with an interest in identity work, addressing their anxiety, and managing the various stressors that come with being an adult.