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5 Projects For Group Art Therapy

Art Therapy Projects for Groups

  • Feeling Codes
  • Collage and Group Collage
  • Mask-Making
  • Altered Photo
  • Wise Puppet

Group art therapy has been used since the 1940s in diagnosis and treatment of emotional and mental illness. Therapists can use the facial expressions of clients as they work in addition to the words they use in discussing and interpreting the art process. Art is a sensory exercise, and that is an important aspect of the therapy when using it for children with attachment disorders. This type of therapy involves non-verbal communication. People store thoughts and feelings as words, but they also store them as emotions and images. Sometimes the process of creating an image can summon those feelings and thoughts so that client and therapist can both examine them. Therapies based in art also include dance, music, and theater. More traditionally, though, we think of visual art. Here are five visual group art therapy projects that can be used in group therapy sessions.

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1. Feeling Codes

Each person in the group has both a poster-sized piece of paper and a piece of notebook paper. On the smaller sheet, using images, clients devise a code for several feelings. Although many people might draw a smiling face to express happiness, others may draw a kite or just a yellow squiggle. Once their codes are devised, the participants make a poster on the large paper using their codes as elements of the painting or drawing to express how they are feeling. The therapist tries to "break" the code, and that leads to discussion.

2. Collage and Group Collage

An exercise especially helpful for teenagers or even adults asks them to choose images from magazines, cut them out in various shapes and glue them to a poster board. The colors chosen, the theme of the images and even the emotional tones expressed can help the therapist understand where his client is emotionally. That is the assessment. When the client examines his art, though, he may recognize thoughts or feelings that hadn't been evident to him. The project can be done in a group mode to help subjects connect to one another through working together.

3. Mask-Making

Carl Jung theorized about the darker, repressed aspects of the human personality. Mask-making can help people get in contact with the things they may be shoving aside or even hiding. It may bring out concepts that the client hadn't realized were there. It can also introduce the idea that clients may project one identity but are completely different inside, just as a mask has an inside and an outside. The finished masks can also be used to role play and fanaticize. That feature requires interaction with the group and may be useful in helping clients develop relationships.

4. Altered Photo

Group members choose from black-and-white photographs of people that they can then alter using oil pastels or acrylic paint. This is another group activity that works well with teenagers. Kids love to deface photographs and the results can be humorous. The exercise is relaxing and therapeutic at the same time. Therapists who use this technique advise that if magazine pictures are used, they should be cut out ahead of time so that clients don't begin reading the articles.

5. Wise Puppet

Like the mask-making, the value of this exercise is in both the creation of the art and in the role-play that can follow. Each person in the group creates a puppet, and then asks his creation for advice about an issue with which the client is struggling. The resulting role-play can be enlightening as a tool of assessment, can help clients think through issues, and can foster interaction between group members.

Visual art is a catalyst for human emotion and thought on every level. This is especially true when the art is used as a tool in the hands of a trained and engaged practitioner. These five examples of group art therapy give readers an idea of the value of innovative therapies in helping individuals work through issues and crisis points in their lives.

Source: Psychology Today