I often talk with clients about the metaphor that healing emotional wounds is similar to the process of healing physical wounds. To heal a physical wound, we often need to look at the injured area to assess the depth and immediate needs necessary to stabilize the wound. We then gather first aid tools (bandages, anti-bacterial ointment, stitches, casts, etc.) and come up with a plan to support the body in healing long-term. Sometimes the wound is an old one that healed incorrectly and scarred or got infected and we have to go back to the area and treat it so it is no longer a threat to our overall health.
Inner Emotional Wounds Need First Aid Too
I see the emotional healing process as parrallel to this. We need to examine the level of hurt and symptoms that the emotional pain has caused and apply strategies to first stabilize and gain control of how we respond to our emotion. Next, we gather tools and come up with a long-term plan of how to assist the mind and body in healing from the emotional turmoil. Sometimes our hurt, grief or trauma is years or decades old and continues to flare up from time to time, triggered by people, places, things and other emotions. We need to then revisit and surround the original painful area with effective therapeutic tools and a safe space to fully heal.
Problem: We Can’t See Them
The problem often is that we cannot see our emotional wounds and scars and even when we know they are there, it’s hard to determine how deep they run and how much they effect us on a daily basis. One great benefit to art therapy is that you are able to see the wounds within and they do become tangible. If that sounds scary, I will say from my experience that my clients often feel relieved when we can see their hurt, fear, anger or sadness. I have witnessed that creating and viewing an outer representation of inner emotion allows for a greater understanding of the the difficult emotion or event so it’s not as intimidating. It also often causes us to feel more empathy for our emotional parts so they are not as threatening or shameful. It can be very powerful to realize that the feeling you are struggling with is just a part of you; not your whole being. Once you represent and process it through the art process, the difficult emotion is often much easier to understand and manage.
Tell Me More
Our inner wounds need first aid too. Here is a great fact sheet about art therapy from the American Art Therapy Association if you want to read more about the profession and how to find and art therapist in your area.