Here is an example of an effective art therapy directive for someone struggling to decide between two things. We are all familiar with this position: opposing directions are presented to us and we are unsure which way to go. Between a rock and a hard place. We wonder where to place our energies and how to move forward in the ‘right’ direction. I have worked with several individuals who feel quite stuck at times in their lives, reporting paralyzing symptoms and overall confusion about whats important and where to turn.
Our minds can easily go back and forth drudging up more and more content to analyse around the issue. We remain in the dilemma hoping for destiny to sort it out on its own because we are simply overwhelmed with the demanding multiplicities of choice. Usually in these cases, there is no ‘right’ way. Both outcomes seem to come with their own set of advantages and disadvantages and we are left with a feeling of defeat. Here is where we begin to get a clue into what is needed at this time. We must move beyond polarized thinking towards triangulation, or better known as integration of opposites. We must find a way to bring them together or move through them altogether into a new realm. We do this not with analytic problem-solving methods, rather with art.
Why art? Art is the creative bridge, the transcendent function. It is also a pragmatic and highly efficient way through conflict. I will outline an art directive geared to this issue but until you try it you may not believe in its effectiveness. That is the whole point of art – it is a different experience than thinking or analyzing, it is a creative and transformative process. It originates out of a deeper place than the mind ‘s capabilities. The mind can only venture into the known world whereas symbol and art tap directly into the collective source of infinite potential. From which place would you prefer to fish in?
Let’s use the example of someone trying to decide whether to give up a well-paying stable job for a chance to travel the world. They say “I can’t travel and keep this job but I also can’t travel without money!” Dilemma. Choose/create a symbol to represent staying in your current position and one to represent travelling. Place them together on a page but leave room for a third image. Without going into the cyclical story of the goods and bads of each, notice instead the aesthetic qualities of each image and be curious from this angle only. What do you notice visually, sensory and emotionally? Where did the images get placed on the page? Postpone interpretation, allow your mind to settle while you entertain some new perspectives on this matter. Out of our unconscious arises alternatives beyond yes or no…
After some reflection go to choose/create a third image. Do not come up with a solution and then find an image to represent it, rather find an image that appeals to you in this particular context without understanding why. Simply intend to find an image that contains your solution without knowing what it is yet. This allows the unconscious to work for you and create a new path through conflict. Do this and then begin a gentle and curious reflection process as before. An open mind is essential to seeing something new so keep one throughout. Trust me you will see how well this works once you try it. Actually, don’t trust me – trust the art. I do. It never fails.
This third image is your triangulation, your transcendent function pointing to a new direction, originating from stuck and splintered thinking to integrated forward movement. It has a profound message for you so look closely, let it speak to you, don’t speak for it. This is how we change, we allow ourselves to be moved. We do not force change, we embrace it. Watch. It is deceptively simple. Trust and you will find yourself on the other side of dualism and dilemma. Oh, and I would of course recommend an Art Therapist to facilitate this process for you. It makes a world of difference to have a witness and strong intentional guide.
Heather is an archetypal art therapist, clinical supervisor and course instructor in Santa Fe, NM. She currently serves as Adjunct Faculty at Southwestern College teaching Archetypal Psychology and Internship Seminar as well as at the Santa Fe University of Art & Design teaching Who Am I? an Intro to Art Therapy. Feel free to visit her website for more information.