Drawing as Therapy


Posted on July 2, 2014 by

When you worry, you get stressed. And stressing over problems never seems to help solve them. We mull over what’s going on, we think through all the bad possibilities and outcomes based on the inputs in our lives, and we end up stressed. And stress doesn’t help anything. You need a way to deal with the stress. Do yourself a favor and grab a pencil and paper and let’s work on decreasing the stress level in your life.

Why do I worry?
It’s called left brain thinking. We all have two ways of looking at problems. The left side of our brain analyzes things, breaks down issues, assesses the situation and tries to come up with answers. When we don’t have the answers, the left brain makes us worry. Take Donny for example. He’s a teenager who has problems at home with his parents, he isn’t doing well in school, and he gets teased and doesn’t think anyone likes him. He is constantly worried and mulling over his problems and it makes him tense, hateful, sullen and moody. His left brain is in charge.

When you think with your right brain, you look at the “big picture” and allow for random occurrences and have a more holistic method of thought. Right brain thinkers are in tune with their surroundings and are more inclined and willing to let happenings occur while relinquishing control of the situation. The right brain is also the engine for creativity and thinking outside the box. It is the side that allows for creative expression within a person and fuels activities associated with art. Drawing and painting lets your mind express itself and can channel some of the stress and worry into a medium that is external to your conflicts. Donny hasn’t learned to exercise his right brain. It is pushed to the background and keeps him from looking at the big picture or taking a creative approach towards his problems.

So how do I stop worrying?
You can’t just stop worrying about the issues that affect your life. It’s easier said than done, no doubt!  Ignoring the late car payment and the fact you don’t have the money to pay it isn’t healthy. That will not fix the problem and it will compound into a bigger issue and further stress. You need to think about getting a handle on your worrying and keeping it at a healthy level instead of letting it take control of your feelings.

People deal with stress in a lot of ways. Some people talk to therapists about their issues and work things out “bouncing ideas” off of someone else. Other times taking a walk, bike riding, running or any physical activity can get your mind and body in tune and lower your stress levels. Ultimately, what you are trying to do is get the left side of your brain to let go of all the analyzing and worrying. If you find a way reduce the worry, you find a way to reduce stress.

I can’t talk about the things that worry me
It can be hard, sometimes impossible, to say how we feel. Trying to verbalize the feelings associated with a traumatic incident, or explaining a deep-seated fear or hurt can be next to impossible. Even writing down ones feelings doesn’t always come easy. The thoughts stay trapped inside. Oftentimes, this lack of communication lets the internal struggle go on for years, making it harder and harder to sort through the layers once the proper assistance is sought. According to the American Art Therapy Association, although art and drawing therapy has existed for centuries, its culmination as a specific field of treatment first began in the 1940s. Originally used with patients being treated for mental illness, the practice of integrating art and drawing along with traditional talk therapy branched out to all forms of treatment, recovery, health and wellness.

But I’m not in treatment
Art and drawing therapy is not reserved only for patients in rehabilitative services, or those undergoing licensed care. When used in this context, it should be administered under the care and guidance of a caregiver licensed and educated in art therapy. The AATA “encourages educational, professional and ethical standards for its members.” But on the flip side, in the regular humdrum world of a busy person, drawing relaxes. Drawing can sooth the nerves of anyone who picks up a pen or pencil. What used to be thought of only as doodles on a page from a board meeting dweller can now be an insight into the feelings and makeup of the artist.

So my doodling is therapy?
There are no special tools to engage in drawing therapy. A pencil or pen and a piece of paper are all it takes to begin helping your right brain take the wheel for a while. While a licensed professional should be left to interpret drawings and the outcome of drawing therapy, anyone can express themselves through doodles and scribbles.

Carolyn Mehlomakulu, a licensed marriage and family therapist and registered art therapist suggests scribbling as a way to meet daily challenges. Scribble drawing is a therapy technique to relieve stress and calm nerves. Mehlomakulu suggests using a small size paper for the scribbles to contain the work and provide structure as part of the soothing technique. There are really no boundaries in scribble drawing other than to draw what you feel. That may entail one long series of scribbles, or various shapes and designs brought together using pastels and proper shading techniques.

It’s only some scribbles on a page
Drawings, depictions and artwork have always been a staple of conveying the human psyche. From caveman charcoal scratches preserved over the centuries, to hieroglyphics in the pyramids and doodles and scratches down the sides of a college student’s notebook, art and drawing expresses our feelings. As the field of drawing therapy expands, more and more will be learned about the therapeutic nature of reading the story within the art, and how such release can ease the daily stressors or help answer questions buried deep inside.

If you are interested in working to quiet the left side of your brain, and seek out your creative side while decreasing stress levels, we recommend “One Zentangle a Day” as a means to an end. You don’t have to be an artist, or even understand the basic principles of drawing. By sketching a Zentangle, you are effectively doodling away your stress and worries in a fun and relaxing manner.  You can find additional information on this book in our post “5 Best Books for Beginners at Drawing”.


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