Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mermaids and Art Therapy

Being an Art Therapist means that I need to have many art ideas. On average I see seven clients a day and each client wants and needs something different. Some clients engage with a lot of art making, others none. Consequently, I am always searching and researching art ideas that can be used therapeutically.

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon Jane Davenport and Teesha Moore’s online workshop called Mermaid Circus. Find out more about it by going here They are both amazing teachers and artists. I wasn’t sure if I could turn what I was learning into therapy, but I did and with great results. The main concept of the class was to create handmade journals from drawings and collage images to explore the circus and mermaid themes.

I created my own journal in the shape of a mermaid and left it in the studio where several teenagers saw it and then wanted to create their own. I explained that I was making eight different mermaids that expressed different parts or qualities of myself. I illustrated my reflective side, joyful side; I named three mermaids to show my curiosity, desire, to pause, and forward movement. I created one to represent chaos, another for openness.

I was thrilled that several people wanted to do the same project to represent different parts of themselves. Other clients chose to create a single mermaid to which we added a self-portrait and then decorated. The project has been fun, illuminating and insightful for the clients and myself.

 I love using the mermaid form for symbolic reasons. For me it speaks of going into the depths of our unconscious, swimming in silence, and moving through currents. As women many of us have experienced losing our voice, being silenced, disconnecting, dissociating, and being misunderstood. Mermaids symbolize the different ways women have bound by society, lost their ability to move and be seen. Mermaids are mystical beings that are desired and feared. The mermaid started out as a fishtailed Aphrodite and was called “Virgin of the Sea” carrying all the symbolism attributed to Aphrodite.


While working on my images I was reminded of Clarissa Pinkola Estés story, “Sealskin” in Women Who Run With the Wolves. Estés writes that in Jungian psychology, “the ego is often described as a small island of consciousness that floats in a sea of unconsciousness.” The story talks about how women lose and then reclaim their own voice, own values, imagination, clairvoyance, stories and memories. It talks about how we can practice intentional solitude opposed to being dissociated or lost in fogginess.

Working with these mermaids has been a joy for my clients and myself. I am always thrilled when I discover such a rich, deep image to explore as therapeutic art. Thank you Jane and Teesha for the inspirational class.  


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