In honor of women’s history month, I would like to highlight women’s voices in psychology by sharing a bit about feminist therapy, and then offer some expressive arts therapy activities you can try on your own to deepen your connections with self and others.
What is feminist therapy?
“Feminist therapy” can be seen as an umbrella term for a broad range of psychological approaches that are aimed at empowering the client, creating an equal therapist-client relationship, and fostering mutual connections as a base for growth. Feminist therapy views mental health symptoms as attempts at solving problems of disempowerment and disconnection across levels- personal, familial, and societal. Within this relational model, there are 5 signs of a healthy relationship:
A sense of zest or energy
Increased clarity and knowledge of oneself and the other person
A desire and ability to take action both in the relationship and outside of it
An overall increased sense of worth
A desire for more connectedness
Arts activities to deepen connection
With feminist therapy in mind, here are some art therapy activities (that don’t require skill and can be done at home) to creatively explore your connections with your self, others, and the world:
Write a Compassionate Letter to Yourself
Begin by thinking about an imaginary friend who is unconditionally loving, accepting, kind, and compassionate. Imagine that this friend can see all your strengths and weaknesses and fully understands your story and loves you just as you are now.
Next, write a letter to yourself from the perspective of this imaginary friend, wishing you health and happiness. Then, focus on what they may say about things you don’t like as much about yourself or feel ashamed or insecure about. How would they remind you that all people are imperfect, with feelings of failure and inadequacy? What changes would they suggest you make to be kinder to yourself?
To finish, notice what feelings came up during this exercise and let yourself feel them as they are. Can you sense your innate self-compassion arising, or notice any barriers to it?
Make a Nest Collage
Gather materials such as construction paper, scissors, a glue stick, magazines, and other decorations as you like (feathers, glitter, sequins, etc).
Begin by reflecting on a current stressor or problem in your life. Then quickly scan through the magazine pages and cut out words, symbols, or images that in some way represent this stressor. Paste the magazine cut outs in the center of your paper and continue with up to 4 stressors.
Next, imagine that these stressors are like eggs in a nest and in need of safety, care, and support. Scan through the magazine pages again to find words, images, or symbols that represent what these eggs may need, as if building a nest around them. Paste these magazine cut outs around the center “stressor eggs” until they are encircled by a “resources nest.”
Finish by reflecting on the coping skills, resources, wisdom, and supports available to you in your current stressor.
Go for a Loving-Kindness Walking Meditation
Find a space indoors or outdoors that you can move safely and freely. Begin by walking at a natural pace and paying special attention to the physical sensations the movement creates from your toes to your head. Do you notice changes in your breathing, heart rate, muscles, or temperature? Simply be aware of your body in the moment.
Next, incorporate the Buddhist loving-kindness “metta” meditation by whispering “healthy, happy” as each foot comes up and “well, free” as each foot comes down. First imagine wishing these good things upon yourself, or that someone who loves you is wishing them upon you.
Continue to repeat “healthy, happy, well, free” as you walk and imagine directing this loving-kindness meditation beyond yourself- to loved ones (family and friends), neutral people (neighbors and acquaintances), difficult people (if you like), and finally all living beings.
Create an Inside/Outside Mask
Gather materials such as a piece of paper, markers or colored pencils, or other decorations as you like (sequins, feathers, stickers, tissue paper, paints, etc). Then draw an oval with facial features on each side of the paper to represent your mask. Label one side “inside” and the other “outside.”
Without thinking too hard, decorate the “outside” mask with words, symbols, or images that represent how you think others or the outside world sees you. Next decorate the “inside” mask with words, symbols, or images that represent how you see yourself, or what may be hidden from the outside.
Reflect on the mask-making process and product by thinking or writing about these questions: How are the inside and outside of the mask similar or different? How does the outside mask help you cope or survive, and how may it get in your way? Are there any inside parts you’d like to bring out? What have you learned about yourself?
Sources and Further Reading:
– Jean Baker Miller, Toward a New Psychology of Women
– Judith V. Jordan, Relational-Cultural Therapy
– Dr. Kristin Neff, https://self-compassion.org/
-Writer, Chelsea S. Moyer, MA Expressive Arts Therapy (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist)