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Metaphor & Impermanence

Guest Blogger
Hello again, WhiteFlag Community! I’m privileged to return for another blog post about Art Therapy. You may recall from my first blog that I’m Raney-Mills Turner, LPC, ATR; I want to start by referencing the lovely artist behind WhiteFlag’s recent post you can see on the WhiteFlag Instagram page. Sarah Beth’s collage video offers you a sweet therapeutic art-making idea. Create art from an emotional state, rip it up gently, and make something new, unique, and different!

This process honors rejuvenation and re-birth, as well as the concept of impermanence. Creating something new from something old and broken is often what therapy feels like anyway. What an appropriate metaphor for this emotional life we experience as humans. Metaphor is a significant part of the practice of art therapy. We art therapists are almost always thinking symbolically, asking the art to give us information from our psyche in order to loosen the reigns of mental strife. A good practice for you folks at home doing this exercise might be to ask questions of each abstract piece, look for themes, notice implied movement, identify parallels between the colors and how you are feeling; then repeat when you create your mosaic collage piece at the end.

Who is this person?
Is it me?
A part of me?
Someone I have not yet met?

Sometimes, it feels incredibly hard to accept the concept of “impermanence.” In Buddhist psychology, impermanence is a gentle reminder that everything changes, all the time. Our feelings. Our breath. Our physical bodies. Our lives. I think it might be the hardest thing to accept and also the most liberating philosophy to practice, well, because then your expectations are low and nothing feels surprising. Everything changes. Everyone dies. Harsh reality, lady! Therapists also love to drop truth bombs on you, but I do swear by this philosophy. It does not remove pain or fear, but it lessens the suffering around both. I promise. Pema Chodron, an incredible Buddhist nun and my proclaimed spiritual crush, states, “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man's-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again.” To die over and over again. That is impermanence. Lower vibrational emotions, like sadness and grief, can feel so heavy that they feel permanent, stuck, stagnant; but they, too, are impermanent. Just like these heavier emotions, even happiness is impermanent. When we lose touch with this beautiful uncertainty (yes, beautiful), we lose touch with our energy force, our light; and it all feels very heavy and depressing.

Ok! So, we have explored the metaphor of art therapy. We have investigated the actual symbolism behind Sarah Beth’s art directive; but what about her material choice? She used watercolor paints, brushes, watercolor paper, and then glue for her collage at the end. In art therapy, we talk about a spectrum of materials. I’m going to describe this easily for now, but I’d love to dig deeper in another blog about the “Expressive Therapies Continuum.” The ETC is a model of creative functioning developed in 1978 by two art therapists, Sandra Kagin and Vija Lusebrink. They used other models of human design and psychology to create a way to monitor someone’s creative flow by observation and media choice. The client’s choice of media, the therapist’s suggestion of a different media, the flow state that ensues, the healing that can happen, voila! Or, in a worse scenario, we have a disaster or a re-traumatized individual due to the lack of knowledge around materials and the deeper flow state that occurs within the human psyche while exploring one’s Self through art-making. That, by the way, is the Raney-Mills version of how it works.

Think, a pencil with an eraser is on one end of the spectrum, and finger-painting is on the other end. Think control versus wild abandon, and all the things that fall between. You have colored pencils you cannot erase. You have clay! Where does clay fit in? We call it kinesthetic because, wow, does it feel different from using a pencil. It is more sensory. You have oil pastels that can be used like crayons (more control) or you can go nuts by smearing them with your finger (more sensory.)

Like I said, I need an entire blog to uncover the inner workings of the ETC; but for now, I simply ask that you choose your art materials wisely and with intention; and if something does not feel right or is upsetting you, consider what might help you feel more in control in that present moment. Or maybe you are craving less control, eh?

Remember that art itself, just like an emotion, is impermanent. You have the power to change the art if it does not feel satisfying. You also have the power to change the emotion; and you can do that in a more concrete way through art because, as you know, emotions are hard to see but oh-so-easy to feel; and art helps us access the unconscious, those unquantifiable feelings, the space between the physical world and the life force that connects us all. Thank you for reading, and if you have any questions, feel free to email me directly at or visit my website


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