Art Therapy and Complex Losses

Art therapy can be extremely helpful for those facing complex losses. Here are a few reasons why.

Many of us seek to make meaning as a part of our grieving process. Meaning making takes time. We might have to reinvent or shift parts of our own sense of identity after a loss. Some people shift in their world view, their faith, or their sense of purpose. Loss is often a life altering experience, and we might feel forever changed.

Art therapy treatment allows us to engage in the creative process, and to utilize our art pieces and the art process to safely express and explore our feelings and experiences. While the significance of an art piece and process may not be obvious initially, the patient and art therapist can explore together to uncover important metaphors and deeper meanings. This can help us give shape, form and words to our experiences, and assist us in meaning making. As we create a meaningful symbol in an art therapy session we are able to process, rework, and digest some of the significance of our loss.

Making meaning is often especially hard for those with a complex loss, as most complicated losses have an unresolved, ambiguous, or unusually challenging quality. Art therapy can allow for the expression, processing, and containment of these multi-layered thoughts and experiences.

An art piece can easily hold contradictory feelings and layers. When coping with a complicated loss we might feel angry, sad, fearful, guilty, relieved, heartbroken … the list of possible emotions is endless. It can be very difficult for us to verbalize and make sense of our grief and multi-layered experience. When working with an art therapist our art pieces (and the therapeutic relationship) can contain our feelings and conflicts. For example, a drawing can easily hold both lightness and darkness, sadness and hope, mess and order. Art therapy interventions allow us to process, access underlying feelings, and gain clarity about our experiences. The creative process can provide a needed release as well as a safe forum for exploration.

If you are interested in seeking art therapy treatment, make sure to find a trained art therapist. A good place to begin your search is the American Art Therapy Association website; they list professional art therapists in the USA and have some international listings as well.