How Some People Write For Therapy – Tips to Start With

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Here are some tips from personal experience that I would like to share here for others who wish to try writing to help deal with the stresses of daily life. Here, I tell what some people do (and which I have done, personally), and I give my method and advice, as well as telling in which ways each method might be beneficial for a less stressful life or for problem resolution. Please pay attention to the disclaimer at the end – I am no expert, and I only know what has worked for me. These things may be useful and helpful for others, and so I choose to share, but please do not fault me if they don’t work for you – each of us is a different person, and some things work for one person that do not work for another. Here are the ways in which I have used – and have known others to use – writing therapy:

Notepad
A place to write your feelings when the day has been a tough one

Some people write only when they are having a bad day. If you are having a bad day, consider writing about your day and see if it helps. Writing may not be able to talk back to you or give you good advice, but it can reveal things you didn’t even realize you were thinking and help you arrive at ideas for solutions to the issues you have related to paper – if only by helping you understand the problem(s) a little better. If you feel up to it, afterward, perhaps write something that is lighter – what were the good points of your day? Did you notice anything beautiful?

Journal
A place to write on a daily basis to help to cope with life

Some people keep a journal of sorts and write something about their day, every day. This can be helpful especially on looking back to see your progression and growth over time, as well as helping you to release pressures and stresses as they occur in your life. This can help lead toward the resolution of problems, as writing about them forces the writer to examine these problems and the writer’s thoughts more closely. Consider writing something light after every session. This can help to balance out your emotions afterward so that you are not stuck in a gloomy state of mind. It doesn’t have to be anything all that great – maybe you saw a nice tree, or a pretty sunset, or a perfect flower bloom. Perhaps you saw the cutest dog while out on a walk. Just pick something more positive and write a paragraph about it – it will help you to avoid feeling like you are in a negative frame of mind afterward.

Poetry Book
A journal can become a poetry book, or it can be used as one from the very start

Some people simply write poetry. If you are looking to get out negative emotions, I suggest writing a poem about how you feel. But be sure to write something lighter-hearted afterward, or the gloom of writing the darkness will stay with you. Therefore, when you write one poem, perhaps make it a rule to write two – one dark, one light – to perk you up afterward.

Story
Sometimes, a story is easier to write than a journal – it all depends on how close you want to get to the issues

Some people write stories. If you write a story in third-person (in other words, about someone who is not you) and you put this character through some of the things you have gone through and force them to resolve their issues, sometimes there will be a breakthrough of insight regarding how you can change your own outcomes. If nothing else, even without that insight, it is a way to release pent up frustrations while maintaining a certain amount of distance from it – as the character isn’t you, it doesn’t have to be your story.

Again, I recommend writing about something lighter afterward – perhaps a little blog post about your favorite foods, flowers, shopping items – whatever suits you. As with some other therapies, the quality of the story may not be the focus – the exercise, itself, is what does you good. By this reasoning, you would still have benefited from it even if you scrap the story afterward. With writing for therapy, it is the process that matters, not the outcome relating to what has been written, itself. So, you might not be the next J.K. Rowling – that’s okay. Don’t be hard on yourself. That is not the aim of this exercise. Besides, the more you do it, the more your skill at it will grow.

Old Letters
Writing letters can be very cathartic and helpful for toning down anger

Some people write letters. These letters don’t have to ever leave your hand. You can shred them or burn them afterward (I suggest shredding over burning – I don’t want to be blamed for your house-fire), but the act of writing them out can help to release pent up frustration or anger at another person and get the passionate emotions out of the way. This makes it so that afterward, you can talk to the person about the thing that made you so upset in a calm and reasonable manner. The letter gives you more control over yourself, as you have essentially created and put to use a very effective emotional-release valve. Sometimes one letter is not enough, such as when you are extremely angry or upset. You may need to write several letters before you start to feel calm. Get it out. After you have written the letter(s), and before talking to the person who you have been angry at or upset with, expend some energy. Go for a walk, to the gym, out for a hike, or take a swim – something to blow off more steam and help you to find your center – your balance. Do not talk to the person until you know you can do so calmly. When you are ready, write a nice letter and treat it the same way you did the angry letter – shred it or burn it. This is not for them – as with the other forms of writing, here, these are for your eyes – these are for self-control and for releasing tension. And even a nice letter has an effect on the writer. The nice letter doesn’t have to be to the same person you wrote the angry letter to, but writing something positive will help you feel even better.

List Pad
Lists can be helpful for organization and goal planning, as well as weighing pros and cons of choices
Mind Map
An idea map can be very useful for making choices and weighing options, as well as planning things out

Some people make lists. They list all of the options for a particular problem they are struggling with. Sometimes, they even draw maps with the central issue in a circle in the middle and all of the options and possible repercussions of those options in circles that are tied to the center circle by lines. Another kind of map can look the same way, but have the desired outcome in the center and the obstacles to be eliminated in the surrounding bubbles. Either method can be useful for refining options, tackling obstacles, and helping with choice-making.

Lists can also be great for creating goals, not just for balancing and weighing pros and cons relating to a choice. If you make lists of goals, keep them where you can see them, and brainstorm for steps you can take to help you reach those goals. Focus on one at a time, and do not be discouraged by slow progress. Baby steps are the way many of us get through life, so try to be patient with yourself. Making lists can also help you get organized. If you are a person who feels that your life is messy, lists are a way that can help you focus. Try to make at least your end-focus positive, if you have included negative things you wish to get rid of in your lists.

 

Writing
Whichever you choose, or if you do them all, either way, writing can be very helpful to many people

Remember that these ways of dealing with problems should not feel like self-punishment or chastisement. Do not use them to beat yourself over the head for past mistakes or current ones. You deserve good things in life and to be happy, so in every way you can, make that the end goal. If you have issues with talking negatively to yourself during these exercises, keep a timer handy, time the exercise, and then spend the exact same amount of time afterward telling yourself good things – affirmations, and that you love yourself. Even if you don’t mean them at first, your soul needs to hear good things, and you will learn to mean them, through repetition.

You should not allow yourself to say negative things to yourself and cast judgments and then just leave it at that. While I would like to say to never say negative things to yourself, I understand that these things may be habit and hard to break – these things take time. Growth and healing take time. So if you find yourself doing this, be sure to follow up and balance those self-criticisms with positive things. List your strengths, look for the beauty that is in you. Work on limiting the number of negative things you say about yourself and increasing the number of positive things you can say to yourself. And remember that even slow progress is progress.

As you can see by all of the examples I have given, I highly suggest releasing negativity first and following up with something positive. This will help to prevent you from developing a dislike for writing. It is a useful tool to help maintain equilibrium and to help in healing, and if you develop a dislike for it, that is one less tool in your arsenal to help yourself. These are all my opinions, and I am not an expert, but I have been writing for stress relief for my entire teenage and adult life. Please take all advice here with a grain of salt, and I reiterate that I am not an expert. Still, these things may be helpful for some people. They are, and have been, for me.

Digital Narrative: How I Use Art for Therapy

Barn and Truck

This is how I begin: I wake up. I know I want to paint today – I planned on it, more often than not. I direct my mind, to prepare for the act of painting – I seek out sources of inspiration as a form of psychological preparation. I look outside. See the peace of nature, try to feel it. Take that into myself, and feel how it inspires me. Or I look at other artwork and photos, and envision something I would like to paint.  I let them inspire me. I hold that inspiration and feed it – I let it grow inside myself. Once I feel as though I might burst with it, it is time to sit down and paint.

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Angela Gives Miranda Her Quest D

I always try to remember to maintain my child-like innocence, and allow myself to dream. I do not allow myself to think serious thoughts. I imagine a world that is an ideal dream-world. I hold that inspiration while I pour out my paints. I decide on the colors I want to use, and the details of my subject – whether the bunny will be pink or blue, whether Alice will be a child or a teenager – will her dress be white? Pink? Blue?

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Bird in Snow

I plan out my scene – will there be a landscape that expresses the quiet peace of the forest? Or perhaps smooth and shiny hills and crests that gleam and express continuity, flow, unity, and dreaminess? Will there be animals? I find that animals add a peace that is not possible without them in the work.

Dusk in Crimson After Mucha DS

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Pink Floral Bushes at Sunset

By this point, my head is full of flower-full landscapes, sunsets, tree-swings, and in any color I like, and I am fully in the dream. Nothing else matters right now – nothing outside the painting. Even copying the works of a master artist with a deliberate variation such as in monochromatic alizarin crimson will bring my heart its peace. It all works, it’s all dreaming.

Ava Sleeps Full Image

Blue Fairy Closer In

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And when I am done, there will be peace, rest, and contentment in my spirit. I may also feel frazzled or annoyed because the work did not turn out the way I had envisioned it, but that will pass. And the effect of a few hours or even a day away from the stresses of daily life will have given me the rest I needed. Even with annoyance, the art did its work. Remember that, when you try it. Annoyance with results does not equal lack of effectiveness as a therapy.

Beautifully Blue

Later, I will look at it, and remember the feeling of the original inspirational idea. Looking at the work will give me a peaceful and dreamy feeling. And I will remember why I painted it to begin with – to give my soul a rest from the toils and trials of life. Now you try… I know you can do it. And remember, your first tries may not be all you want them to be – art takes practice and patience. Be patient with yourself, and try to love yourself. Each of us takes work to get better – it is a journey, and we are all on it.

 

Below are two self portraits I have done of myself in watercolors. For a little additional information, I rarely ever paint or draw without going through the process I have described in this post. I did so quite often when I was younger, and spontaneously painted or drew free-hand as the compulsion took me. However, I have found that finding photos to reference is often the catalyst to get me into the mood to paint when I otherwise wouldn’t be able to access the right mindset. Referencing photos means looking at photos while you paint and trying to capture the essence of the image in your art. I also make art even when I am in a great mood and not just when unhappy, stressed, or upset – sometimes we don’t realize we need a break from life until we take one, and painting and making art can be a preventative as well as a remedy for stress.

Self Portrait 2Self Portrait

Also for the sake of interest, below is a slideshow of a few in-process photos of some of the paintings and drawings I did, for a peek behind the finished works. This way, you can see something of how they were created. Regarding the unicorn drawing in this slideshow, it is unfinished – I have not decided whether to use colored pencils or paint on it to finish it, yet. That drawing, along with the owl painting, were drawn/painted free-hand, with no reference material. Everything else referenced photographs either for setting aspects, for subject, or both.

 

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The artworks that I describe at the end of this post in the Artwork Credits were done while referencing photographs. I think the process of referencing photographs needs further mention and explanation, so I am going to do so, here, and explain why I prefer using reference photos over making free-hand art. Referencing photos can help you gain realism of shape in your drawing/painting, as well as light, shadow, and texture, and, in some cases, subject matter. Many famous artists use reference photos for their artwork. There are even some artists who believe that good art cannot be achieved free-hand, because the memory does not store every bit of information you need to create a realistic setting of light, shadow, and texture.

I have found that if I use reference photos, a larger percentage of my artwork turns out closer to what I had envisioned when I sat down to begin. That is not to say there are not good free-hand artworks out there – there most certainly are. And I’m certainly not against the concept – ninety percent of my art until I was in my thirties was all done free-hand. However, I think that, for me, if I don’t use a reference photo or two for the work, the results will be hit or miss in relation to my expectations. My art certainly improved, immensely, once I began referencing photos; and the improvement is overall – this choice increased my understanding of light, shape, shadow, placement, texture, perspective, color balance – the works.

 

Below is a slideshow of some of the better finished paintings and drawings that I have done:

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Artwork Credits: Each of the images in this post are my own work and photographed by me. Some of this art was done while referencing photographs found on Google (such as all of the horse images, and the bird image). Some others were done while referencing master painters. The woman in the red painting is based on the art piece, entitled “Dusk,” by Alphonse Mucha. The winter cottage scene (in the slideshow) is after Thomas Kinkade’s painting entitled “Winter Glow.” The two graphite drawings of children (one on horseback, one on the beach) were drawn from photographs of my aunt and uncle when they were children in the 1940s. The Princess Leia drawing in colored pencils was done while referencing a photo of Carrie Fisher after she performed in Star Wars – the background she sits in is all my own creation.

The Rita Hayworth (acrylics) painting was done while referencing a photo of her lying on pillows. The Vivien Leigh (acrylics) painting was done while referencing a scene of Scarlet O’Hara from Gone With the Wind. The horses (both the horses and mountains, in colored pencil, and the horses running, in oils) were done while referencing photos found on Google, both subject matter and setting. In the horses – mother and baby – in the forest (acrylics), two photos were referenced: a photo of a forest, and a photo of horses. The two girls in the night scene was painted while referencing a photo of the night sky with stars in it. An additional point of interest for that piece – it was painted with a book in mind – Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd. If you know the story, you will recognize the subject matter.

In the Alice drawing (ink and colored pencils), the tree was referenced from a scene in the classic Disney Alice in Wonderland cartoon. The rest of that drawing is free-hand, although the placement of Alice and the cat, Dinah, and the fact that I have Alice making a flower wreath are also inspired by the same Disney photo. I decided to age-progress both Alice and Dinah to deviate from the original image I was referencing. In the moon and galaxy charm pendant drawing (colored pencils), I referenced a photo of my own necklace on my kitchen tablecloth. In the flower garden drawing (pen and ink), a photo of a garden and a photo of a cottage were both referenced. In the horse and mouse sleeping in the forest drawing/painting (colored pencil and digital paint in GIMP), the horse was drawn while referencing a photo.