Art Therapy exercises

By Gillian Valladares Castellino

Art therapy exercises are one of my favorite ways of de-stressing. For me they are a way of centering and grounding myself and connecting with the sub-conscious. They are a way of bypassing the internal censor, the analytical self and revealing inner processes. You do not need to be an 'artist' to try them. All you need is a willingness to block a window of time, grab a sheet of paper, a few coloured paints or crayons, maybe a block of clay and then let the child in you come out to play. There are heaps of resources on the web explaining, what it is the "how to"s, including stuff to try. In essence, these simple play/exercises link you to the world of dream, symbols, rituals, fairy tales, myths and archetypes. Art therapy exercises are a way of getting to know yourself, facing your challenges and developing spiritually using art, story, meditation and mythology.

One form of art therapy which I find particularly healing is drawing mandalas - essentially circles. Mandala is a Sanskrit word, with links to Tibetan Buddhist meditation, but have been recognized across time and cultures as an important aspect of sacred geometry. In 'The Power of Myth' Joseph Cambell,  (an American author and scholar, best known for his work on mythology and comparative religion), wrote that "Making a mandala is a discipline for pulling all those scattered aspects of your life together, for finding a center and ordering yourself into it."  For an excellent explanation of what they are and how to do them, go to the The Mandala Project and Mandala Art Therapy & Healing. Here are some recent mandalas from my 'collection' to prompt you to get started....

And when it comes to art and therapy - here's to making you think outside the square (pardon the poor pun)

And stretch your imagination a bit more - well they're all mandalas (circles) aren't they????

Art therapy exercises can also be useful starting points to enable you to uncover the archetypes which operate in your life. An archetype is an energy pattern which is universally recognized and is cross-cultural. We find archetypes in myth, folklore, oral tradition and art. Carl G. Jung described archetypes as being " ancient or archaic images that derive from the collective unconscious". The collective unconscious being that part of the unconscious mind that is common to all beings with a nervous system. It is a term used to describe how the psyche organizes experience.

In Western tradition one of the oldest and richest resources for the study of archetypes is the Tarot. This approach is fairly widely adopted in Depth Psychology and is based on Jung's approach to the Tarot. In layman's terms the idea is that the journey through 22 cards or Tarot Trumps can be a jumping off point for connecting us to symbols, stories and myths which help us understand the process of individuation and spiritual growth. They are meant to show us what gifts or strengths we are ready to claim and what unrealized potentials we are avoiding. There are numerous art therapy exercises relating to this approach. One of the easiest to try is by Karen Wallace, while another is by Arnell Ando. If you are interested in the theoretical aspects of Jung's approach, check out Sallie Nicol's Jung and the Tarot. Since Ukiyoi art is one of my passions, I decided to incorporate one of Hokosai's manga images in my artwork for 'The Fool" here it is:

Other therapeutic media used in art therapy are sand play and clay work. Here is my first attempt at terracotta sculpture...

And now for some non-art therapy (but nonetheless very healing art work)...


  1. Just read all of the above, Jill, very interesting subject, depth psychology that is, along with your explanation of the Mandala art. I admire your artistic talent, now extended to sculpting. Love, Joan.


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