Art Therapy Around the Holidays

examples of leaves with words
It’s been a while since I posted…This got me thinking about how quickly these cooler months (Fall and then Winter) seem to pass by. Where does the time go? When it’s almost completely dark out by 4pm, you know it’s that time of year again! This is also the time of year when all of the “biggie” holidays seem to meld together…Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years, and so on.
For many of us (and especially our clients) this can be a very emotional time of the year. Although all of these holidays can bring joy and celebration, they can also be incredibly triggering at times. Many of my art therapy clients and groups talk about the mixed feelings that the holidays bring. If we have lost a loved one around this time of year or experienced some other type of traumatic event, the memories may come flooding back with a vengeance. Perhaps this is compounded by the expectations that we “should” feel happy around this time of year because it may seem as if the rest of the world is celebrating and happy. For those who struggle with substance use, the holiday parties and gatherings may be an additional trigger. Those who have family to visit must often deal with the family dynamics and stress that can arise during family gatherings. Alternately, people without family or close friends to be with often feel isolated and may struggle with feelings of sadness and anxiety during this time.

As an art therapist, I have found that creating seasonally themed work can help emotionally frame the holiday experience for some of my clients. Now, before you think – “break out the turkey hand prints and paper x-mas tree cut-outs,” hear me out for a second:) There are ways of utilizing the seasonal and holiday imagery in a way that honors the emotional process (and spares your clients the turkey hand print art project). 
Here’s one simple idea that is a little spin on a simple Fall/Thanksgiving themed craft idea: 
Today in my art therapy group I handed out pre-cut leaf shapes to my clients. I used thick watercolor paper for the leaves, so that they would have a sturdy feel to them and be a good surface for paint, colored pencils, or any other art material. I asked the group to think of one word that described something they wanted more of in their lives at this moment. Some of the words were: hope, joy, love, healing, and happiness. 

After writing the word on the leaf, the group embellished the leaves with the art materials. You can also have printed out words to inspire the group (and have fun using different computer fonts to really make the words pop!) With this group we are going to display the leaves in a community area of the building, so that the beautiful leaves and the messages they carry may serve as a visual reminder and inspiration for all of the clients who live there. If possible, it can be a wonderful process for other staff to create their own leaves during the week, to add to the wall of leaves that the art therapy group has created.

“hope” leaf
The simple added step of including a word to the leaf helped to frame the experience, and in this case also generated group discussion around why the members felt they needed that specific quality (word). The group members realized that they shared many words in common. This realization helped to foster a sense of community and connectedness – especially in a group where many of the members felt socially isolated and far away from family members.

What are some of your holiday-themed art activities, and how have they helped to shape your experience of the holidays?