What would your house look like?

I have been having many dreams about houses lately. The houses are composites of various places that I have lived. Some seem to stretch out into infinity, like a maze that has no end. While moving through these types of houses in my dreams I may feel overwhelmed, but also compelled to keep exploring the endless rooms.

Art therapists will often look at houses as a type of self-portrait of the artist or the dreamer. The roof represents the most conscious area of the person. How big is the roof and attic area? Is it expansive or small? How is it drawn? Is it completely enclosed or are there breaks in the roof?

The middle area of the house may modulate between the person’s conscious and unconscious areas. The lowest area of the house – the basement – is usually thought to represent the least conscious area of the person’s life. This makes sense when you think about our normal associations to basements – darker, sometimes a bit scary, and a place we do not spend as much time in.

Lately in my dreams, I seem to be spending a lot of time in the basement of these houses…digging around through old belongings and trying to figure out what to keep, and what to throw away. It took me a few reoccurring basement dreams to start to realize that I have been metaphorically “digging” through my unconscious in my dreams – holding certain things up to the light and putting other items back into the darkness. This seemed a perfect parallel to the deeper personal work that I have been doing since beginning my art therapy program. I have been pulling up pieces of myself and holding them up for closer inspection – lugging them up from the basement, and spreading them out on the lawn outside of my house. Some will eventually be returned to the basement, and some will find a new place in my dream house and in my waking life.

The poem by Rumi below, speaks to this theme, using the house and guests as symbols. Every day we are greeted by different guests – some are pleasant and others are not. However, he urges us to welcome each type of guest in, since they all have a specific gift to offer us in life.

The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond. ~ Rumi ~ (The Essential Rumi, versions by Coleman Barks)

“Hill House” ~ acrylic & mixed media on canvas ~ Sara Roizen

Group mural painting

Mural painting is an amazing form of creating…while working on a larger format our body and mind may be more fully engaged as we reach up, kneel down, twist around, sit, stand, or even lie down while navigating the expanded environment that we are creating on.

A few weekends back, my husband Adam, our friend Lee, and I all went to visit our friend Matt – who lives in a beautiful wooded area in the Catskills. We spent the weekend hiking around, exploring the small towns, and Adam took many amazing photographs. Check out the link below!


Part of our adventure while there was the creation of a group mural on un-stretched primed canvas. For Adam, Matt, and Lee it was really their first time painting and I was very curious to see how they approached the process ahead of them. All three energetically jumped in, and began to develop their own unique styles, ways of relating to each other’s images, and methods of exploring the white space.

I participated in the painting as well, but surprised myself by stepping back for a large part of the time and just enjoying watching the piece unfold before my eyes. We listened to music as we painted, and the majority of the piece was created in silence besides that. The communication took place on a non-verbal level, and each artist decided what felt right for them in terms of color, technique, size, and whether their image blended with someone else’s or maintained it’s own boundaries.

The finished mural is a snapshot of a moment in time…a reflection of where each artist was individually and more importantly, as a group at the time of creation.

I look forward to posting more about mural painting, as well as the unique ways that group mural painting can be used in an art therapy setting. I’ll also include some small ways to get started on doing group art…and no experience is necessary! More on that later…

Countertransference and art making

Creating art has always helped me to process my feelings and experiences. For me, painting is a dialogue between my unconscious and the surface and materials that I am working with. Since beginning my internship at Housing Works, I have been utilizing the art process as a way to gain greater insight into my clients: my countertransference with them, and as a way to become more creative in how I work with them within the individual and group art therapy session.

Countertransference refers to the different types of emotions that a therapist may experience while working with an individual client. More specifically, countertransference is about the therapist’s unique personal history and how that may consciously or unconsciously impact how they react to or feel about a particular client. Countertransference used to be seen as an impediment or obstacle in therapeutic work, but over the years many therapists have come to see countertransference as a valuable tool that can bring heightened awareness to the therapetutic dynamic. For this to occur though, the therapist must first be aware of their countertransference and then decide how best to use it in a therapeutic capacity.

My clients struggle with many challenges – all of them are living with HIV or AIDS, and in addition, many have mental illness, chemical addictions, and past incarcerations. Working with these clients brings up many strong feelings for me, and this is where the art process has been so powerful in helping me to explore these feelings on a deeper level.

I have been creating portraits of my clients for the past few months now as part of this exploration. Obviously, the client’s names are not included and I am sharing portraits that are very abstracted and stylized in nature. I do not feel that any of these images would infringe on the privacy of my clients due to their non-representational nature.

I have included a few of my portraits of clients in this post. Each one has been a transformative tool for me and has helped me to better understand some of my countertransference with each indiviudal client.


“I had to abandon the idea of the superordinate position of the ego. … I saw that everything, all paths I had been following, all steps I had taken, were leading back to a single point — namely, to the mid-point. It became increasingly plain to me that the mandala is the centre.
It is the exponent of all paths. It is the path to the centre, to individuation.
… I knew that in finding the mandala as an expression of the self I had attained what was for me the ultimate.”
– C. G. Jung


Mandala is a Sanskrit word that means “circle.”
Mandalas can be seen in the artwork and symbolism of every culture. In Art Therapy, mandalas play a very important role as a transformative symbol and process. In art therapy, a mandala is any imagery that is contained within a circle. The created mandala is a reflection of the artist’s self at that moment. Mandala’s tend to help focus and center the person who creates it. There is no “right or wrong” when creating a mandala, and in fact, the less you consciously think about it, the richer the mandala will be in form. In this way, the mandala becomes a mirror that we hold up to our unconscious – discovering apects of the self that we might have been previously unaware of.

Below I have shared a few mandalas that I have created recently. I have found them to be incredibly helpful for me to create after particularly emotional, stressful, or confusing groups that I have led, or when I need to emotionally contain a particularly intense experience. The simple act of creating within a circle is deeply relaxing and illuminating. I encourage everyone to allow yourself the space and creative freedom to create a mandala!

Mandala with clients

I created this mandala in a group that I was leading called “Meditative Art Therapy.” During this group we listen to relaxing (usually instrumental) music and create art in response. I usually encourage my clients to work with more fluid materials such as watercolor, to free them up and allow them to become more spontaneous in their creating. I usually do not make art with my clients, (I can post on this topic later!) but for this session it seemed appropriate to do so. It was a small and intimate group, and I felt that it would be more therapeutic to join my clients in their silent process. There was a high level of resonance within the group, both artistically and verbally at the end when we processed the experience. This group has been a much needed reprieve for many of my clients, as the daily rhythym at Housing Works can be very fast-paced. Later I will share some of my thoughts on working to create a safe environment for groups….

The Caretaker

I created this mandala for the purpose of taking a much needed break from my school work. I began with a silver pen and created a weaving line pattern. Later I went in with light washes of acrylic, and the overall effect reminds me of stained glass. The blues and greens are associated with caregiver qualities and the ability to nurture. In this case, I was nurtured by the creation of the mandala!

I feel that it is also a self-portrait of me as an art therapist in training, and learning to balance between caring for my patients and caring for myself.

Tree of LIfe Mandala

When I work with a mandala form, it is very common for nature imagery to come up. This is a pen and ink mandala that I enjoyed creating. The detail work and repetitive quality of the designs was very meditative to create and had a way of “drawing itself” as it progressed.

Black and white mandalas have a very different feel than colored ones of course…Color introduces the language of emotion. However, black and white work has a way of simplifying and drawing attention to the rhythm of the line work.

Mandala – Wedding Invitation

I am my Beloved’s
& My Beloved is Mine

When designing our wedding invitation I searched for the imagery that would feel right and feel like “us.” After countless doodles and sketches I realized that the mandala form was one that kept emerging in my imagery.

Here is the final invitation design – 2 mandalas that are side by side and touching. Each mandala is unique and individual, but they merge in the place that they meet.