You’ve probably heard of the expression “Feeling tongue tied”; meaning unable to speak or to speak fully. Communication is often more challenging than we give credit. Certainly, this also applies if you ever go to seek the help of a psychotherapist. My clients often get into the counselling room and then find that they may not know how to begin, that within sessions they may struggle to express themselves or that it can simply be very difficult to talk openly about a particular problem or subject. This is all perfectly normal and yet can feel incredibly frustrating for the person who cannot ‘get their words out’. Sometimes, it is merely that we intellectualise and would benefit from helpful methods to ‘go to’ a very emotional memory or experience within our disclosure.
Sometimes I offer my clients the opportunity to use a variety of materials, including art materials, to aid them in finding a way to express themselves. I am not a qualified Art Therapist, although I am currently studying this subject but, as a psychotherapist, I am able to bring a variety of materials to a therapy session, in order to help a person to better communicate, express themselves or even retrieve memories. If actual Art Therapy is required, however, I would always refer the client on to a qualified Art Therapist.
Finding Words Can be Difficult.
There are many reasons why a person may find it difficult to describe something. We all have subjects, matters and issues that we may feel less comfortable to discuss. For some, it may be that the subject they are trying to describe is traumatic and so verbally describing it may be difficult. It may be that the person has a limited vocabulary, inadequate to describe the thing they wish to discuss. Sometimes mental health, disablement or learning difficulties may present a barrier to ease of self-expression. For some, the practice of disclosing personal issues is simply not something they do; sometimes due to cultural reasons, sometimes due to modesty or a sense of privacy and sometimes for fear of being judged. These are just some examples.
Simple Methods for Self-Expression.
I will often invite a client to focus on an object in the room that in some way represents what they seek to describe. Sometimes, this may be items that I have provided specifically for that purpose; such as a variety of shells, pebbles, toys or even just a varied bag of items that the client can choose from. A client may find it easier to use words that describe a chosen item that represents the actual subject they are relating to. My job is to support that process. This technique can also be used by parents seeking to help their child communicate more broadly.
We can use household objects. Here is a photo showing how different free-range eggs can be and it is the difference that offers us the opportunity to begin to choose and describe:
If we have difficulty trying to present, describe or express the thing that we are struggling with, a useful exercise can be that of making a collage. As a psychotherapist, I offer to my clients that this could be completed within the therapy session, or between sessions as homework, but should not be suggested to a client where the subject matter may in any way be related to trauma; for example any form of abuse, unless the psychotherapist has undertaken specialist training in working with survivors of abuse, as I have undertaken myself.
A collage can be a fun activity to try at home and we should feel free to make use of a variety of materials; for example cut outs from magazines and newspapers, paint, acrylic, pencils and pens, papier mache, dried food, buttons, sand, plaster, glitter, string and so much more. The theme of the collage should be around expressing or describing something of the subject that is affecting us. I always ask my clients to think of their collage as something of a ‘story board’, in that it will communicate what they are struggling to say verbally. This seems to work very effectively.
Often, I ask my clients to create a collage not as a means of communication, but instead as a means of connecting with how they feel inside. You see, sometimes we can all be unsure of how we feel. Sometimes we may be dealing with an issue that we just do not take time to stop and reflect over. We may need to ask ourselves ‘What am I experiencing?’, ‘What does this mean to me?’, ‘How does this actually feel?’ and so on.
I Like to ‘Practice What I Preach’.
A year or two ago, I spent the day with a very dear friend who is an Artist. She taught me some great new techniques for using various materials as a means of self-expression. I have some chronic health conditions that cause me a lot of physical pain and so I decided to try to express that sense of pain through making a collage based upon a variety of my symptoms.
Update: Since writing this Blog post, I have, as of June 27th 2017, now conclusively been diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease.
You will see, in the photos below, that I am making small images across a large sheet of paper; each based upon an element of the pain I experience:
I found that I was able to describe my symptoms in a way that words often can feel inadequate to communicate. This was quite uplifting. I also found that the images communicated something to me that I had largely not stopped to consider; that my illnesses are actually very tough to experience, that they are truly significant in my life and that, given how much pain I experience, I do well to just carry on with my life. This reminded me that an activity like this, can help us just take time out to reflect on how we are experiencing something.
Psychotherapy offers a variety of therapeutic models and disciplines within which to explore your life. Within sessions, you can ask your therapist whether there are activities that offer alternative methods of communication; if you struggle to do so using words. If you feel that Art Therapy may be the best option; you could seek out a qualified Art Therapist for a course of therapy that is entirely focused on the use of art materials.
(C) Dean G. Parsons. 2016.