Facilitating the Grief Process Through Art

BY: Mollie Postotnik, MA, AT, PC

CATEGORY: Grief and Loss

​Do you hold in your grief? Do you find it hard to express your feelings verbally? You are not alone! Art Therapy is an excellent approach for moving through the grieving process. It is beneficial even if you do not find it hard to talk about your grief

Creating art is therapeutic in itself. When it is combined with an art project designed to facilitate grief work with members who can be supportive to one another, it is a potent blend. While creating the art or after its completion, people discover feelings of which they were unaware. Sometimes fellow attendees or the art therapist recognize something the participant did not notice.

However, this is not a confrontational process; it is gentle and always respectful of each person's grief journey. Workshop participants are not required to talk about their grief, but by the end of the group, many who did not feel comfortable in the beginning want to talk about their art and what it means to them. Talking about the art is a step removed from talking about a lost loved one: the art is a vessel to hold emotions and therefore easier to talk about.

What happens at a Healing Arts Workshop? First, members introduce themselves and quickly share whom they are there to remember. The art therapist gives the group instructions on what the art project involves and some things to think about while they are working.

Usually, all supplies are provided, but participants are sometimes asked to bring photos, mementos or bits of their loved one's clothing to incorporate into their work. Some people always finish ahead of everyone else and some people will never have enough time, so the group is given reminders about the time remaining.

Often individuals help each other by sharing ideas and practical suggestions. Participants do not need to have had any previous art experience, and the final creation is not critiqued. These workshops promote a feeling of safety and familiarity similar to visiting a fast food restaurant– you always know what's on the menu! When everyone is finished, there is an opportunity for each member to show what they made, talk about why they chose certain colors, why they incorporated specific items into their art, how they felt while creating the piece, and anything that may have surfaced about their relationship with their loved one.

The art therapist comments on common themes which serve to unify the group, and then those who are able help clean up and put supplies away. Sometimes connections are made between participants and they depart as new friends. Grieving, according to R.A. Niemeyer, is a way "to reconstruct the meaning of one's life after the loss." Art Therapy helps facilitate this task through the process of creating art, sharing with others who have also had a loss, and taking home a creation that serves as a precious tribute to the loved one. 

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