Art Therapy Directive: Inside Out/Outside In

One of my favorite self-portrait interventions is what I like to call the Inside Out/Outside In self-portrait. The point of the exercise is for clients to draw and/or write about themselves (their “insides”) and about how others perceive them (their “outsides”). I’ve used this activity with clients age 6 to age 18.

Therapy Type: Individual

Materials Needed

  • Construction paper (any color, let the client choose)
  • Markers, crayons, colored pencils
  • Optional: Use a blank silhouette template instead. My favorite option is found here.


  1. Start with a blank piece of construction paper. Allow the client to choose which color they want to create with.
  2. Instruct the client to draw an outline of a person from shoulders up. The outline will include the head, neck, and shoulders.


    You can also use a blank head/shoulders template instead.

  3. Direct the client to draw and/or write on the inside of the silhouette first. Use prompting questions, such as:
    • “If we were to open you up, what would we see on the inside?”
    • “If you were to describe yourself, what words would use?”
    • “What symbols would you use to describe yourself?”
    • “What’s something people don’t know about you?”
  4. Next, you can either…
    • Option A: Give the client time to silently work on the inside of the silhouette. You can play soothing music while they create. Once the time is up (varies on the client process, sometimes I’ve used 10 minutes, sometimes 15 minutes). When time is up or the client is ready, ask the client to explain what they created.
    • Option B: The client talks to you as they create. This has been the case for clients who don’t consider themselves “artists”, who need help creating and processing, or who just feel more comfortable talking! Use the prompting questions (listed in Step 3) to help the client with their creative process.”Can you tell me more about that symbol?”
      “Wow, I see you drew [OBJECT]; why did you choose that?”
      “Will you explain what you meant by this?”
    • For both options, encourage the client to write and/or draw what feels right for them. Let them know it’s okay to use only words or only symbols or a combination of both.20160406_170347
  5. Introduce the “outside” portion of the silhouette.
    • “If I were to ask your parents/teacher/friends/etc. about you, what would they say?”
    • “What do you think others say about you?”
    • Optional: “What do social norms/expectations say you’re supposed to be?” (This could be a great way to talk about the roles,stereotypes, expectations society imposes on people regarding (but not limited to)…gender, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and so on.
  6. During the creation of the “outside” portion, the client can also use words and/or drawings. In the example, you’ll notice there’s only words and phrases. You can choose to give the client time to silently create or to talk to you as they create. Either option works!20160406_170819
  7. Close the activity. This is now an excellent opportunity to discuss how our insides influence the outsides, and vice versa.


Happy creating!


*Examples shown are not client work.





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