Art Therapy Directive: In Your Shoes

Art Therapy Directive: In Your Shoes

“Empathy is the art of seeing the world as someone else sees it. When you have empathy, it means you can understand what a person is feeling in a given moment, and understand why other people’s actions made sense to them.” Source

Recently, I was co-facilitating a family therapy session with two clients. One client shared their experience a a bullying victim, and the other was having a difficult time empathizing. And vice versa, except about a different experience. In short, both clients were having a difficult time empathizing with the other. One of my colleagues introduced a “walk in my shoes” activity to me. I loved the idea so much that I altered it to include art (naturally).


Therapy Type: Family (I could also see this being a great group activity)

Learning Objectives

  • Explore ways and learn how to offer empathy towards others.
  • Strengthen relationships with others to improve social and interpersonal daily functioning.

Materials Needed

  • Printable shoe handout (I use this one: BlankShoeTemplate)
  • Markers, colored pencils, crayons


    1. I like to introduce the activity by giving them this quote to discuss:
      • YWQvaR7ZDFaqdrAFEXhnUGV6GrXhZIV9EtDbizvh7v5M1AZrxgVFKEbSAUps3Z94
      • “What do you think about this quote? What comes up for you?”
      • “Can you think of a time when someone did not ‘take a walk in  your shoes’? How did it make you feel when that happened?”
    2. After brief discussion of the quote and initial thoughts, provide the BlankShoeTemplate (or other blank shoe template of your choice) to each client. Tell them  you’ll be giving them twenty minutes or so to decorate their individual shoe.
        • “This is your shoe. Take this time to decorate your shoe to represent your life.”
        • “Think about what it’s like walking in your shoes. What can you draw or design to represent that?”
        • “On a typical day, what do you see? What do you hear? What feelings do you feel the most? Translate your typical day experience to this shoe.”



    3. I give at least twenty minutes so the clients have enough creative process time. You can chose to let the clients chat, have music playing in the background, etc…but I prefer to let the clients create their individual shoes in silence. I’ve found it can be more beneficial for silent work so as to reduce distraction or diversion from their creative processes.
    4. Once time is up, direct the clients to exchange shoes. I don’t have them explain what they created because of this next step.
    5. Have each client view the shoe and explain what they see and what they think it would be like to walk in those shoes. Don’t let the other person affirm or deny the explanations; they will get a chance to explain their process next.image“Tell me what you see in this shoe. Based on what you see, what do you think it’d be like to walk in these shoes for a day? Why do you think that?”
    6. After each client explains what they see, this is the part where each client practices communicating with each other using “I” statements.
      • “Tell [the other client] what your shoe means.”
      • Direct them to try using the following format when applicable:
        • “I feel __________ when ___________ because _____________.”
    7. Once each client has explained what their individual shoes mean, it’s time for the clients to practice empathy skills through communication. (I found this awesome article about empathic communication; it is a great tool and worth the read!) This article brings up some great points about empathic communication and listening you can bring up to your clients.
      • Direct each client to face each other. Each client takes a turn practicing communicating the meaning behind their created shoe. When one client is talking, the other client needs to practice empathic listening. Those skills are:
        • Paying attention to what is being said
        • Making eye contact
        • No interrupting
        • No giving advice, just listening
        • The goal: having the intention to connect with the other person.
      • “Tell [the other client] what your shoe means.”
      • Direct them to practice using the following format when applicable:
        • “I feel __________ when ___________ because _____________.”
        • “I need ____________.”
      • When a client shares what they need, have the other client respond with this format:
        • “I hear you saying __________ and that you need ____________.”
    8. Close the session.
      • “What was this activity like for you? What emotions came up for you? Thoughts?”
      • “How did it feel walking in [the other client’s] shoes?”
      • “How did it feel when [the other client] was being empathetic towards you?”
      • “How did it feel when you were practicing being empathetic to [the other client]?”
      • “In what ways can you bring what you learned to your typical day and/or life?”


So go on, go take a walk in someone else’s shoes!


*Art shown is not client work.


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