Art Therapy Directive: Turning Anxiety into Calm
I had a client who suffered from severe anxiety attacks. My first intervention objective was to assist the client in learning and practicing self-soothing skills to alleviate their anxiety symptoms. Specifically, how to self-soothe in the midst of a debilitating anxiety attack.
As a Clinical Social Work Intern working with children and families, I have weekly consultation with a treatment team. One of my colleagues told me about the intervention I’ll be writing about today.
Therapy Type: Individual
- White computer paper, or other paper of the client’s choice
- Markers, colored pencils, crayons
- First things first: ask the client to rate their current anxiety on a scale of 1-10 (1 being completely calm, 10 being the most anxiety). Write this number down for your reference later.
- Give the client a piece of paper and direct them to crumble it up into a ball. Tell them to focus on releasing all of their anxiety into crumbling the paper into a ball.
- “Crumble this paper into a ball. Squeeze it as hard as you can. Picture your anxiety inside yourself. What’s it doing? Picture your anxiety moving to your shoulder…then down your arm…through your fingers and into the paper. Transfer all of your anxiety into that paper ball.”
- Bonus: Have the client practice deep breathing while crumbling the paper into a ball.
- When the client seems finished crumbling the paper, direct them to unfold it on the table. Flatten it out.
- “All of your anxiety is in this piece of paper.”
- Next, provide the client with markers, colored pencils, crayons, etc. and direct them to turn their anxiety into calm by tracing the lines and patterns of the crumbled paper.They can also color in the shapes they see or create a picture that they notice in the paper’s lines/shapes.
- Let the client do this until…
- they feel calm
- they appear considerably calmer
- they tell you their art is finished
- At the end, they have a visual representation of their ability to self-soothe during anxious distress. It can serve as a reminder that they are strong and able to deal with their anxiety.
- Close the session. Ask the client to rate their anxiety level on a scale of 1-10 (1 being completely calm, 10 being the most anxiety). Compare this rating with the initially reported rating from the start. Ask the client what it was like crumbling the paper and creating the art. Encourage the client to use this self-soothing skill outside of session to alleviate anxiety symptoms.
I’ve also used this intervention for clients who need a self-soothing skill for anger. Works so well!