Art Therapy Directive: Torn Paper Art
I had a client who was a perfectionist when it came to their art creation. Their perfectionism became a barrier to their creative process. I stumbled across this post while exploring Pinterest and was inspired to adapt the technique for my own intervention.
But first, let’s talk perfectionism and anxiety.
It’s not a bad thing to have high standards for ourselves. Striving for those goals we set for ourselves can demonstrate good work ethic or strong character. When do these goals and high standards become debilitating?
Perfectionism is the tendency to set standards that are so high that 1.) they can’t be met, or 2.) they are met with great difficulty. Perfectionists might believe that anything short of perfection is horrible–a character flaw, a failure, a disappointment. Making a mistake can lead to catastrophe.
Many folks know that making mistakes is a natural part of life and that this does not make them a failure or disappointment. Folks who are perfectionists tend to believe that making mistakes (not meeting their high expectations) means they are a failure or disappointment. Approaching life with this mindset can be scary and anxiety-inducing for a perfectionist. Over time, a perfectionist may start to believe they aren’t as capable as others.
This art activity involves loosening those high standards we set for ourselves and practicing self-compassion.
Therapy Type: Individual
- Various colors of construction paper
- Glue stick
- Coloring page
- Choose a coloring page that has less details. Here are some templates I’ve used:
- Provide the client with the selected coloring page. (You can provide many so they can choose the one they want.) Tell them they are going to color in the picture using only color construction paper. The catch? No scissors allowed. This means the client colors in the picture by tearing the construction paper.
- The client may become distressed (my client sure did!). Explore that distress. Ask them why they feel anxious about the activity. Their answer will likely include something along the lines of: “I can’t make it perfect without the scissors.” Encourage them to try practicing creating art without the ultimate goal of the “perfect picture.”
- Direct the client to pay attention to their thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations during the creative process.
- Thoughts: what specific phrases are they thinking about?
- Feelings: what feelings are coming up for them?
- Physical sensations: any somatic symptoms?
- Direct the client to create in silence.
- Observe the client as they create.
- Notice their body responses. Are they fidgeting, sweating, etc.?
- Pay attention to their process. How is the client approaching tearing the paper? Does it seem difficult? Easy?
- Notice their affect. What mood do they seem to be in? Does this change over time?
- When the client is finished creating, reflect on the process.
- “What was it like for you to do this activity?”
- “Any specific thoughts that came up?”
- “What feelings came up for you during this activity?”
- “Did you notice any physical sensations?”
- Provide CBT psychoeducation to the client about perfectionism and its effects on daily life functioning. (taken from this source)
- Perfectionistic feelings include anxiety, anger, depression, frustration.
- Perfectionistic thinking
- Black-and-white thinking
- Catastrophic thinking
- Probability estimation
- Should statements
- Perfectionistic behavior
- procrastination, difficulty completing tasks, giving up easily
- overly cautious in tasks
- constantly trying to improve things by re-doing them
- apologizing over small details
- elaborate to-do lists
- avoiding trying new things
- Begin to practice changing perfectionistic thinking through the self-compassion. Replacing self-critical thoughts with self-compassionate statements is an excellent tool for changing perfectionistic thinking.
- Write down one thought the client reported from earlier that was self-critical.
- e.g. “I felt like the picture wasn’t going to be good enough.”
- Direct the client to change the thought to a more self-compassionate thought. This can be difficult for clients to do, so I usually ask them what they would say to a friend who said the self-critical thought.
- e.g. “Nobody is perfect!” “All I can do is my best!”
- Close the session.
Optional: instead of using a coloring page template, the client can create a picture of their choice using only torn paper.
*Images shown are not client work.