Healing Through Writing and Drawing
I discovered the healing power of journaling while struggling with a life-threatening illness in 1973. I was in my mid-thirties and had a mysterious condition which the doctors could not correctly diagnose or treat. I was in a downward spiral of side effects from medications. Severe fatigue and pain had forced me to be bed-ridden for several weeks. My double career as an artist and early childhood specialist who taught and did consulting, came to a screeching halt. A soul's journey was launched along with my physical healing which led to a new career in art therapy.
Sitting in a sick bed, my refuge became a sketch pad which soon transformed into a visual journal. The drawings in my journal/sketchbook looked nothing like the work I'd done as artist. What tumbled out on the page were primitive, unschooled scribbles, doodles and strangely surreal drawings showing no sign of the skill or style I'd developed as a professional. It was like writing in a foreign tongue. I was alarmed, but curious and compelled to continue. My inner world of feelings was bursting forth on paper. Without realizing there was such a thing, I had discovered both the power of journaling and Art Therapy. I was inadvertently doing what clients do in Art Therapy sessions: drawing from the unconscious, expressing feelings visually, speaking the language of symbols, learning the the soul's mother tongue. And I was giving the images from my inner self a "voice" through writing.
My crude and child-like drawings allowed me to release the turmoil of the previous five years: my father's mental illness, my parent's separation, my own divorce and ending of a business partnership with my husband, single parenting two young daughters, many changes of residence and jobs. My world had fallen apart. And now, so had my body. Yet these drawings and writings of feelings and dreams were giving me comfort and relief.
As I continued with my visual journal, I began to feel better, both physically and emotionally. When the pictures themselves spoke through written words it sounded like a child's voice - a child who had been long buried. It was my "feeling self." Then a huge burst of creativity emerged. Free-wheeling explosions of color and poetic words meandered across the page, followed by images of an inner wisdom figure who "spoke" comfortingly through writing that sounded like Sacred Scripture. This Inner Wisdom voice guided me each step of the way and led me to seek help from others I trusted. I was referred to a holistic body worker and also a therapist who encouraged my journal keeping. She also invited me to do some writing with my non-dominant hand to access my inner child. My body began to heal and within a few weeks I was on the road to full health.
Within three months I had recovered fully and within two years became an art therapist, developing what I called The Creative Journal Method, a self-help tool for experiencing the healing power of art and writing. As soon as I opened my art therapy practice in 1976, I began teaching Creative Journal classes at the YWCA in Santa Monica, CA, where I lived. Since art therapists invite clients to verbalize the spontaneous art they do in a session, this journal approach allowed my students and clients to experience the healing power of art and verbalization on their own. Many readers who have used the structured exercises in my book, The Creative Journal, have gone on to seek art therapy with a professional or have actually entered the field themselves. Others have simply embraced their Creative Journal as a life long companion on the journey.
Another distinctive characteristic of the Creative Journal Method is a technique which I originated using the non-dominant hand to draw and write, tapping more fully into the right brain and accessing body sensations, emotions, intuition, artistic sensibilities, inner wisdom. I also developed the method of writing dialogues between the two hands. The non-dominant hand speaks for the inner child, the body, the emotions, the inner wisdom self, "other" people, and anything that is "disowned" within us. Feelings, wishes, dreams, etc. The dominant hand speaks for the aware ego self and also the Inner Critic. My book, The Power of Your Other Hand, documents my research in this field, especially as it relates to the science of the human brain. The book also contains many journal activities for exploring the wisdom buried inside the body, emotions, relationships, the inner child and our own higher power. A later publication of mine, Recovery of Your Inner Child, takes the reader on an in depth journey of reparenting the self through journal drawing and writing with both hands.
Through images, pictures of dreams, and collage vision boards of a desired future, spontaneous art and writing from the heart can guide and heal us in all areas of life. My book, Visioning: Ten Steps to Designing the Life of Your Dreams weds the art of Visioning® collage boards with journaling for insight and breaking though blocks.
A simple way to get started with The Creative Journal Method is simply to draw how you feel right now in your journal (with felt pens for crayons) using your non-dominant hand. That's the hand you don't normally write with. Afterward, let the drawing "speak" by writing what it would say, using your non-dominant hand again. You can print or write in cursive. Then switch to the dominant hand, and write down your observations about the "feelings" drawing and writing process. A journal measuring 8 1/2 X 11 inches with unlined paper is optimal for drawing and writing, especially non-dominant hand writing, as it tends to be much larger and child-like.
The benefits of journaling are immense: emotional release, introspection, insight, creative expression, and writing and art as a spiritual practice. The Creative Journal has given me all that and more. It has led countless others to find the buried treasure within. No talent or training in art or writing are necessary for Creative Journaling, only the desire to discover the voice of inner wisdom and creativity.