I used various art therapy projects to help me recover from my mental illness and was grateful to have done them. Art therapy is one way of expressing yourself in a way that words cannot. These art therapy projects are all things you could do at home and discuss with your therapist afterwards. I hope they help you work on getting healthy.
1. Shoe Box
All you need for this art therapy project is a shoe box and various ways to decorate it. Design the outside with how you think people view you. For me, the outside of my box was full of quotes and candy wrappers, activities I did and pictures with friends. Then, you design the inside of the box based on how you feel, or the part of you that no one really sees. The inside of mine was rougher around the edges and not cute and fuzzy like the outside. The goal of this art therapy project is to notice the difference between who you present yourself as to the world and who you actually are. You can work with your therapist to make the two more synchronized so that who you present yourself as is authentic to who you actually are.
2. Trash Can
When it comes to the distortions and belittling thoughts that play on repeat in your mind, it’s important to trash them because they are not doing anything to help you grow as a person. Draw a trash can and start to write phrases, shapes or images that you want to get rid of. I struggled with an eating disorder so some of my phrases related to self-worth and weight. Whatever it is you struggle with, trash it. It can provide some release, especially for pent-up feelings.
3. Your Name
Struggling with a mental illness can make you feel like you don’t have an identity. I know for years I would identify myself more with my diagnosis and my situation than who I am and what I stand for. This art therapy project is rather simple. Design your name to reflect yourself. For example, you make the dot on your “i” a shamrock if you are Irish and are proud of that heritage. After you design your name for yourself, draw your name with a close friend in mind, tailoring the art to who they are. When I did this activity, I noticed the difference between my friend and I because the way both of the drawings came out, it was clear who was who. It’s a great way to notice what makes you special.
Do you feel like you are putting on a mask that keeps you from being your authentic self? I know I did. This art therapy project consists of decorating a mask to represent that face you put on to the world. My mask was matted in newspaper because I would always tell stories to distract people from what was really going on. What does your mask look like?
It’s taken me years of recovery to realize that I am not broken but a beautiful mosaic of experiences. Consider making a mosaic yourself. Whether you choose to do it to create a plate or coaster, keep in mind you can also do one on paper. Cut out construction paper and write what each piece stands for. You could make a mosaic using those and magazine quotes and pictures, what have you. The focus should be on who you are, what you stand for, who is rooting for you to stay strong and what you enjoy doing. These should be elements that piece together your life and strengthen your recovery.
6. Self-Care Box
Whether you struggle from an eating disorder, self-harm, depression or other mental illnesses, take the time to make a self-care box. This is something you can pull out when needed to help you release your feelings in a healthy way, redirect your behaviors to self-care not self-destruction and relax. Include tissues, hand lotion, a picture of a baby animal that will make you smile, quotes that inspire you, a list of distractions you can do, nail polish and anything else that works for you. Decorating the outside also makes it your own. The outside of my box reads “stay strong, stay beautiful, stay lovely.”
7. Visual Diary
If you have never been big into writing in a journal each night, I understand. It’s not for everyone. Have you ever considered making a visual diary? You can take a journal-size sketch book and each day draw whatever it is you want to express for that day. It’s a great way to express yourself through art if you can’t through words. Each page may vary from collages to markers to nail polish to actively ripping out the page. It’s your diary so do with it what you want. Let it be an outlet to express yourself.
Art therapy can help you recover from your mental illness when it seems like there are no words to describe how you feel. The key is to complete the activities and take the time to look back to reflect on them. How has art therapy affected your recovery?