As an Board Certified Art Therapist and Professional Counselor who works with patients with eating issues, Lauren Stern found that the word “trapped” kept emerging in the notes she took after sessions. “I realized that being on a quest to be ‘pin thin or extremely slender’ was what they kept referring to.” This observation led Lauren to many more, enough to develop an idea for a book.
It wasn’t a book like many others, however. The Slender Trap is a unique workbook that offers people who use it an opportunity to use expressive arts to connect to their own feelings about their bodies, and to begin to transform them. The book is packed full of clever illustrations and inspiring prompts to dig deeper and discover how to find peace with your body.
I recently had the opportunity to get to know more about Lauren and her approach (for more about her, check out the end of the post). To learn how art can lead to better body image, read on.
How does art therapy help?
For many, art therapy is a non-threatening form of communication. It tends to get to the meat of what’s wrong. Most individuals are much less practiced when expressing themselves creatively as opposed to verbally. Self -expression through creativity tends to be a more spontaneous form of communication. Examining what we’ve created helps us gain deeper insight and understanding into our inner selves. Many patients are surprised to see what unfolds on paper. Once we put words to what we’ve created everything seems to make sense. It’s truly like magic!
What if you’re not a creative person? Can it still be effective?
Actually not being creative is usually an advantage in art therapy. There is no judgment or skill needed to use art therapeutically. We are not looking for juried art that will be hung in a museum, but instead art that expresses the inner soul. We are trying to help those creating to say what they sometimes cannot say in words.
How can someone get started in using art as a means of expressing their feelings if they’ve never done so before?
With a trained art therapist a patient will be encouraged to express their feelings through different exercises. The skilled therapist can work with the information that they know about the patient to help him or her discover their own innermost feelings. Although many patients have not expressed themselves creatively in a long time, doing so can be very liberating and enlightening.
How might you help someone who feels totally disconnected from his or her own body?
Typically I will offer and encourage art media that allows one to “loosen up” and has more sensory properties. For example, a patient might finger paint to gain a more emotional response. Another may be encouraged to use clay, which is messy and more feeling-oriented. Clay also has the unique properties in that it allows one to control what may feel out of control in the molding process. This is healing for patients with body image issues. Pastels also encourage more body motion and blending of colors enabling one to experience the self and the body as they work.
How are tapping into one’s creative side and body image connected?
Body sensations and body image seem to be very primitive and are easily described and expressed through creative exercises. For example, when a girl or woman is asked to paint, mold, or draw a self-
portrait, most often she discover how she feels about her own body very quickly. Sometimes she is surprised at what she discover. Usually she has no idea when shegets started, but only can say that she “is fat or feels fat” Most often, individuals with body image disturbance become extremely critical and hateful of their own bodies. The self-portrait, or a body tracing gives those unhappy girls and women a way to talk about their bodies in a much deeper way.
Dear Reader, how have you used creative expression in developing a healthier sense of self?
Lauren Lazar Stern, MA, ATR-BC, LPC is an art psychotherapist and licensed professional counselor who has maintained an active private practice specializing in treating girls and women with eating disorders for over 30 years. As part of her art therapy graduate training at Hahnemann, she was specially selected for an internship with Anna Freud at the Hampstead Child Therapy Clinic in London in 1979. She has lectured nationally on the use of creative arts in therapy with eating-disordered women, as well as other aspects of the utilization of art and writing in therapeutic practice.. Her new book, The SlenderTrap: A food and body workbook was published in October, 2010. She is also a certified EMDR practitioner and uses this method coupled with art therapy to treat patients suffering from eating disorders. Lauren is a member of the AATA, the Pittsburgh Education and Arts in Therapy Association, the National Eating Disorders Association and EMDRIA.