The Power of Drawing
Drawing enables a child to express, in a visual form, worries and preoccupations from deep in the mind that they would not be able to talk about… ‘lf only you would just tell me what is wrong’… teachers and parents will say to children. Very often children just don’t know themselves, at a conscious level. The unconscious, deeper mind always knows though, it is all stored away. Drawings enable symbolic and safe expression of deep worries and feelings that may seem very dangerous to a child.
Expressing old hurts and present worries through drawing with someone who is receptive to the emotions being expressed in the pictures activates a powerful healing mechanism in the psyche. Through the combination of drawing and talking combined, the different sides of the brain can interact with each other. The left side can see in the picture what the right brain has been holding onto, unable to send over to the left for processing.
Over time, with an empathic adult giving the child attention and talking with them in a gentle, thoughtful and supportive way, the child can create a story through the pictures that sorts things out, a symbolic resolution (you can’t change what has happened but you can change how you think about it) that heals the old hurts and enables the child to move on. The process gives the child a feeling of control over events; through drawing they can make a different end to their story. When a child (or adult) has been overwhelmed by events and has felt totally powerless, it’s important for them to get back a sense of power in their lives. Then the old memory can be safely stored as something that happened in the past and is not still happening now, and can be forgotten if necessary.
STAGES IN DRAWINGS
The Initial Stage
A view of the child’s internal world.
In the first stage of the child’s drawings, usually the first to fourth sessions, the pictures give a view of the child’s internal world, often showing images that reflect a cause of his or her problems. The central themes may show devastation and disaster, cars crashing, earthquakes, volcanoes, fire, people trapped, or a monster. The pictures are sometimes fragmented and there will often be, seemingly, unrelated images on the page.
Reflection of feelings of hopelessness.
The themes of the first drawings often tend to reflect the overwhelming and incapacitating effect of the trauma on the child’s sense of competency and mastery. Helplessness, despair and loss of internal control are often depicted. There may be some rudimentary attempt on the part of the hero figure to try to escape destruction or to do something positive.
The Middle Stage
An expression of emotion in its pure form.
In this phase, usually the fourth to eighth sessions, it is as if certain painful feelings are separated out from other feelings and expressed in pure form. Rage, sadness, and fear are depicted in symbolic form, often included in some sort of conflict.
A struggle with ambivalent feelings.
At this stage, drawings often depict a struggle between opposites, between good and bad, between positive and negative forces. The child appears as both the hero and the villain.
Images of mastery, self-control and worth.
Once the deeper feelings and pain have been expressed symbolically and/or shared verbally, there tends to be a rapid movement towards a resolution. The drawings now begin to reflect feelings of competency and coping. Images are ‘ back to normal’. There may be images of control towers, switches and machines. Things seem, somehow ordered.
The emergence of positive images.
There are no wars or explosions and fewer conflicts now. The sun is often shining and the people are smiling and peaceful. Humorous images will often be depicted at this stage. There will often, at this final stage, be a central self symbol or self-portrait. Often these drawings are protected by a frame or border. There is, too, the emergence of mandala forms such as a square, circle or triangle around the central image. These drawings reflect the internalisation of positive images and the re-connection to inner archetypes.