Lisa Mitchell

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Bring writing into an art therapy session and be amazed

Apr 20, 2017 | 1 comment

The combination of writing and art in a session is more powerful than either activity alone. 

I’m an art therapist, and I use art in therapy.  Art making is an experience that my clients rely on to make sense out of that which is not easily translated into words.  I “speak” art and teach my clients to do the same.  Art is powerful and so very transformative.  It’s what I’ve used as a healing modality for the last 20 years.

As a result of my writing adventure in Bali with Laura Davis, I realized how invaluable writing can be as a healing experience. The power of the written word is not unfamiliar to me.  I am faithful to my journal.  I sort through thoughts and new ideas with my keyboard.  I sometimes write letters to figure out what it is I truly want to say. Writing is important to my ability to understand and communicate.  But in Bali, I connected with the experience of writing in a new way.  Writing became, for me, another creative process that, when shared with others, is a vehicle for meaningful connection. 

Since I’ve returned from Bali, I’ve been inspired to bring writing into my work with clients.  What I’ve discovered is profound.   When I integrate writing into an art therapy session, my clients’ find that their creative expressions (both the writing and the art) have greater impact.  The writing solidifies the art.  The art informs and inspires the writing.  There is a reciprocal relationship between the expressive word and the non-verbal art.  It’s as if the writing voice allows those thoughts that can’t quite be uttered out loud to appear on the page. Which then paves the way for sharing those very quiet and personal thoughts to be shared.

I have also been incredibly moved by the writing and art integration my Artspace Therapists’ Group is doing.  The deepening that writing invites makes such a difference.  It’s like adding that all important bass line to a jazz piece.  The tune was great, but with the steady driving bass, it becomes rich and compelling.  Something really worth listening to.

Here are some ways to integrate writing and art into session:


Do you really SEE your clients? Or are you just LOOKing?

Mar 16, 2017 | 2 comments

“We do a lot of looking: We look through lenses, telescopes, televisions…Our looking is perfected every day—but we SEE less and less.  Never has it been more urgent to speak of SEEING.”  Frederick Franck

Frederick Franck wrote these lines in his handwritten book, The Zen of Seeing, dated 1973.  I have the page dog-eared and these words underlined.  They were important 4 decades ago and they are important now.

It turns out, there is a huge difference between LOOKING and SEEING.

Looking is for survival and coping.  It is a quick glance to assess the situation, to size up what’s in front of us.  It works for triage and fast decisions.  To figure out whether the stick on the trail is actually a snake or the stranger really only wants directions.  As we come to rely on our looking skills for these kinds of situations, we start to think looking can be used for all kinds of other situations.

We end up looking at art or people or clients and making fast decisions that rob us of the experience of SEEING.  We label good or bad and any other label we think fits.  And, sometimes, once we LOOK and LABEL, we stick to our conclusion like it’s fact rather than SEEING anew every single time.  When we SEE each time we encounter art or people or clients we have a chance to refine our ideas, our conclusions, and even our own sense of experience in the world.

If you are doing a lot of looking, you could be missing out.  Your clients might be missing out, too. Read More… »

3 Art Therapy Activities to Boost Resilience

Feb 21, 2017 | 3 comments

Art therapy activities that link a negative experience with a beneficial experience boost resilience and make it easier to recover from difficulties.  Here are three art therapy activities in a step-by-step video designed to provide this kind of helpful linkage experience.

I’ve had some fun being creative and coming up with new ways to use art in session to help clients use beneficial experiences to boost resilience (especially in relationship to painful or difficult experiences).  With the research that neuroscience provides, we now understand the importance of creating mismatch experience to assist clients in overcoming trauma.  We also understand the necessity of nurturing, enriching, and absorbing beneficial experiences so that our neuropathways are primed with good feeling options.

Here is the step-by-step video I made to demonstrate the three activities.  And, yes, I tried to use Dollar Store materials because I don’t think art and art therapy should require that we have a fully stocked studio!


My favorite art therapy activity yet! Growing the Good

Feb 8, 2017 | 13 comments

Combine art therapy, writing, and positive neuroplasticity and you get a wonderful art therapy activity that is particularly relevant for our time.

The stress and fear entering my office every day have increased exponentially.  The worry on my clients’ faces has tightened its grip.  The overwhelm I hear from the therapists I teach has reached an all-time high.  We are being inundated with negativity that has an intensity like I’ve never experienced in the 25 years I’ve been a therapist.  How to cope?  How to keep from going under?

Over here in my little corner of the world, I’m making every effort to Grow the Good.  After taking Rick Hanson’s Positive Neuroplasticity Training last year, I feel committed to the endeavor of finding ways to integrate his work with art therapy.  I used to dismiss positivity stuff—like it was some Pollyanna view and nothing more than a temporary band-aid that redirected thought in an unrealistic way.  Well, the neuroscience research that Rick Hanson presents is very compelling. And my clinical experience with Growing the Good has been profound.

I made a video of my most favorite art therapy activity that uses Positive Neuroplasticity concepts and adds in a good amount of embodied experience to ground the learning.  Read More… »

An art therapy invitation for Christmas

Dec 7, 2016 | 1 comment
Personalized Christmas Tree: Examine your rituals and traditions with a creative lens this year.

Personalized Christmas Tree Art Therapy Invitation

Holiday seasons are rough patches in the calendar for many clients and for us, as therapists, who want to be helpful in the most supportive way possible.  Hints on how to survive trigger laden family gatherings or lonely vacation days are important and often welcomed.  But in addition, I like to encourage my clients to treat the holiday season as an opportunity to re-examine patterns and rituals that the holiday season prescribes.

Holiday rituals can be uplifting, grounding, honoring, lifesaving.

They can also be constricting, devaluing, triggering, re-traumatizing.

Patterns and rituals shape so much of who we are and how we are doing.  Much of therapy is about changing patterns and rituals and the dance between how we act, what we do, and how we perceive ourselves.

From either side of the spectrum–positive to negative–approaching our rituals with creativity allows us to bring our unique perspective to the holidays.  If we just rubber stamp the traditions onto this year, we are just going through the motions.  If we blindly fulfill the expectations that TV ads and sparkling house lights bestow upon us, we aren’t putting our individualized interpretation into the whole experience.

The Christmas tree (whether or not your celebrate Christmas) can be a perfect symbol for these expectations and rituals.   Read More… »

Election Art: Beauty from the ruins

Nov 11, 2016 | 13 comments

Election Art 2: Beauty from the Ruins

In times of fear and uncertainty, before I coax myself to embrace the unknown, I go back to what I know for sure.  It’s always same three things: my basics–the things I am certain I can do no matter what.  On Tuesday, Election Day 2016, I found myself clinging to and then landing in these three things. It was good.  Very good.  I want to share them.  Perhaps they will inspire you and your clients.

In know I can teach.

I can teach people to squeeze hot glue onto buttons and sea glass and to use formerly meaningless objects to make something life affirming.  I can teach people to throw paint onto paper and create an experience of complete freedom.  I can teach people to mesmerize themselves with rhythmic knitting, their needles, yarn and hands becoming a relaxed collaboration.  I can even teach people to love themselves—though sometimes that takes a very long time.

I know I can love.

My love is a comforting constant. I love my clients, my pets, my friends, and my family. I love my coffee.  I can share my fierce heart easily because it is strong and real.  If it ever wavers, I can go out in nature and feel love the instant I look at tree bark or hear water flowing.

I know there is beauty in the ruins and I can always find it.

As therapists, we are highly trained for this type of activity. Every day, in every session, we must delve into another’s state of ruin—the failed marriages, the tragic deaths, the self-loathing and self-abuse, and the abyss of despair. We face it with our clients like archaeologists excavating a dig site.  With our compassion and love, we comb over every detail searching for the beauty.  We are a committed bunch, dogged in our search to find what we so passionately believe.  That there is beauty there—somewhere, under all of the shit and darkness.  Sometimes, all we have to do once we find it, is point to it.  “Look!  There’s beauty here in this tear falling from your cheek.  It’s a diamond. “ Read More… »

Use Your Imagination to Recover from a Ready Made World

Oct 6, 2016 | 12 comments

The power of imagination to overcome anxiety, grief, fear and other difficult emotions.

Custom Costumes Reinforce Imagination

It’s Halloween time and kids all over the country are deciding who they want to be for the special dress up night that comes around once year.  I’m a “Halloween Auntie” which means that I’m in charge of making my niece’s costumes every year.  I volunteered for this job after my kids stopped trick or treating and the demand for my sewing was no longer needed here in this household.  I love the sewing part.  But that’s not why I make Halloween costumes.  I also love seeing the kids all dressed up with their pillow cases sagging with the weight of their candy hauls.  But that’s not why I make Halloween costumes.

There’s a problem with pre-fab, bought-at-Target costumes.  They aren’t creative.  They aren’t personalized.  They don’t affirm the wearer’s imagination.  And they represent a factory made, cookie cutter, already-decided-for-you-image. Read More… »

Visual Journaling Idea #4 for Clarity and Inspiration

Aug 3, 2016 | 0 comments

idea-4 (1)

Each week, for a month, I’ve been sharing a visual journaling idea with you to try.  I hope you get inspired and start your own visual journaling pages.  May these ideas bring clarity and inspiration to the valuable work you do in the world.  Read about visual journaling and altered books in my first post:  Visual Journaling Page Idea #1.  Be sure to catch idea #2, here and idea #3, here.

Idea #4. What I Want to Say

I’m certain that you are the kind of therapist who chooses your words carefully.  If you are like me, you bring a refined filter to your conversation with clients.  You want your words to help, to benefit, to support your client in healing and growing.  I think this is a good thing.  I think it means we are conscientious and professional.  We weed out the extraneous threads that 50 minutes don’t allow us to verbalize.  We sift through the stories until we arrive on the one that most applies.  And, we pace our wording.  We make sure that what we say is ready to be heard. Read More… »

Visual Journaling Idea #3 for Clarity and Inspiration

Jul 27, 2016 | 0 comments


Each week, for a month, I’m sharing a visual journaling idea with you to try. I hope you get inspired and start your own visual journaling pages. May these ideas bring clarity and inspiration to the valuable work you do in the world. Read about visual journaling and altered books in my first post: Visual Journaling Page Idea #1. And, be sure to catch idea #2, here.

Idea #3. Who I Bring

We therapists work in isolation most of the time. We meet with our clients behind closed doors. We have our chairs, our supplies, and ourselves. While we make sure to collaborate with our clients, we are still all alone in our helper role. No one is around to tell us what to do. No one is around to guide us in the crucial moments of uncertainty. For the most part, I like it this way. There is a sense of peace and necessity about working with a client without the bombardment of multiple points of view. I feel my strong commitment to my clients in this stance—like it’s just us and we are together in the endeavor.

But, there are times when I crave input or strength or clarity. When this happens I make a mental note to bring the issue to consultation. But that only helps for future sessions. In that moment, when doubt creeps in, what do you do? How do you cope?

The psychotherapist and author, Nancy Napier has a wonderful solution. In those moments of difficulty, when she is flooded with uncertainty, she imagines ALL of the therapists throughout time supporting her from behind. She imagines the faces of therapists she admires. She calls up the founding fathers and mothers who have guided our field throughout history. She stacks their presences up and feels their collective wisdom supporting her to come into the moment and bring trust. When Nancy taught this at conference I was attending, I felt empowered. The imagery and the concept is grounding and validating. And, over the years, my own version has evolved. Read More… »

What They Said

Jul 20, 2016 | 0 comments


Clients can say the most eloquent things. Whether they are telling their stories or answering your probing questions, sometimes clients say profound and meaningful phrases. When you are listening for these phrases, your ear is a poet’s ear. You bring a level of presence and engagement that is different from simply listening for the purpose of understanding. When we capture our clients’ words we can learn things about them and ourselves. We up level our conversations as well as our insights.

I took a bunch of homeless teens to the river on a photography outing one Spring. We were looking for ideal settings to shoot self-portraits and one of the teens wanted to find a juxtaposition of fast running water with the solidity of a rock walled bank. We’d been trekking the trails for an hour or so and one of the teens exclaimed, “Spring is Opti-mystical!” and then, “They should make it mandatory that we all spend 18 minutes a day in nature!” A zing went through me when I heard him say that phrase. There was such truth and irony in his words. And his gratitude for our trip was not lost to me, either. I made a page spread to commemorate his wise suggestion. When I look at the page today, 5 years later, I still smile at the memory of that moment. Read More… »

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