Art As Therapy

Contributor: Emily Sabbagh, HealingStrong Team

Art can be an extremely powerful tool for healing. Can you recall a time when you laid eyes on a beautiful painting, a stunning photograph or even felt artistically inspired when you saw someone’s handwriting? Even if you don’t consider yourself to be artistically inclined, we and all of creation were made to reflect the beauty and creativity of our Maker. Scripture tells us in Psalm 139:14 that we are, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Our bodies, souls and spirits shout that there is a Creator, a Master Artist, who has created us to be image bearers of beautiful things and we each accomplish this in our own wonderfully unique way.

It can be SO easy to dismiss the idea of “art” because if you’re like me your first thought probably sounds something like this; “I’m not very creative and I certainly cannot draw, paint or sculpt, therefore I am not artistic.” Similar to our previous lesson on Music as Therapy, art therapy is more than what is sounds like on the surface. Even our innocent doodles can reveal a deeper understanding of what we may be battling on the inside and it can open up new ways for us to see ourselves and overcome our insecurities and fears in ways that are more approachable than talking through it out-loud with a friend or professional counselor.

I (Emily) had an incredible experience with art therapy. My dear friend who has been practicing art therapy for 5 years sat down with me and gave me a simple prompt and explained that after the prompt was given, she would repeat it but not expand on it whatsoever. I agreed to the exercise and she gave the following instruction; “Draw your family doing something.” After listening to her, my thought pattern went something like this…

-Oh no, I don’t know how to draw…
-My family doing something? I can’t think of anything we all like to do…
-How many family members do I include?
-I really cannot draw…this is embarrassing.
-I don’t know where to start.

After admitting a few of these spiraling thoughts, she simply gave me the prompt again and encouraged me not to overthink it. After a few minutes, I gave her a scribbled picture. Instead of trying to draw people, my brain directed me to use a metaphor instead and I chose to draw my family as elements of nature (trees, flowers, a root system, clouds, a lightening bolt).

Here’s where things got really interesting…

My friend led me through a series of different questions inquiring about each of the elements I had drawn and which family members they represented. I started to realize that this simple doodle had just revealed a great deal of information regarding the way I see myself as it relates to the members of my family. Some of the discussion looked like this:

Friend: “Why did you draw your brother on the ground but you in the sky?”
Me: “I guess because he’s established as an adult, which to me means he’s secure and grounded. But I’m still figuring things out, so I put myself floating in the sky, not grounded.”

If you had asked me, “Emily, do you feel inferior to your brother?” my answer would likely be no. Yet this innocent display of my subconscious told me a different story. As I answered each question as honestly as I could, I sat back in amazement that this simple, imperfect picture had pulled thoughts and emotions out of me that I never realized were there to begin with and revealed root causes of my insecurities in a way that a simple question could not have led me to.

This experience taught me some really important things:

  1. We consistently limit ourselves by stunting the creativity in us that is God given. Yes, I could have drawn stick figures because after all, the prompt said to draw family and that means humans. But that’s the wonderful thing about art that draws us in and deeply moves us. It expresses real life experiences and emotions without using avenues that our brain has already learned and categorized. It brings to the surface thoughts and feelings that maybe we’ve been unable to process because we haven’t had the creative freedom to do so.
  2. Art is more expansive than just knowing how to sing, dance, draw, paint, sculpt, sew, cook or write. Art was with us from the very beginning of creation. God is the author of all creation and if we are made in His image, then we too are artists. The practice of art is saying “yes” to the things that are already inside of us and to the person that we were created to be – image bearers of our Creator, Christ Jesus.


In our HealingStrong at Home curriculum, we have several, really amazing exercises to lead you through art therapy exercises, either on our own or with some loved ones (or your HealingStrong Group!) Below is an exercise called “Zentangles” written by Art Therapist, Catherine Adams.





This Week’s Podcast Episode:
A Miraculous Intervention:
An Unlikely Intersection of Eternal Significance

Carol Robles, an attorney from NYC, was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer that resulted from her exposure to dangerous toxins at Ground Zero following 9/11. Cecilia Defoe, a former educator, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of esophageal cancer at age 51. Carol and Cecilia met at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in July 2017 during their hospital stay, in which they shared the same room as well as surgeon. Their encounter was not coincidental, but rather predestined by God. After sharing a near death experience together on the third night, they have been sisters in Christ ever since. Carol and Cecilia credit the Holy Spirit’s intervention that night for Carol’s subsequent recovery, as well as the miraculous healing that Cecelia experienced. Their powerful story is a testimony of God’s supernatural intervention, healing grace, and mercy.



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One Response

  1. These brief stories from real life are very encouraging. I am not sick now but my husband is. Can husbands and wives join healing strong together?

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