Taking off the Mask – A Mixed-Media Expressive Arts Project
Sarai Hinkley, Residential Counselor
Mask making is one of my favorite times of year at Spruce Mountain Inn. The leaves are just beginning to change and as an Expressive Art Therapist, I will guide my clients through the process of making masks again this fall. It is an opportunity to non-verbally explore the “shadow side” that is talked about so much in Jungian Psychology, as well as to decorate for Halloween.
Clients will take turns placing plaster strips along the contours of each other’s faces, interacting and taking great care of their partners, hopefully developing some kind of trust in one and other. Mask-making is an unusual experience for most. Some people find it comforting; others find it scary to close their eyes. Once the material dries and the mask is removed, the client is free to exaggerate their own features until it becomes something unique and entirely “other worldly”. Some choose to extend the nose, add big ears or horns. Self-expression happens in the choices they make, in adding feathers, colorful leaves, beads or sparkles. My aim is to engage depressed and anxious clients with their own creative process, to try new mediums, to step outside of the comfort zone of talk therapy and to explore their inner world in more abstract way.
Expressive art therapy can help clients to gain patience for their own creative process, as well as compassion for themselves. Getting stuck in doubt and self-criticism is a common theme in the art room, but this very struggle is a vital part of the creative process. I watch some clients worry about wanting to make a perfect picture, with not feeling like a good enough of an artist, sometimes storming out of the room in frustration. I am constantly challenging clients to persevere, to not give up on their ideas and to work through their blocks because I have seen growth and joy on the other side.
Those rare folks who can dive right in and become fully absorbed in art-making often offer a tremendous amount of support to those who don’t realize yet that they can be artists. There is an invaluable, creative community that grows strong here over time. Peers support each other to get into the zone of making things with their hands, taking risks, bouncing ideas off one and other, sometimes glancing across the room for inspiration and taking laughing breaks. New clients do not always realize one of the main goals of art-making here is simply to have fun. There is no right or wrong way of making art. Clients are encouraged to play and to let go of their worries for a brief moment in the art room. This process of art-making is therapeutic in itself, encouraging clients to get out of their heads and share what is in their hearts.