Art Therapy

The earth is my home and she provides everything. I need her to be healed so I can thrive. I wonder if I can do something to help save the planet from pollution. Demeter (Da meter), my spirit guide, comes to answer my concern. She is a Greek goddess whose name means earth Mother (Downing, 2001). I can see her in my imagination. She is floating in a cosmic dark forest and carries the earth in her round pregnant belly.

I ask Demeter “Is the earth whole or broken?”

Figure 1. Earth Mother by Mitra Cline.
Figure 1. Earth Mother by Mitra Cline.

Demeter encourages me to study her life for answers because her story is about the renewal of earth’s fertility. In reading about her life, I learn that Demeter had a daughter, Persephone, and that they were inseparable. Their story is like a magical spell that transforms maidens into mothers and mothers into crones (Downing, 2001). The daughter, Persephone, tells me that all women, including me, are part of the earth’s fertility cycle and that it’s a whole complex sphere, just like the planet itself.

Persephone goes on to tell me, as the earth child, that she has a special role in the cycle of wholeness. The child represents our ability to synthesizes the conscious and unconscious parts of ourselves, she can connect opposing parts to make a whole (Chiaia, 2005). According to Roland, the psychologist Carl Jung used the term unconscious to describe “both mental contents inaccessible to the ego and a psychic arena with its own properties and functions” (Rowland, 2012, p. 203). “The ego is the centre of consciousness concerned with the sense of a personal identity, the maintenance of personality and the sense of continuity over time” (Rowland, 2012, p. 199).

In my imagination, I see the earth floating in space with one half of the planet experiencing the light of day and the other half asleep in the darkness of night. In my vision the earth is a lost and lonely child and, covered in flowers, she is also home to all life. This image of earth in space represents the nature of psychic wholeness to me. Out in space, I watch the child earth spin in silent darkness. I think about what it feels like to be unable to express my feelings or understand the deeper meaning of the environment around me. How can I know what the child earth needs if she cannot communicate to me?

Figure 2. Child Lost in Flowers

Sandplay therapy is a technique that gives children a way to communicate feelings. One therapist describes the experience of her special Sandplay room as, opening a door and going into a nonverbal room. She said the Sandplay room carries the essence of something ‘spiritual’ (Chiaia, 2005).

Sandplay therapy allows people to develop toward wholeness in a way that is unique for each person. The therapist provides the tools for self-healing and growth so that each individual can maximize their progress on the journey toward wholeness (Chiaia, 2005). To me, the stories of Persephone/Demeter/Hekate, also known as maiden/mother/crone, are inseparable and represent a pattern of growth/self-healing/wholeness. If I give a voice to my inner child, she can direct me how to grow, and, as I bravely progress to unite the opposing forces within, my inner mother can heal the wounded pieces.

When I think about my inner child, I think about playful exploration. I see a little girl running in fields, climbing trees, and colleting shells on the beach. She loves to decorate imaginary homes and organize objects. “Playing is part of the human life at all stages. The ability to play and imagine and be creative is our birthright” (Chiaia, 2005).

As I connect to my inner child, I see how much play helps me to overcome stagnant energy so I can feel more alive and excited about life. I like to connect with my playful inner child. I go outside because she likes to play in nature. I look for good spots to live because she likes to design living spaces. I collect stuff because she likes to organize things. I pick up books, magazines, and movies because she loves stories.

Connecting to the playful aspects of my inner child is not hard for me. I am a professional artist and entrepreneur, so being creative and organized is what I do all the time. However, I sense that there is something I am missing. I worry that I have abandoned my inner child in some way. I ask Demeter to help me reconnect with the lost and abandoned aspect of my inner child. She replies that ritual will help me find what I am looking for. Therefore, I researched the rituals associated with Demeter. I found that the rituals were associated with death, decay, sexuality, and fertility. They included sacrificing pigs in memory of Persephone’s rape. The rituals also included acts of obscenity and aggression in honor of Demeter’s grief and rage (Downing, 2001).

Once a pig was shot in front of me and then butchered for food. I remember my shock and confusion as I watched the rivers of blood steam in the cold morning air. I have experienced similar gut wrenching traumas, in silent grief and rage, as have many others, I know. I see how a ritualistic reenactment of trauma, in an obscene and aggressive fashion, could be an extremely healing way to reclaim personal power.

Figure 4. Demeter on her dragon byt Mitra Cline.
Figure 4. Demeter on her dragon byt Mitra Cline.

Perhaps my missing connection is not to the inner child but rather to the grieving and angry mother who needs to heal. I am unsure so I ask the earth mother if she can clarify things. She tells me Persephone’s name always had an ominous ring to it. She has been know since pre-Greek time as an underworld deity and is associated with death. (Downing, 2001).

I am reminded of a common idiom parents often say to their children, “You’re going to put me in an early grave!” Thinking about the underworld and the home for the dead is similar to trying to imagine the contents of my subconscious mind. I feel fear growing because it means I might access deeply embedded patterns and powerful emotions that, when they emerge, might destroy everything. Knowing that growth is a good thing does not change the fact that it takes courage. The ability to self-heal helps give me the confidence to continue on the seemingly endless journey toward wholeness.

I ask Persephone, goddess of the underworld, if I need to be afraid of the underworld. She tells me that in chaos and darkness there is light, some meaning, and a radiance that shines if space is created for expression and experience (Chiaia, 2005). I ask Persephone about her experience in the underworld but instead she suggests that I journey there myself. She tells me there are ancient traditions for safely exploring the darkness; she recommends I learn about art therapy.

In early societies and indigenous cultures, all healing takes place through ceremonial means. Music, dance, song, story-telling, mask-making, the creation of visual imagery, and the ritual re-enactment of myth are all components of a communal process in which suffering is given form. The healer, as shaman, medicine man, sorcerer, or witch doctor, joins with the community to find the form to contain and release the suffering of the one who is ill (Levine, 1997, p. 10).

I have lots of experience with various art techniques, and the idea of adding healing therapy into the mix is both new and exciting to me. I am intrigued by the notion that “art gives a voice to suffering” (Levine, 1997, p. 23). I am beginning to realize that what is special about art depicting suffering is that it gives a tangible form to unexpressed feelings that so they can be consciously understood. If I had a cut on my foot, you can bet that I would be addressing the cause of that suffering immediately. However, if I had no feeling in my foot then a little cut might kill me before I noticed it or was able to do anything about it.

In a very real sense, I need to practice creative expression in order to access information that is vital for my wellbeing. As a creature of earth, I am constantly self-healing; it is required as part of life. My body must overcome disease, harsh weather, and viral attacks every day. The conditions of the mind are not different.

Psychological suffering is intrinsic to the human condition; in this sense psychopathology is normal. The task of therapy is not to eliminate suffering but to give a voice to it, to find a form in which it can be expressed.

Expression is itself transformation; this is the message that art brings. The therapist then would be an artist of the soul, working with sufferers to enable them to find the proper container for their pain, the form in which it would be embodied (Levine, 1997, p. 15).

Demeter was not afraid to express her suffering when she lost Persephone. She even became so overcome with grief that she neglected and destroyed the earth.

“How could you let the earth die?” I ask Demeter. She tells me, “Creation involves both destruction and construction” (Chiaia, 2005).

I can relate to destruction in the creative process. Many of my drawings end up in the garbage before one painting ends up in a frame on the wall. The creative process is similar to the therapeutic healing process in this way. “Creation depends upon destruction, a willingness to give up a previous pattern and experiment with a new form. Letting-go, the experience of emptiness and the emergence of the new characterize the creative as well as the therapeutic processes” (Levine, 1997, p. 23).

I am beginning to grasp this concept of earth as a living sphere that includes patterns of creation, destruction, and mystery. By learning some of the healing techniques that therapists use, I am better able to take care of my community and myself. The care that I can offer others and myself includes being present and authentic.

Caring for clients will be demonstrated by a willingness to be there for them and to let the process happen without interference. Heidegger calls this ‘authentic care’, as opposed to the inauthentic kind, which is not willing to let others be but must leap in and correct their being. It is the therapist’s own fear of breaking down that prevents them from letting clients go through the experience of disintegration (Levine, 1997, p. 22).

I see the value of the role of artist in a new light. Until now, I have consciously focused on expressing positive emotions in my creative practice. I was unaware of the healing potential that expressed suffering could bring to others and myself. By expanding my artistic practice to include expressions of suffering, I can continue on my journey toward wholeness, growing and self-healing along the way.

That psychiatrists and other psychotherapists are now turning to the arts for therapeutic purposes indicates that we have reached the limits of scientific psychology. It also indicates that our culture as a whole is awakening from the dream of the Enlightenment, the fantasy of a world without fantasy, controllable by reason (Levine, 1997, p. 10).

Life demands courage to grow on the journey toward wholeness. In the process, I must communicate with mysterious others because “the healing power of art is lost as artists lose their connection with a living community” (Levine, 1997, p. 12). I need the power to heal because playing in the world brings a fair share of bumps and bruises, both mental and physical.


Chiaia, M. E. (2005). Sandplay in three voices: Images, relationships, the numinous (1st ed). [Kindle version]. Retrieved from New York: Routledge.

Downing, C. (Ed.). (2001). Long journey home: Revisioning the myth of Demeter and Persephone for our time. Boston: Shambhala.

Levine, S. K. (1997). Poiesis: The language of psychology and the speech of the soul (2nd ed.). London and Philadelphia Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Rowland, S. (2012). C.G. Jung in the humanities. Louisiana Spring Journal, Inc.

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