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At the end of last week, I attended a wonderful conference in New York City, The Expressive Therapies Summit. My weekend was full of learning and discovery. As I began my usual explanation about art and expressive therapy, he shot questions at me left and right, cutting me off before I could finish my sentences.
Behind every question was a supposition, another question, and a challenge. How does this work?
One of the anecdotes I told him in order to help explain the work was a visualization and drawing technique I often do with clients.
You suggest to the client that they imagine that whatever they need to help them with their problem is going to appear on their mental screen. They should spend time with the image, noting its color, texture, weight, scent, taste, and any emotional response they feel while looking at it. Next, the client creates a drawing of the visualization, and then writes descriptively about the image through the five senses, their emotional response, and any other commentary about the experience. When I personally did the exercise the first time, what popped up on my mental screen was a peach.
I began telling my seat mate how a juicy peach helped me to see that I wasn’t fully appreciating how rich, or “juicy” the work was already.
However, it seems to me that the peach popped up because of the particular lessons I needed in that moment, that an apple, or a tree, or a dump truck could not have pointed out to me. When a peach is truly ripe, you bite it, and the sticky juice runs down your chin, over your fingers, and down your arm. The peach taught me to be delicate with my expectations on myself and to handle the work with care. The peach taught me that trying too hard would mean missing the delicate beauty and perfection right in front of me. An apple likely could have taught me some very valuable lessons, but for a different problem.
Metaphor is one of the most powerful tools in expressive therapy, and the one that ties all of the expressive arts together. Whether like my engineer seat mate, you respond to scientific explanations of how metaphor helps to engage more centers in the brain than talking alone, or you respond to a more artistic explanation of how metaphor has helped human kind understand and make meaning of our experiences for all of recorded history, you cannot but recognize the power of metaphor.
It turns out my seat mate is part of a team of researchers at MIT creating an emulsion that, when applied to surfaces, will allow things to release and slide easily off the surface. While science has done a lot to illuminate the parts of us that are chemical, electric, and mechanical, it doesn’t understand the soul. As I attended various sessions on drama therapy, phototherapy, art therapy, and dance therapy at the summit, I was struck by how central metaphor is in every single approach.
Josie Abbernate talked about the importance of clients and therapists seeing the metaphors in their clients’ stories, and how she sees them throughout her own life. Every time her car breaks down, she asks the mechanic to tell her very specifically what is wrong with it. This may be slightly hard to imagine, but my Dance Therapy instructor at the conference, Kathleen Rea, gave us a powerful exercise. Once my partner and I positioned the pen between our two index fingers, I quietly focused, listening for the shift in mood that would tell me what to do next.
Despite my verbal and non-verbal cues to slow down, it seemed my partner needed to move fast while I needed to move slowly.
Watching the wonder on their face, a smile half spread, eyes closed, and so attuned, so aware – it was full of beauty. When it was my turn, I closed my eyes without hesitation, and noted how carefully my partners responded to my every move, following me up, down, a little forward, back. You can imagine how a therapist could use this exercise to help a client look at her dynamics in relationships with others. Metaphor can create distance, which makes working on our issues so much less scary and overwhelming, and more fun. Doesn’t expressive therapy sound like an amazing way to explore yourself, grow, change old habits, and find more meaning in your life?
If you are looking to learn more about yourself, grow past trauma, transcend anxiety and depression, or you are just sick of traditional therapy, expressive therapy might be for you.
You can find a local art or expressive therapist through this directory, or you can call me to explore how I might help you. I sent a message to Rachel Brandoff, who is a wonderful art therapist and co-organizer of the summit with Barry Cohen with your question about CDs or DVDs.


This is my second year going, and both years I have been so impressed with how much folks have to share of value. It is exciting to hear what is happening in the States and the link between our creativity and souls bypasses the distance between us. This information is not a substitute for professional psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. I invented these Power Bites for my book Practically Green: Your Guide to EcoFriendly Decision-Making. These little energy boosting bites come in handy for everything from a mid-morning snack to a pre-workout boost to something to tide us over on a long car ride. The recipe in the book (see excerpt below) has three variations but I bet you could think of a few more.
Power Bites  have only 4 ingredients – dates, some type of nuts, either another dried fruit or chocolate, and some type of flavoring or spice. What I love about the dates is that they are naturally sweet – so there’s no need to add any other sweetener! I believe that anyone can create a flexible, healthy lifestyle that will allow their family to thrive without a ton of stress!
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Do you have a green brand, eco-friendly product, sustainable service or social cause to promote? Most people believe that waiting is a waste of time and it’s best to fill that time with something…anything.
Underneath the subtle yet intolerable experience of waiting is a little anxious gremlin that fears being alone. Surprisingly though, one of the best teachers I met wasn’t at the summit, but sitting across from me on the train. Given that I was thinking about a work problem, I wasn’t immediately sure what it meant, but decided to trust it as instructed. Before I could go on about my peach metaphor, he cut me off, noting that had an apple popped up,  either juicy fruit would have helped me equally, and therefore the image may be less relevant than your ability to extract metaphoric meaning. Your fingers are greeted by a soft, delicate skin that is covered with a nearly transparent fuzz. It taught me to pause long enough to appreciate it’s textures and nuance, it’s sweetness, and to drink the juice in each moment before drawing my conclusions.
I knew this, but looking at it through the lens of my conversation with this man crystalized it for me. She listens very carefully and asks questions until she really understands it, and then extracts the metaphors so that she can apply them to her life. She asked us to get together with a partner and balance a pen on our index finger, with the partner touching the opposite end of the pen with their index finger.
Before I had a chance to sense anything, I was working frantically to keep up, moving quickly around the room, here and there, up high, over the teacher’s head, to the left, the right, and in circles again and again.
This time, in groups of three, we were to keep two pens aloft, with the person in the middle holding one pen on each index finger, and collaborating with her two partners. I wished that I could catch the eye of the other partner, to share even more in this amazing experience. In the first example, if the client felt  “dizzy and unheard,” does she find this reflects how she feels in her relationships? Instead of talking about feeling pushed around, unheard, and used, she and the therapist have a physical experience of playing out this dynamic, and they can experiment with changing it.
I did a phototherapy, art therapy myth and metaphor, a drama therapy, and a dance therapy workshop and they were all stellar. What a clear and meaningful description of the power of metaphor and how we us it in expressive arts therapy. I’m so pleased to have you here, and thank you kindly for taking the time to read and comment. I agree, it was wild for me to hear the extent to which the one instructor took metaphor in her life – listening for the metaphors in her car.
An affiliate link means that I receive commission on sales of the products that are linked to in my posts if you click on them from my site. Just blend all ingredients together in a food processor or blender until everything is a small crumb size.
The Cherry Almond ones are crazy good and the Coconut Cashew version (pictured here) are a perfect no-sugar sweet treat!


Micaela is available as a social media manager, green lifestyle writer, public speaker, brand ambassador and marketing manager.
And get my FREE Non-Toxic Stain Removal Guide when you sign up for my mailing list!YOUR EMAIL:Worry not! I will never sell your email address!Want adaptable strategies for healthy living?Join Mindful Momma to get the practical info you need - without the guilt. Whether we’re in line at a the grocery story, waiting at a doctor’s office, or sitting at a stoplight, the brain seems to be cued to fill that space. In fact, the secret to a sense of personal control, general satisfaction with life, and even success lies in learning how to make peace with waiting. This gremlin is operating on old software that says if you’re alone that means you’re not being protected by your clan and it’s a threat to your safety. Studies are clear that lacking a sense of control is associated with negative stress, anxiety, and depression.
In those moments, instead of grabbing something to fill the space, you recognized it as an opportunity to be okay with just waiting. If you practice and repeat this, you’re going to start taking back control of your mind and being more at ease.
You can do this while waiting for the bread to toast, waiting for someone to get out of the shower, waiting for a certain report at work, waiting for the screen to load, waiting for your partner to clean the dishes, waiting on hold on the phone, or even while waiting for your newborn to settle down as you’re doing your best as a parent to soothe your baby. He is author of Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion (Atria Books, 2015), The Now Effect (Atria Books, 2012), Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler (Atria Books, 2013), and co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook (New Harbinger, 2010).
Beginning with their attention on their breath, you guide them to a state of calm and inward focus. Our ability to open the imagination, experience something new, and consider how any metaphor could apply is a very important element of this exercise.
It is your particular metaphor, informed by your life experiences, feelings, and worldview.
While it isn’t the same as being there, I would bet that there would indeed be some very worthwhile talks.
Given how inspired I was at the conference, I’m so glad that I could bring a small piece of that to you. Never disregard professional medical or psychological advice or delay seeking treatment because of something you find here. But whether you are looking to manage the ingredients or save on costs, sometimes making your own is a good option. With an MBA in Marketing and a passion for engaging customers with brands, I would love to help you tell the story of your brand to the world!
Nowadays, many of us pull out our phones and begin sifting through various messages, reading over documents, or surfing the web.
In those small moments of waiting, the gremlin takes the controls of your brain and reaches for something to “be with” so you’re not alone anymore.
As you notice the waiting, relax your body, recognize you’re safe, and just be curious about the experience of waiting. Next you invite them to imagine that they have their own “mental screen” upon which images can appear. Indeed, had a dump truck come on my screen, I certainly could have extracted useful metaphors and lessons. We are excellent at hiding from our feelings and ourselves in language, but we are not so adept at doing so when express ourselves through the arts, and the arts, like dreams, naturally engage metaphor. No whipping the bottle back and forth to coax the ketchup into descent? Good things will come to those who wait, and those who don’t.
The art information and tutorials found here may be relaxing or healing, as many art activities can be, but they are not art therapy.
Sometimes I forget the importance of metaphors (for me and my clients) and this was a great reminder!



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