Using a Favorite Art Therapy Directive at Home!


In art therapy, we often use the term “directive” for any specific art making instructions that are used by an art therapist as an intervention. For example, the scribble game is a popular art therapy directive. There are reasons for using specific directives with individuals, couples, and groups, and there are of course reasons for not using any specific directive, but allowing patient(s) to find their own way, pick out whatever materials they want, and make their own choice about the type of image they want to make. In the practice of art therapy, there are two aspects to any directive: the specific art materials to use and what image or kind if image to make. The scribble game emphasizes tge image as it begins with a scribble. It can be done with pencils, pens, markers, pastels and oil pastels, or even paint or ink or some combination of these materials. The therapist may specify the material or invite the patient(s)to pick their own material(s).

One of the most universal and “democratic” of art therapy directives is the Tissue Paper Collage. The materials usually involve many varieties of colored tissue paper, and paper or board to affix it to, as well as a brush and some kind of binder and sealant, such as Glossy Mod Podge or the cheaper option of mixing Elmer’s glue and water.

By calling this directive democratic or universal, I mean that I have found it great for every population and almost all age groups. It is a very soothing activity, which makes it great for anyone with trauma in their background. The repetitive nature of the activity, as well as the bright colors really make it ideal for anyone! In one day I used it in my group for people with eating disorders and/or body image issues, and with several individual patients, including a 7 year old and two very different adults…

The other really unusual aspect of the tissue paper collage is that it is really easy to do and requires no art making skills or special abilities. You tear the tissue paper unless you want to cut it, use a brush to spread the “glue paint” on the paper, canvas box or board. Then you put the piece of tissue paper down on the paper and seal it to the paper with your brush. You can layer colors on top of each other and easily achieve a stained window effect. The other great thing about it is that no matter what you do, you end up with a very beautiful and original finished art work. Some people like to add water color or other collage elements to the picture; you could even pick out words or magazine pictures or personal photos to glue on the collage.. The other aspect to it is the lovely wrinkles and textures you can easily produce. You can even crumple the tissue paper into balls or shapes that stick out of the paper to create a 3D effect.

Tearing paper is a very therapeutic activity, especially with those who have any sort of attachment issues, which pretty much includes all of us!

So at my house we are in process of major cleaning up of our apartment and reorganizing. We are noticing ways we want to improve the general look of the place and better showcase my art work as well as that of others. We suddenly noticed that we no longer like our Ikea colorful curtains at all and they seem to clash with our gold brick wall and the general look of the place. Ut was not my idea to make hand made curtains out of tissue paper, but I immediately embraced the idea, as it could be a beautiful way to have curtains in the window that resemble stained glass and that could magically let light in with the curtains “closed”! But what material to affix the tissue paper to in order to achieve that stained glass window effect that would allow light in but keep our privacy as curtains do? Plexiglass would make for transparency but seemed too heavy, costly and strange to put up against the glass windows. Then came the idea to try it on wax paper! We did a test strip and it totally worked! The wax paper allows for transparency and light to shine through the curtains but still allow for complete privacy. I have to make 4 panels or strips per window as we have big windows…

So I began the project. It is a bit daunting as each strip needs to be about 76 inches long, and it takes time to cover the whole surface with layers of tissue paper. I also added some other paper I have with holes in them to add to the visual effect as well as pieces of lace here and there glued on top of the tissue paper. I’m now in window number 2 of 3.

The coolest thing about these curtains is that the finished ones look very beautiful and impressive, such that people who know nothing about the secrets of the ease of the tissue paper collage directive will see them and marvel at how they were hand made so elegantly as to achieve a stained glass effect!

If you haven’t tried it, get some tissue paper and acrylic medium or Mod Podge and make your own. If you have thick paper or the right size cardboard, you could make beautiful hand made place mats! I just thought of this idea while writing this, and I’m tempted to try it some time after I’m finished with the curtains!!!

New Art Therapy Group Forming

I am starting a new art therapy group for women suffering with and dealing with issues around anxiety and depression. Any woman age 19 and up who would benefit from this group is invited to join.

The group will meet at my downtown NYC studio for an hour and a half on Thursdays, either from 11-12:30 or 12-1:30 pm, depending on the preferences of group members.

Thus, the group is great for students, freelancers, women who work part-time, or women who can leave their job to come during their lunch hour…

As it is an art therapy group, art making and sharing and processing of art work will be emphasized along wuth verbal processing.

You do not need a formal diagnosis to join this group. The fee will be low for those whose insurance does not cover it or those with no insurance. Those with Artna or Cigna or possibly other insurance will pay a low copay.

Please call or email me directly with referrals or if you are interested in jining the group.
It will start some time in September once I have at least 4 definite participants.

Natasha Shapiro, LCAT, ATR-BC
917 374-7082
For more info about me, check out my art therapy blog:

Musing on Relationships, Culled from Marilyn Monroe’s Writings…

I am reading “Fragments” by Marilyn Monroe, which constitutes notes, poems, musings, diary entries, etc. I have long been fascinated by her for many reasons, psychological reasons being the obvious focus for this blog.
In publishing these fragments of writings in 2010, the editors and publishers wanted to show a very different side of this very complicated person, and they succeed. One of the interesting things about the photos in this book is that they show a lot of photos of Marilyn reading all kinds of books, and she was actually a voracious reader who tackled Dostoevsky and James Joyce’s Ulysses. It is even stated in the book that she liked having pictures taken of herself reading. This was no Sarah Palin pretending to read a newspaper. Those who were close to her knew she had a sharp curious mind and loved reading. Seeing these photos did make me reflect on present day actors as well as past ones. I couldn’t think of any who especially liked to be pictured reading. There is something interesting about a photo of a woman reading a book, especially this woman who was so in touch with the camera. In most photos of her she is looking at the camera, but in these she is dressed fashionably but casually and seen sitting or standing in a casual position in a homey looking environment, and her eyes are on the book, so there are two subjects to the picture. There is the mystery also of what page she might be on and what words age might be reading when the photo was taken!

Anyway, it is quite interesting to read her fragments, many of which are poetic and quite beautiful, while others are filled with insecurity, loneliness and the desire to improve herself. Some are even directly related to her being in psychoanalysis. I’ve been looking through the book for something to quote somewhere and finally found something for this blog rated to a recent post I wrote about relationships. It is very thought provoking and both sad, realistic and somehow hopeful, which is a curious combination, but not so strange when touching on the subject of childhood and attachment. So here it is; please react and comment if you are moved to do so…

“(page 131) re relationships

Everyone’s childhood plays itself out
No wonder no one knows the other or can completely understand. By this I don’t know if I’m just giving up with this conclusion or resigning myself-or maybe for the first time connecting with reality-

how do we know the pain of another’s earlier years let alone all that he drags with him since along the way at best a lot of lee-way is needed for the other-yet how much is unhealthy for one to bear.

I think to love bravely is the best and accept-as much as one can bear”
(words underlined in this passage: plays, much, unhealthy)

Quick reactions. I found this to be very truthful and really focused on relationships that are very mature and/or deep, those moments when people become unsure and unsettled by what they observe in themselves and their partner. It raises some interesting questions for couples who are examining their relationship or in couple’s therapy: “what are the parts of your partner that you do not know or want to know better but seem buried under a lot of pain?” ” Do you think you can share your own childhood painful parts with your partner, and if so, can you use this to better understand your child selves within the relationship?” “Do you give “lee way” to each other for all that emotional baggage you still carry?” “How much can you each bear of this part of yourself and of her/him?” “Are you afraid of it and avoiding it, or are you bearing too much of it to the point that either of you can recognize it is unhealthy?” “Or, are you asking too much of your partner and wanting ir demanding him/her to bear an unhealthy amount of this early pain in the relationship as it is right now?” “Do you feel that you love bravely and strive to accept what you can reasonably bear in each other?” “What does it mean for you to love bravely?” “Have you ever done it or do you shy away from it?”

As a side nite the word “lee-way” is quite interesting, with origins in the concrete meaning of a sideways drift if a boat or plane. The best definition I came across that seems to fit her use of the word was “leeway – a permissible difference; allowing some freedom to move within limits.” Just thinking about this word and this definition, well, what a perfect word to encapsulate a bug part if intimate relationships: the balance between acceptance and tolerance of difficult aspects of the other while at the same time having reasonable limits, thus capturing the combination of surrendering as well as separating/having boundaries… Real food for thought in just a few short sentences…

Summer Doldrums

Everything slows down in August, including my attention to this blog. I’ve missed my weekly posting, as it’s now over ten days since my last post…

So a quick topic. Therapist point if view; you’ve been working with someone for several months and things seem to be going well with your patient’s progress in therapy, with his/her trust in you and being vulnerable and with your patient’s progress in using therapy in his/her life to make positive changes and start achieving some very concrete goals. Your patient hasn’t missed a session and comes on time and pays regularly even though this patient, like many others, is struggling financially.

So last week I sat and waited for a patient much like the one described above. The patient did not show up, did not reply to my text or phone message… I was mystified but not overly shocked only because this has happened before, so I’m aware that it’s not a really odd occurrence even though it is as it is so in characteristic of this very responsible and reliable patient who has even complained about such behaviors from others in her life and her frustration with people “dropping the ball” suddenly. So it feels odd that this patient is now doing that to me. Of course I wait a few days and then about five days later, still no communication so I call and leave a message stating my concern about the person’s welfare, wondering if everything’s ok, also stating that if finances are now making it impossible to continue therapy, u understand and hope the person will let me know if that’s the case and an emergency break from therapy is needed. I also asked if the patient wants to keep their next regular appointment in a few days…

Still no word. At this point I can do nothing. I can choose to wait for the patient at their regular appointment time to see if s/he shows up and if not, that’s it. I will be left with feeling the situation is unresolved because it is unresolved and feeling some other feelings that may well belong to the patient and have something to do with his:her attachment and separation issues…

One can’t help feeling foolish on theses occasions when one is completely blindsided. It reminds me of the feeling people report after they’ve gone on several great dates with someone and everything points to a relationship and suddenly the person mysteriously drops out of sight. However it is more similar to being a few months into a new relationship and suddenly the person drops out if sight. I’ve even heard of twenty year marriages ending this way. The family wakes up and one of the parents is gone with no note, no warning sign, no explanation… Obviously the last example is much more extreme…

This is one of the biggest challenges for therapists. We would rather deal with someone telling us they don’t like us or don’t want to work with us. These mysterious types if disappearance trigger abandonment and competency issues in even the confident therapist. How could I not see this coming? Us the big question that hangs in the air. I thought I knew this person pretty well but I can’t figure out what’s going on. Sometimes we get lucky. One of my patients that did this texted me 2 week’s after non appearance and no communication and just stated wanting to stop therapy. No reason given, so still quote frustrating. I managed to look at the situation rationally after processing my confused feelings and concluding that something uncomfortable had come up causing my patient to retreat and flee, at least letting me know about it. Then I was luckier still to have this patient a year later suddenly contact me and return to therapy with me. Very unusual and unlikely to happen five out of six times. Somehow the patient hit over feelings of shame and embarrassment if having to see me again and explain what happened. If course I was delighted to work with this person again. Not to go too far into specifics but suffice it to say that I am more careful about checking in to see if this person is feeling overwhelmed in the session while at the same time being more concrete about goals and homework for this particular individual to see more directly the progress being made and the direct connection with what we are working on. So to some extent I got a chance to refine my skills and be more attentive. Any patient who comes back makes me excited. I can’t help but feel grateful that the patient really values working with me as they have chosen to return. In this persons case, he tried to make appointments with a few other therapist’s first and got no response and then got up the courage to try returning to me.

As last week’s event reminds me, we will have successes and also mysteries where maybe we have helped our patient to the best extent possible, and people often run away from therapy even if they are choosing to get into deeper more painful issues…

Relationships: Wiping the Slate Clean!

This blog post is dedicated to my very wonderful friend who is getting married today! May you both enjoy a lifetime of love, confusion, and many moments of joy, as well as the ability to let go of the unpleasant moments as quickly as possible! A fight or misunderstanding is like a sudden thunderstorm, very violent and loud, often, scary, but at some point, it will be over, and, if you can find the rainbow at the end of the storm, you will weather them all and remain close, no matter what comes your way…

A while ago, I heard an interesting story about a friend’s relationship. She got in some kind of unpleasant argument and disagreement with her partner. I’m not sure if it would constitute a fight or not. Anyway she went to bed with a not so great unresolved feeling. The next morning she woke up cheerful and had no recollection of the unpleasant end to the night before. Later in the day, she was talking to a friend about some random topic and suddenly remembered the events of the night before. She was pleasantly surprised to realize that she had conveniently forgotten the unpleasant argument of the night before until that very moment and later told her partner how refreshing it was to have let go of it so easily. They agreed that it was a good thing and that they would remember it for the future, so they could remind each other to “forget” about negative incidents or fights, if one or both of them were to hang on to resentments too long…

This story struck me as a very interesting aspect to our romantic relationships with significant others. It seemed to show that the key to a good relationship is the ability to “let go” of the bad moments when our demons come out and battle each other, as they will do if you are with someone long enough. Nobody fights fair all the time, and we all have our repertoire of venom and nastiness, no matter how sweet people think we are. Close relationships are inherently difficult and stressful at times. Having one or more child with someone will add extra stress to the most loving of relationships….

While we prize the ability to remember events and be able to repeat conversations verbatim, there is a lot to be said for the ability to “wipe the slate clean” and “forget” the dispute, whether it lasts one unpleasant evening or gets prolonged into a week or two of stress and strife with one’s partner. Especially at times when you feel like you are constantly at odds, to be able to call a “time out” and agree to forget the past unpleasant days and “start over”, by “wiping the slate clean” and moving on. Rather than dwell on the past unpleasantness or obsess about future wounds, we always have the choice to be in the here and now and let go of negative predictions..,

In most people’s close relationships, certain conflicts, disagreements, and arguments often get repeated. It is not unusual for couples to report that they have variations on the same themes in their disagreements, and even that it seems to go round in circles without coming to a resolution. I remember a long time ago hearing a radio interview with a couples therapist who said that resolving issues as they come up is actually not the key to a healthy relationship, but actually being able to let go of conflicts and agree to disagree and move on or simply to stop talking about the subject without a resolution is more of what constitutes healthy relating, even if the topics of conflict get brought up repeatedly. So basically, some kind of “forgetting” is involved in letting go and moving on. The idea that you can just leave some tangled mess alone without untangling it is a good skill for being in a relationship with another human!

Love relationships are really often quite primitive and not reasonable at all. We repeat attachments from early on. Humans are not much built to live alone for the most part. I’ve seen total loners who are most comfortable reading a book, or on their computers, end up getting together with someone quite the opposite, who has very intimate close friendships. These two types can love and live together, but they do not speak the same language when it comes to intimacy. Opposites attract. I see couples where one person is soft hearted, almost gullible, looking at people as good unless proven otherwise, pair up with a complete cranky, cynical, untrusting curmudgeon. Rarely do two people with the same attachment style and outlook on others get together. Finishing each other’s sentences? More like- two different sentences next to each other that make no sense. Now that’s a couple bound to spend a life together!

Nobody wants to fall in love with someone who reminds them of themselves. There is a great episode of the show “How I Met Your Mother”, in which several of the characters realize they are dating their mother or father. In various situations, the characters become disgusted when they suddenly see their actual parent interacting with them when they are with their partner. Yes, we are with a weird mixture both parents if we have two, or one of our parents; whatever the family situation, your earliest most primitive attachment will be lying next to you one day in the body of your love partner…

Of course, our partners are more than just a repetition of our early caretakers, but to understand what the crazy is about when you feel like things are getting crazy, as they do in long relationships, it’s time to look at your attachment style. Fights aren’t always about what you’re fighting about. Sometimes it’s just two people thinking, “who are you and how did I end up with you? I don’t even know you right now; do you still love me? I’m going to withdraw now and go to another corner and be with myself. I’m too afraid to reach out to you. I’m too needy, you won’t really want to be with me when you see how needy I am…” “I want you to reassure me but I can’t ask you to. I’m supposed to be the strong one.” Suddenly someone is being mean and scary and someone else is being passive aggressive and crazy. You seem to have metamorphosed into two very different monsters. Don’t touch me. You hear this, so you run away. What is this? The dance of intimacy. Where are you? You’re not on the dance floor. You are in a demon dialogue where nothing makes sense and you’re very scared or very hurt and mad; either way you’re feeling lonelier than you’ve ever felt and you may very well be with the love of your life, or one of them, or your soul mate.

Distance and closeness, aloneness abd togetherness with the same person. Yes it is completely possible, and highly abnormal if you do not experience that with your partner. Love ebbs and flows and we show our babyish selves. Then you may even have a baby together and things will get even more complicated. In my view of many couples, it seems often that one person is the “baby” and the other is the “parentified adult”. If things work out well, the baby will get a chance to prove s/he is capable of taking on the “adult” role, and the parentified adult is allowed to be a baby and get taken care of.

This is a complex topic that long books don’t even exhaust, so as usual, being in the form of a blog post, it is not comprehensive.

The main message I wanted to convey is, gang in there through those bad storms, and if you get a chance to take off your monster costume, push the reset button and remind each other to “forget” what was and re engage in being close again. Remember the best version of yourself that your partner fell in love with, and remember the best version of your partner that you fell in love with! That person is still there in each of you, and you can access it when you let go of the transient ebb and flow of daily petty disagreements. So wipe the slate clean each morning! It’s a new day to let go and be loving again!