Channie Amato is a HOPE therapist, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and Art Therapist, providing individual, group and family play & art therapy.

Grieving the death of a loved one is one of life’s most difficult challenges. Words may be difficult to speak, but the pain and the emotions are shouting inside. According to J. William Worden, there are 4 tasks of grieving.

  1. To accept the reality of the loss
  2. To process the pain
  3. To adjust to your world without your loved one
  4. Find a connection with your loved one while you create a newly redefined life.

Hope Tree

Let’s focus in on #2, “process the pain.” You may be asking yourself, what does that mean? It is important to give yourself permission to feel the pain, process the emotions and express those feelings as a griever, but often the traditional way of communicating may feel overwhelming. Someone may ask you “how are your feeling?” You reply “fine,” or “good” or even “not great.” What you truly feel inside is way more complex, and difficult to express with verbal language. The use of creative modalities of self-expression provides an alternative way of communicating your feelings and emotions and allows you to more fully express the complexities of your loss.

Creative art therapies or expressive therapies apply to various disciplines of creative arts — art, music, dance, drama, to name a few. Creative art therapy is not about finishing the product, but rather it focuses in on the individual’s process in the art making. The use of expressive therapy, such as art, can be useful in expressing and exploring your grief in a way that is not limited by words. So whether you are feeling sad, lonely, angry, resentful or guilty, try taking out a piece of paper and creating that emotion in the art. For example, if you’re feeling angry, draw your anger. What does anger look like? What color, shape, size is anger? If anger could talk, what would it say?

With the use of art therapy, the griever can process and express pain by externalizing inner thoughts and feelings that were once abstract or invisible. The visible product, or artwork, transforms your internal processes into a concrete, tangible creation that can be further explored and understood.

Utilizing art in a grief support group provides the members opportunities to explore their loss and process their grief within a supportive community of fellow grievers. During a recent spousal loss bereavement support group, the members were asked to draw a symbol or write a word(s) to illustrate an inner strength that they have discovered within themselves that has helped them through their grieving process. Members wrote or drew their coping strategies on leaves that were provided and taped them on the Tree of Hope.

Love, family, friends, God, music and a positive outlook were some of the strengths the members included that have helped them during their grieving process. The group talked about how these coping strategies were helping them with their healing. One member shared that she puts one foot in front of the other but never really thought about how she copes — she just does. Staying present with a very small focus encourages those small steps. Another member expressed that finding purpose has helped her find hope. Whether it is caring for a pet, spending time with loved ones, singing, connecting with spiritual being, exercising or engaging in hobbies, the members were able to express their inner strengths that help them as they grieve.

So whether you find joy in singing in the shower, reading a novel, writing a poem, doodling on the corner of your paper or dancing when you hear your favorite song, you are expressing yourself! Rediscover an old hobby or set aside time to further explore a current one, and allow your creativity to shine as you express yourself!