Pulling up the sleeves: art and healing

For years I’ve used arts based techniques with young people to explore their realities of past, present, and future. I’ve witnesses the power of arts based methods to help facilitate sharing, growth, connection and possibly even healing, yet I’ve rarely explored these methods myself.

Sure, over the last several years I have written a lot of poetry and prose about my experiences of other people’s trauma, and I’ve explored my feelings through free writing and journalling, yet I rarely get out the art supplies and roll up my sleeves. This is changing though. I see art as an integral part of my journey to heal and be whole; I suppose I always have.

For example, in my previous relationship my partner often encouraged me to talk to a counsellor to help process my feelings and experiences, and I was often quite resistant. While I did find talking to be helpful, I also recognized that I think, write, and talk a lot in academia, and I sought other ways and means to express myself. The formal counselling process alone wasn’t enough, and deep down I intuitively knew that I needed more.

My journey with cancer has been a doorway into exploring this. While I’ve continued to journal and write, I’ve also started to draw, paint and create. In doing so I feel a particular sense of presence that doesn’t come from writing and I love watching to see what emerges through the process.

My healing mask

Just last week a friend and I attended an open art studio, and I had absolutely no preconceived ideas about what was going to emerge. Yet as we were oriented to the space I felt drawn to some particular supplies – a paper mask, some paper cut outs, red and blue paint, feathers, an old abstract painting, and some newsprint – and my healing mask came into being.

As I engaged in the creative process I didn’t realize it was going to be a healing mask; the realization only came with its completion. As I looked at it I noticed elements of my story or healing journey – the emergence of colour and brilliance; the spirals I feel reverberating through my body during treatment; the background shaped by my story; and the wings that I feel growing to enable me to fly – and I realized the importance of the process for my own healing. While I don’t yet know what all of the elements mean, I do know that art is a medium to connect with myself and explore the many facets of me.

Recognizing that my journey with cancer is bringing up a lot, I also realize that I may need some support in this process. So in addition to counselling and other healing modalities, I’m also seeing an art therapist. I’ve always known that art is a window into the depths of my being, and now I’m ready to explore it creative piece, by creative piece.

With grace,



  1. Beth

    This is so true and resonates so much with me, Cheryl. So often, too, I find that I don’t realize what it is that I’ve painted until it’s finished and I’ve had time to reflect on it. Art expression is so different from lingual expression (is that the right term? lol). Emotions of all kinds and levels of consciousness are expressed through the act of creating art and the final piece encompasses that flow of emotion. At least that’s my experience. Your mask is powerful! I love it! I hope you find more ways to create. xo

  2. Roisin

    Beautiful Cheryl. Keeping you in my thoughts. Much love, Roisin

  3. tiffany

    Beautiful C! Heart you! Xo


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: