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A Day in the Life... An Art Therapy Story.


Sheri swung her legs over the side of her bed, feet landing softly on the carpet. The sun blinked through dusty blinds. She grabbed her phone off of the night stand and opened the calendar app. A reminder popped up – Group Therapy at Veterans Assistance. She groaned with apprehension.  

Ever since returning from her tour in Afghanistan, Sheri struggled with nightmares and depression. Most days were hard. And even though group therapy helped, it was a struggle each week to get there. Depression has a strange way of keeping you away from activities that threaten to improve your disposition.  

She made her way to the facility where the group met each week. Sheri wondered and feared what the day would bring. Moments of safety are scarce when the images of war haunt your waking life.

Sheri walked into the room and made her way to a chair set slightly apart from everyone else. When it came time for her to speak, she often pretended she had nothing to say. She turned her attention to the group therapist who announced, “Today we’re going to do something different. We’re heading to the Canton Museum of Art for an Art Therapy session.” 

The group piled into a small bus and a few minutes later they arrived. Sheri didn’t know what to expect, but she was looking forward to a break in the routine. They were greeted by a young woman named Amy with a warm voice and a compassionate disposition. This immediately set Sheri at ease. 

“Thank you all for being here today. We’re thrilled you could make it to the museum. This morning we’re going to tour the galleries and discuss some of the pieces and then later on we’ll make our own art,” Amy said. 

They followed Amy into the gallery. Inside the gallery there was a sense of wonder, as if each painting represented an escape to an unknown world. The paintings and sculptures contained rich colors and vibrant hues. In them were characters, beautiful birds, and unimaginable creatures.

Amy stopped at a painting and the group formed a semi-circle around her. “Does anything stand out to you in this painting?” Amy asked. Sheri studied the artwork. There were deep blues and greens. Small lights flickered in the background. They were so accurately depicted; Sheri swore the lights were dancing in the wind. 

Sheri felt her voice rising in her throat. She rubbed sweaty palms against her jeans and spoke. “This image reminds me of being over there when I served in Afghanistan. We stayed on base, and at night we would look out across the desert and see small fires burning in the caves.” The sound of her voice surprised her as it echoed back through the gallery space. She felt a sense of relief and a sense of pride. 

When they were finished in the galleries, the group went back to the studio room. “Sometimes in life, we put on a face for the rest of the world. This is kind of like the mask we wear when we are with others,” Amy said. Sheri related to what Amy was saying.  A lot of times she felt afraid to show the world how she really felt. Amy went on to explain the project. “We’ll use this cardboard mask and we will paint the face to reflect what we show to the outside world. We will paint the inside to reflect the emotions and experiences we may be more hesitant to share.”

For the next hour, the group worked diligently on the masks. Sheri painted her mask bright yellow, symbolizing hope. For the inside, she chose a crimson red. She thought of the anguish and pain she kept hidden from the world. She painted a red stream of tears as she reflected on her childhood, the early loss of her mother, and her experiences in Afghanistan. Life was not easy, but she still had hope. 

When it came time to share with the group, she felt more at ease than usual. Sheri displayed her mask and told everyone what the colors symbolized. They were receptive to her insights. She felt connected to others in a way she hadn’t felt in a very long time.

Later that night, Sheri lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling. The day rushed back to her in memories. Through her experiences came a deep sense of satisfaction, like cleaning out the fridge or organizing a cluttered closet. There was space where there hadn’t been space before. Sheri drifted off to sleep; her dreams of despair replaced with dreams of hope and healing.



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