Processing Change Through Self-Reflection by Sarah Frank, LMFT, ATR

“I have been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I have never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

Change is a constant part of life; physical, biological, emotional, psychological, situational, relational, neurological, spiritual. Some people have learned to embrace change and for many others it can be an uncomfortable, even terrifying experience. Sometimes we are aware of being on the precipice of change and other times it can catch us completely off guard. However it happens, change can take a toll on our minds and bodies.
Drawing from my own experiences, I have come to recognize a few signs that let me know I am undergoing some form of change. I tend to notice more anxious thoughts, maybe even questioning my choices or decisions, and I can feel out of sync with normal routines and productivity. Whether the change is something I have chosen for myself, agreed to, or am forced to deal with, I tend to feel pretty stressed overall.
When I was in graduate school, in the art therapy program at Phillips Graduate University, one of the mainstays in almost every class was making self-reflective art. We made art about the information we were learning; readings, lectures, and our own in-vivo experiences working with clients. In the group therapy course I am now teaching at Phillips we even made weekly art about our personal experiences of being a therapy group member. By engaging in such consistent self-reflection through art-making I learned to focus on the issues themselves, instead of purposely ignoring, stuffing, or escaping from them.
Now, when I look back through the art I made during grad school (which felt like an inescapable black hole of stress and misery at times), I can actually see the process of change and transformation I went through, appreciating more of the positives that have helped me get to the place I am at today. More and more I try to be mindful of my experience of change, especially when I notice discomfort, anxiety, or fear. I draw from past experiences of positive outcomes resulting from change and try to think of how I can grow or benefit from this transitional experience. For me, art helps. I can use colors and images to reflect feelings I haven’t yet found the words for. And I can also envision and bring to life positive outcomes highlighting my resiliency, strength, achievement, and compassion for myself and others.
However you choose to process change, (whether it be through writing, talking, making art, or a combination of all these methods), you are sure to notice the different emotional facets of your experience, including discomfort. I encourage focusing on what can be gained from the experience that will be helpful to you and allow you to accept the outcome and most importantly appreciate your own unique processing of change.

Elana Clark-Faler
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