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How To Use Art Therapy, Spirituality & Indigenous Ways – A Native American Woman’s Healing

Written by: Carey MacCarthy, MA, ATR, LPCC, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Have you ever wondered about the connection between Art & Spirituality? There are many ways to use art-making which all have therapeutic value; just making art and the act of being creative is calming and expressive, which creates a positive neuro-chemical state on its own without a trained and experienced Art Therapist.

One woman, beautiful lady artist, painting on the floor in studio

But Art Therapy is not just picking up a box of crayons and calling yourself an Art Therapist...

Then there is having an experienced and highly trained Art Therapist who has a clinical understanding of Art Therapy, Neuroscience, pathology, theory & technique... as well as extensive training on trauma and proven interventions on managing trauma reactions within the therapy setting.

In an art therapy session, a trained art therapist works with a client to use art-making as a tool for self-expression and exploration. The client may be asked to choose from a variety of art materials such as paint, clay, markers, or collage materials. The therapist may provide prompts or questions to guide the client's art-making process, or the client may choose to create freely.

As the client creates their artwork, the therapist may ask open-ended questions to help the client explore their feelings, thoughts, and experiences related to the art. The Art may elicit subconscious material, which the client may not be aware of, such as past abuse history, hidden emotions surrounding their marriage, solutions to a long-standing problem and the clients might have an AHA moment. The role of the therapist is to provide support and validation for the client's emotions and experiences as they arise.

After the art-making process, the therapist and client may discuss the artwork together, exploring its meaning and significance to the client. The therapist may also help the client identify patterns or insights that emerge from the artwork, and support the client in integrating these insights into their life outside of the therapy session.

For me, having a deeply profound Connection to the Native American Spiritual Path and having worked with the Lakota/Dakota Traditional Ways for 20 years, it is important to incorporate spirituality into my practice when working with clients as well as into my training program. Through the art I find what issues arise and take my client through a ritual of prayer, doing artwork around the newly discovered information, and do a series of sessions on letting it go and then Shamanic Soul Retrieval to reclaim a lost or fragmented part of their selves.

During one of my professional trainings at a Federal Government Behavioral Health Conference for American Indian/Alaska Natives I was presenting at, a group of 80 mostly Native American professionals was deeply engaged in an Art exercise I had instructed them to do as part of the START UP! Art Therapy 4 Step Whole Brain Healing System. The room was quiet with only the sound of markers and bustling of other art materials. Suddenly, a Native American woman stood up in tears and ran out of the room.

My immediate reaction was to run after her to make sure she was ok, but I realized I was solely responsible for 79 other participants in my workshop who I was holding space for. I made a quick decision to quietly slip out and tend to the woman who was crying in the hall outside the conference room door. I asked if she was ok, and she threw her arms around me and shared that her tears were tears of joy, that through her art-making within my workshop, she had finally discovered the solution to a long-time family problem that had been burdening her for many years. I validated her emotions, congratulated her, and assured her that the artwork does not lie, that she had received healing through this process. I hugged her until she was ready to come back to the room and after only a few minutes, we slipped back in unnoticed while everyone was deeply engrossed in their own art processes.

When everyone had reached completion, I announced to the room that one of our relatives had had a breakthrough during this Art Experience and asked the woman to stand (she had agreed to sharing with the group beforehand). This brave woman shared her breakthrough and the power of art to solve this family problem with 79 other participants, and in the Native American Traditional Ways, I asked an elder, whom I knew in the crowd to pray and sing a Lakota honoring song for her. The woman was crying as were many others, including myself.

This was a full circle healing, or the Way of the Sacred Hoop – bringing the problems to the people and having ceremony to heal and using Art as the vehicle. The Native Woman felt seen and heard, which brought her healing to completion in a Culturally Competent way.

This was a profoundly deep experience for all and exemplary how powerful the Art process can be, combined with Spirituality & Traditional Indigenous Ways when guided in the right way.

Let me know how art has helped you personally or with your clients, I would love to know!

Healing Made FUN!


So get out there and heal the people…

A Special Gift to You…




Download Here! If you want to find out more about START UP! Art Therapy Sessions or Trainings, book your free 20-minute Discovery Session with me HERE.

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Carey MacCarthy, MA, ATR, LPCC, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Carey MacCarthy, MA, ATR, LPCC, is a recognized trauma expert, and registered Art Therapist and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, presenter, researcher, and author. In the Art Therapy field since 2001, she has trained mental health professionals, coaches, and educators, and has healed thousands of patients from diverse populations, specializing in child and adolescent trauma, and Intergenerational and Historical trauma with Native Americans. She is the co-author of START UP! A School-Based Arts Curriculum for Native American Youth and ALL Cultures: Interventions for Development and Learning (2017).






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