To the casual observer it appears as though participants in one of my workshops are simply looking through magazines, cutting out pictures and gluing them down. However, this is most definitely not the case.
Magazine picture collage is one of the most powerful yet underused tools for exploring and expressing emotions and facilitating personal awareness and growth. It is generally used within a therapeutic setting yet it has great value beyond that and also for exploring the meaning and concepts of ideas, in for example a leadership context.
However, as its Creativity and Wellbeing Week I’ll share a true story to illustrate its benefits for expressing emotions and promoting well-being.
For the purposes of confidentiality the clients name has been changed and her collages have not been used.
Sarah has mental health issues, she has self-harmed and has an eating disorder. Currently under the support of a medical team she is one of the participants taking part in my 6 week course. Each session lasts 2 hours but Sarah is usually in attendance for an hour, for a variety of reasons she either arrives late or leaves early. (This is not unusual for clients with mental ill health and the course has been extended to 8 weeks to accommodate the needs of the participants). Nonetheless, she has been to every one and has told me that one of her goals is to complete the course and have attended every session.
Last week (week 5) Sarah stormed into the room saying ‘I’m so angry, I’m so angry, I need to do a collage!’ She didn’t want to listen to the relaxing music in the background but instead chose to listen to her own music on her iPod. I approached her gently and suggested she use the session to express whatever had upset her. She nodded and with headphones on and head down she began looking through magazines as she wiped away tears with the back of her hand. Before long she was cutting out images, positioning and gluing them in place. I gave her the time and space she needed, keeping an eye on her by looking over periodically. On one occasion she saw me and asked if I would like to see what she had done, ‘Of course’ I said. With only ten images she had conveyed her pain and frustration at feeling out of control with her situation; being under the care of a consultant who she felt didn’t understand her. She also reflected on her eating disorder, using a toilet and a mirror, describing them as the tools of the disorder, while self-harm was represented by glass, which she used to use. There were also positive images including a peacock, something beautiful for the future she still dreamt of for herself. Her collage was not complete so I left her to finish. Sarah removed her headphones and continued working.
Once complete we discussed the rest of her images and her current situation. Sarah acknowledged that she struggles to communicate verbally with her consultant. She said she knows that once she starts to get frustrated she says more than she should. With the opportunity to use a creative approach she has come to realise that when she uses collage or creative writing she is able to express herself clearly and calmly. With this in mind I suggested that next week she create a collage around what she wants to say to her consultant. I’ve let her know that she doesn’t have to bring it to the meeting if she doesn’t want to, because unlike words, the images she uses will be stored in her long term memory making them easier to recall. Sarah is keen to try this approach, believing it will improve her communication and therefore relationship with the consultant.
Before she left Sarah said ‘When I came in I was angry and upset, now by making my collage I’m calm. I feel better, thank you’. Undeniably, she still has a tough journey ahead to full recovery, but every time she uses the creativity of magazine picture collage to open up and express herself I am certain it helps her get a little closer to healing.