Written by Rebecca Hampton
Bilateral Guided Drawing
What is it?
Bilateral guided drawing is a mindfulness exercise used to support body mapping in a trauma-informed way and to integrate the left and right brain functions. The right brain is considered more visual and motor skill activities, while the left has cognitive problem-solving speech and language abilities. Both must work in unison to help create a better acceptance or awareness from within the client (Needs, 2012).
Bilateral guided drawing doesn’t mean that a client is led by a therapist but instead guided by an inner force present within themselves (Elbrecht, 2018) or an internal agent of the intuitive self (Jung, 1959).
As with all art therapy approaches, it is not essential for a client to be a great artist but to have some sense of play. To play is the most natural and self-healing measure, (Erikson, 1977) as it allows us to be able to communicate.
To look within with guided drawing, it is essential to remember that making a beautiful artwork is not the goal. But instead, to express oneself through the creative process and let go of any worries about what is created and trust your intuition.
Bilateral guided drawing has been around since the 1950s and has become a simple art-based activity that capitalises on self-regulation (Malchiodi, 2015). It is simplistic in its approach because all that is required is for a client to close their eyes if they feel comfortable and manipulate the art materials with both hands. The materials themselves can also be simplistic, such as acrylic paints, oil and soft pastels are most commonly used as they are easy to manipulate and move around on paper.
The main focus of bilateral guided drawing is for the client to find a sense of empowerment and self-direction through the understanding that trauma is a natural occurrence in life and,, as individuals, we can recover from it without any time limits (Elbrecht, 2018). For this reason that guided drawing would be a beneficial approach for an individual who has suffered a major traumatic event and continues to suffer daily. Trauma caused bullying form from peers or reoccurring memories caused by PTSD.
Bilateral guided drawing is a powerful approach that helps to uncover frozen or forgotten memories from within the body. It does not promote the use of exposure therapy, emotional catharsis or for the client to push through any memories. Allowing a client to take their time to recognise the emotional distress that was caused by an event will enable clients to move through the event with ease.
One aspect of the event is focused on at a time, giving the client time to process, and integrate before moving onto the next step of their recovery.
When it is functional.
Bilateral guided drawing works best when sessions are inquiet, calm space a safe, controlled environment that encourage sthe client focus and look within their bodies and minds. Ideally, it is preferential that sessions are conducted in individual sessions rather than groups. In some cases, a personal session would be more beneficial as bilateral guided drawing does have the potential to expose feelings and emotions that have been buried deep within and may not yet be ready to be shared within a group environment.
When planning a bilateral guided drawing process for a client, it is a directive and non-directive process and shapes and lines can offer non-verbal cues (Elbrecht, 2018). To begin a process,, a therapist may consider signals such as inviting the client to draw a particular shape, colour, line or rhythm.
Once the client has become comfortable and sensory awareness is achieved, the therapist may begin to start asking more passive questions designed to help the client track any bodily sensations and create a sense of trust. These questions may include:
- How does this resonate in your body?
- Does this feeling have texture, shape, colour, weight, smell or name
- Where do you feel this?
- Do you know this sensation?
- Have you felt it before?
When using this technique, a client should be encouraged to stay true to colours such as blue for the sky or green for grass, as such choices can make the artwork more meaningful however, this is not a requirement as there is always the individual experience (Elbrecht, 2018).
Potential Barriers and Expected Outcomes
As with most art therapy approaches, there is always the potential for a harmful barrier to arise. If this technique was used on a client with extreme trauma, A client should consider that this process may expose unresolved or unknown reactions to a sensation that had not been explored. It is essential for a therapist to create a safe space for the client to express and process any surfacing emotions, feelings and realisations that can cause further distress.
In the case of extreme trauma, it has proven to be effective in helping trauma reactions such as fight, flight,, or freeze. For individuals who find themselves in a reactive state, bilateral guided drawing allows clients to feel some relief through the sense of movement to reduce feelings of feeling trapped, withdrawn, exposed and dissociated (Malchiodi, 2015). With the act of making marks or gestures on the paper, gives the client a distracting process to move or shift away from the sensation of distress. It promotes an action-based, self-empowering and soothing feeling within the body and mind by altering the internal rhythms and creating wellbeing and self-regulation.