Written by Rebecca Hampton
Bilateral Guided Drawing
What is it?
Bilateral guided drawing is a mindfulness exercise that is used in a bilateral drawing approach to support body mapping in a trauma-informed way and to integrate the left and right brain functions. The right brain is considered to be more visual and motor skill activities while the left has cognitive problem-solving speech and language abilities. Both are required to 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 from an inner force that is present from 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 and to be able to play is the most natural and self-healing measure (Erikson, 1977) as it allows us to be able to communicate. As we are looking within ourselves with guided drawing, it is essential to remember that making a beautiful artwork is not the goal but instead to express one’s self through the creative process and to let go of any worries of what is created and to trust your own 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 in nature, such as the use of 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 be able 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). It is for this reason that guided drawing would be a beneficial approach for an individual who has suffered a major traumatic event in life and continues to suffer daily whether it be from 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 and does not promote the use of exposure therapy, emotional catharsis or for the client to push through any memories. It allows a client to take their time in recognising the emotional distress that was caused from an event and will enable clients to move through the event with ease and only one aspect of the event is focused on at a time, giving the client time to process, breath and resolve before moving onto the next step of their recovery.
When it is useful.
Bilateral guided drawing works best when sessions are held in a space that is quiet, calm and has a concentrated atmosphere as to encourage the client to be able to focus and look within their own bodies and minds. To obtain this ideal space, it is preferred that individual sessions are held rather than group sessions. In some cases of 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 essential to remember that it can be approached in both a directive and non-directive way and that particular shapes and lines can offer non-verbal cues (Elbrecht, 2018). To begin a process in a therapist may consider signals such as inviting the client to draw a particular shape, colour, lines or rhythm.
Once the client has become comfortable and sensory awareness is achieved, the therapist may begin to start asking more passive questions that are 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 negative barrier to arise. If this technique was to be used on a client with extreme trauma, it should be considered that this process may expose unresolved or unknown reactions to a sensation that had not yet been explored. This is why it is incredibly 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, however, 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 and feelings of feeling trapped, withdrawn, exposed and dissociated (Malchiodi, 2015). With the act of making marks or gestures on the paper, it gives the client a distracting process to move or shift away from the sensation of distress and promote an action-based, self-empowering and soothing feeling within the body and mind by altering the internal rhythms and creating wellbeing and self-regulation.