The “art” of navigating family transitions

Every family struggles at one time or another. Whether it be a death, divorce, birth,
illness, marriage or, moving overseas, no family is immune to events within the life
cycle. As the family system stretches and evolves, some family members embrace
change, others resist it and some deny that anything is changing at all. Communication
can become stunted or one-sided as loved ones fight to reinstate balance. Voices are
raised, bodies become tense. Each person has a version of how this situation came to
be, who’s to blame and what must happen next.

Art therapy is such a powerful tool for families in transition. Family members ages 4 and
up can participate therefore everyone’s perspective is included. As conflicts are
expressed on paper, core issues emerge. The family can discuss these issues,
manipulate them and conclude that each member wants the same things: happiness,
love and calm. This motivates them to get creative and work together on finding viable
solutions. Far from screaming, blaming and criticizing, members are engaged in moving
forward; conscious and respectful of each other’s needs. Communication is unlocked,
humour returns and minds unite to achieve collective goals.

No artistic skill is required to benefit from art therapy. Art materials are merely tools to
facilitate self-expression, communication and insight. If you’d like to experience this
firsthand, gather your family around the table, provide markers and paper then ask
family members to draw their version of whatever issue needs to be resolved. Ask each
person to share his or her drawing, describing what they have depicted. Instruct the
others to listen without interrupting.

When everyone has been heard, summarize what you have learned. If you are faced
with multiple issues, pick the one that needs immediate attention. Then, take a large
sheet of paper and, as a group, brainstorm as many solutions as possible. Have the
group vote on their favourite solution. If you have a tie, compile a list of pros and cons
for each one until you have a clear winner.

Next, create a contract to ensure every family member commits to this solution. The
contract should describe the new behaviours that are expected from the entire family.
You can choose to type up a very formal contract or write it in marker on a banner and
have each family member sign it. Finally, place the contract where everyone can see it,
as a reminder of expectations and, schedule a date for the next family meeting (one
week later).

The entire process is very straightforward and extremely beneficial. Feel free to visit my
website to explore my “Current Projects” section, register for one of
my workshops or book a session.

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