Research Paper By Janhavi McKenzie
(Life Coach, UNITED STATES
My intention in writing this research paper is to demonstrate how Art can be used as a beneficial and accessible coaching tool. In support of this tool, this paper will examine how art interfaces with the brain and the benefits it provides. It also shows how art and coaching allow one to coach to the depth of the client, providing access to the numinous within the client. Included are interviews with others who use art in the coaching process as well as experiments in coaching clients using art.
Why Art Works
Art can be used within the coaching process to achieve a variety of goals for the client by supporting varying processes and competencies that the coaching process provides. Examples of processes and competencies that art can support and transform for the client are self awareness, clarity, transformation of beliefs, removal of both inner and outer obstacles, motivation, and achievement of goals. Art and imagery provide concrete experiences that offer growth and stimulate creativity. Art can create lightness out of a situation that has too much seriousness or significance about it. It can foster positive feelings around a challenging issue.
One doesn’t need to be an artist to coach others using art as a tool nor do one’s clients need to be artists in order to use art within the coaching relationship. What is necessary for a coach is to understand what art can provide and a willingness to explore. The willingness to explore or curiosity is already inherent within a coach’s pallet so using art can be quite easy from there.
Visual art processes can include drawing, collage and found images. Imagery includes visualization and metaphor which can have the same effect upon influencing the brain as art does.
Art works because it gives a view into what is going on behind the conscious mind. It taps into the unconscious mind, the part of the mind that is inaccessible to the conscious mind but that affects behavior and emotions. It reveals the mechanics of what is making a person act and make choices in their particular way.
The mind doesn’t distinguish between a real image and an imagined one. As much as one overcomes an obstacle in their imagination they are also overcome in the psyche, the conscious mind. Thus, art creates a bridge between the conscious mind and the unconscious working and informing in both directions. Art can bring that which is unconscious to the surface, to the conscious mind to create self awareness and transformation. And through art, a conscious thought, a dream or goal can be seeded within the unconscious mind whereby it can go to work to create the circumstances for that goal to come true such as in the case of Vision Boards.
Art makes sense and order out of the confusion that occurs in the mind. When the mind is asked to put things into visual images and on paper, clarity occurs because one can literally see what has been in one’s thoughts. It is empowering to see a visual of one’s thoughts, conscious or unconscious. This concrete external visual provides order and restructuring within the mind. The image provides an anchor, something for the mind to hold on to, that allows the conscious mind to rest and provides the unconscious mind time to reorganize and create something new. In this way through coaching, art can reveal hidden beliefs and transform them.
For this research paper several people were interviewed who are using art as a coaching tool. One was Sheri Gaynor, a Psychotherapist, a Registered Expressive Art Therapist, a Life Coach and Author of the book “Creative Awakenings: Envisioning the Life of Your Dreams Through Art.”
Ms. Gaynor said that by using art she finds that she has the ability to move clients from linear left brain thinking into right brain intuitive wisdom.
By moving into the right brain clients move into the deep unconscious knowing, a place that reflects the Feminine receptive, a channeling from Source.
In working with clients Ms. Gaynor says she meets clients where they are at. She uses Powerful Listening skills, intuition and conversation to guide her clients, to find out where they want to go. Her coaching process has three parts: identify – bring things to awareness, release and setting intention.
When she works with art, she makes sure her clients know
it’s not about a picture to hang on the wall.
She works with clients in person as well as over the phone. She finds that it is helpful to work with clients every two weeks to give them time to process and digest what comes from the art.
Another person I interviewed was Maureen Frank who coaches people through the medium of mandala drawings. While speaking to her clients, Ms. Frank draws intuitive mandalas which reflect the clients concerns. When asked how she sees the efficacy of art, she replied “A picture is worth a thousand words. It explains, as well as brings out new and deeper insights and perspectives. It accesses information from the creative side rather than the analytical side.” She reflects that the benefit she sees coming out of this is
this (mandala) is the portal to the Divine.
She finds that the image is stronger than words and when combined with words, brings a balanced message to the whole brain, right and left sides.
From my interviews with both these women, I can conclude that art can clarify, transform and motivate clients forward in their lives by accessing the intuitive, non-linear part of the brain.
The following experiments show various ways such as drawing, collage and found images to work with art within the coaching relationship and the positive results that came from doing so.
One client was dealing with an obstacle in her financial and business life. When asked to imagine what it looked like, she described it as a black blob sitting in front of her solar plexus. Upon deeper questioning, she said it was there to protect her. As she worked with the coaching process, the black blob transformed into a crystal.
The client took on the assignment of drawing the black blob and the crystal. The following week she emailed a jpeg of a paper in the shape of a circle. On one side she had drawn the black blob and on the other side was a beautiful drawing of a crystal mandala. When she spoke of the rock she said
I like looking at it. I’m at peace with it.
When questioned about how she now regarded her bookkeeping she said
This isn’t so bad (working with numbers)…. I like working with numbers. It’s a game.
Within this example we can observe that the client had an obstacle. Within the coaching process of powerful questioning the client came up with her own images to describe the problem and the resolution. This reflects a growth of self awareness, self acceptance and self love. It also reflects a transformation of belief. And lightness was created out of the seriousness of business and finance. By making an art form out of it, the client could anchor the resolution into her psyche and then move forward with the reframing, motivation and progress toward her goal.
Another client was working on growing her business. As she talked about what strengths she brought into her business, she made a picture that had some colored lines and words defining her strengths. She used it to work on her awareness, her ability and willingness to embrace and embody her strengths. Later, she did another picture of her strengths. In the next picture she used collaged images instead of words to depict her strengths. Her awareness of her strengths shifted dramatically with the use images rather than words. Whereas in the first picture, her awareness of her strengths had been hazy and not anchored within her, when she put images to those words she found herself more easily identifying with her strengths, and consciously leaning into them to direct her actions towards her business goals and life objectives.
Another client was working within coaching on “Appropriate Challenges.” She was asked, as an assignment, to find an image that reflected her “Appropriate Challenge”. Through the internet she found an image that showed two gold fish bowls, one smaller than the other and a gold fish jumping through the air from the smaller bowl to the larger one.
She reflected upon this image often during her coaching series. Initially, she saw the image as a representation of her process of moving toward her new goal. This included skill sets she was bringing forward from her previous career, reflected in the symbol of the two bowls looking alike but one being bigger. She was the fish, a dancer who loves the experience of being in the air with her feet off the ground. Dance was the vehicle taking her to her next big step.
One day she reflected that she felt she was in the small bowl and her session was conducted around that. She often talked about the large bowl and what it meant in terms of her personal self acceptance and skill development to get her to her goal. She framed the picture and kept it around as a reminder of her dreams and goals and her path towards them. The path of the flight of the gold fish reflecting who she was within herself as well as the actions she was taking to achieve her goals.
These examples show how transformative art can be in one’s inner life reflecting as well in the outer circumstances of goals and activities related to one’s career and business.
The Numinous in Art and in Coaching
Within coaching, art and imagery can be used as a tool to move a client forward with their innate sense of being and truth. A basic tenet of coaching is that the client knows best what they need to do to make changes in their life. International Coach Academy teacher Jamee Tenzer said
The client has their answer. As a coach we just need to keep asking them to go deeper within to find it” Another ICA instructor Leon VanderPol, spoke of how he “always coaches to the Divine in his clients.
Artists and coaches working with art, make a connection with art and the spiritual, the Divine. Art is a tool a coach can use to take a client deeper into their own psyche, their unconscious, to the core of their being, to that place of Source, the Divine within. This will help the client find their answers, solve their challenges, become all they can be. When a coach prompts the client with the question “What does that look like?” he/she is inviting the client to reach with their imagination into the deeper part of their being to their core to find and create a picture that illuminates a greater awareness and insight to move them forward in their life.
Author Mimi Farrelly-Hansen writes,
Those of us who experience the art therapy process encounter imagery that becomes numinous for us, telling of spiritual truth somehow both in us and beyond us, and also beyond words.
Carl Jung reflected that
the approach to the numinous is the real therapy and inasmuch as you attain to the numinous experiences you are released from the curse of pathology. Even the disease takes on a numinous quality.
In coaching we do not coach to pathology, but we can look to Dr. Jung’s words as an offering of how to direct our awareness and assist our clients in expanding their inner awareness, accepting and loving all parts of their self as we help them move through their challenges and achieve their goals.
Much more could be explored and written about regarding this subject. Here it can be seen that art and imagery are accessible and powerful tools to help clients make progress within the coaching process. Art, as a coaching tool, helps a client reach their inner depth, and in doing so provides clarity and motivation in moving a client forward toward inner and outer transformation, strength and achievement of life goals.
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Farrelly-Hansen, Mimi (2009). Spirituality and Art Therapy: Living the Connection, Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Frank, Maureen, Artist, “The Mandala Lady”, (phone interview, 4/12/12)
Gaynor, Sheri, (2009). Creative Awakenings, Envisioning the Life of Your Dreams Through Art, North Light Books, (phone interview, 4/11/12)
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