The Easiest-Ever Way To Boost Creativity

Art by Karen Stefano.
You’ve probably heard of expressive arts therapy — a process where trained mental health professionals work with clients through media-making, using the images produced to explore emotional issues, adjust cognitive reactions, and do all the other things you’d expect out of therapy. “Clients, facilitated by their therapist, use art media, the creative process, and the resulting work of art as part of the therapy," says Karen Stefano, an artist, counselor, and teacher. Stefano practices collage therapy, a particular kind of expressive arts therapy using bits of paper and other traditional collage-making materials that allows practitioners and clients to make deep emotional connections. Stefano says that such work allows her to help people:

-Explore feelings
-Reconcile emotional conflicts
-Foster self-awareness
-Manage behavior and addictions
-Develop social skills
-Improve reality orientation
-Reduce anxiety
-Increase self-esteem
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Art by Karen Stefano.
Is all this necessary? Yes, Stefano insists. “Our busy and complex lives leave little room for self-discovery, a process that is both spontaneous and instinctive,” she explains. “[This exploration] is far too important to leave...to chance moments or late-night musings. As an expressive arts therapist, I work with people every day to slow down their high-speed lives and listen to their inner stirrings through creative play.”

If the idea of sitting down and creating a work of art sounds intimidating, collage is an easy way to get started — yep, the same stuff you did in kindergarten. Because it is non-verbal and not bound by logic, collage therapy has the power to awaken deeply-held feelings and beliefs that might otherwise remain unexpressed. “The process of sorting through and associating images to create your own personal visual statement can result in remarkable insights that shape lifelong changes in our bodies, minds, and emotions,” says Stefano. “As Carl Jung once said: ‘Often, the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.’”

Stefano believes that symbols and images that arise from our unconscious are remarkably visible in collage: “Working intuitively, without thinking about creating a design, the patient reveals things that she may not have known — or allowed herself to know.” Stefano envisions the technique as a visual and kinesthetic process that activates the instinctual and primitive parts of the brain.

“I’ve seen patients move through grief, past writer’s block, and into a more mindful way of life through the simple process of collage,” she says. “The process of creating can open a door for you, too. Like I said, it merely requires kindergarten-level skills — and an open mind.” While Stefano believes that collage therapy should only be done with a professional, she gave us five tips for nurturing creativity that should serve anyone well. Try them the next time you’re on a deadline and searching for ideas!
Art by Karen Stefano.
Stop. Slow down. Breathe.
Really. Just stop! Slow down enough to breathe deeply. This is your starting point.

Get Grounded
Find a body-oriented practice that's geared toward developing a deeper awareness of your connection to the earth. For example, with your feet planted on the ground, imagine growing roots deep into the earth, allowing the intelligence from the earth to rise through your feet, slowly upward into your awareness.

Tune In
Pay attention to what is going on in your body, mind, and emotions.

Trust In The Unknown
Creativity does not happen on command; it’s about cultivating an open and receptive state of mind.

Dwell In The Moment
Now is the time to play! Put ambition and any expectations on hold and allow your curiosity to roam. See what arises. Don’t think in terms of results, and do not compare yourself with others.

Karen Stefano is an artist, counselor, and teacher. A trained sculptor and painter, she draws on the synergy of expressive arts and counseling. Stefano’s approach is somatic, existential, and influenced by Jungian ideas. She has been teaching the tissue paper collage process for over 20 years, and leads collage workshops around the world. Her next one, "Images, Metaphors, and Myth: Opening to the Transformative Power of Tissue Paper Collage," will be held from October 10-14, 2015, in Taos, New Mexico at the incredible Mabel Dodge Luhan House. (And yes, she is the mother of Refinery29 CEO Justin Stefano!)
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