Expert Therapist Saba Harouni Discusses Art Therapy

Saba Harouni BWWhen she was just a freshman in college, Saba Harouni took a career-planning course which included a significant number of inventories and surveys. Designed to help students identify a variety of appropriate career paths, the questionnaires focused on the students’ values, interests, and strengths. The course marked a turning point in Harouni’s life, because it introduced her to Art Therapy as a viable career choice. Understandably, she was excited to discover a field in which she could combine her passion for helping others with her belief in the cathartic power of art. The more research she did on a career in Art Therapy, the more convinced she became that she had found her ideal job. After finishing her bachelor’s degree, Harouni decided to pursue a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy specializing in Art Therapy. Her goal was to have a sound clinical foundation, skills, and a marketable degree. Today, Harouni is a licensed MFT as well as a Registered and Board Certified Art Therapist. She is in private practice in Los Angeles and thoroughly enjoys having the ability to work with different populations presenting a variety of needs.

How is Art Therapy distinctive from other methods of therapy?

Art Therapy is understood and can be utilized in distinct ways by different practitioners. I believe that individuals are often well-versed in language and that we have stories that we have repeatedly told ourselves and others that can ultimately hinder our ability to dig deeper and explore issues or patterns effectively. Our stories can help others better understand us, but they can also provide a certain degree of distance or safety for individuals and can interfere with our abilities to better understand ourselves.

I have observed how the use of art in therapy can allow for a deeper understanding of the client and that art can help a client connect with their subconscious in a non-threatening way. Using art as a different method of communication can allow both the therapist and the client to explore patterns, insights, and issues in a dynamic way. Clients are sometimes better able to explore their feelings and increase self-awareness through the art.

How do you use Art Therapy in your practice?

One way I use art therapy with clients is while I am assessing the client and building rapport with the client in the early stage of therapy. A directive that I am very fond of is to ask my client to identify between three and five collage images that resonate with them. I expound that the collage image can be pleasing to the client or it that it can speak to them in a way that feels uncomfortable, but regardless, that they feel drawn to the image for whatever reason. Once the client has identified the collage images that they want to utilize, I ask the client to identify a piece of paper and to adhere the collage images to the paper. Clients are encouraged to alter the images in any way that they like (for example to cut the images, draw on the images, and join the images). Once the client has finished making their art piece, I ask the client to share the different components and inquire about what they were thinking/feeling while they chose specific pieces and how they feel looking at the images now. We process the art piece and this allows me to begin to understand my client in a different way, to build rapport with my client, and often elicits unexpected insights from my client.

During the middle stage of therapy I have often encouraged clients to create a visual representation of what they are experiencing. This visual representation is then explored and processed with the client, and similarly, can help the client increase self-awareness and develop insights into their experiences. For example, if a client is struggling with a specific relationship, I will direct them to illustrate what that relationship looks like in relation to the client in an abstract fashion (using colors, shapes, etc.). I then inquire about what the colors and shapes elicit for the client. A follow-up art directive might then be utilized to assist the client in identifying how they would like the relationship to look ideally, and a third art piece can be used to better understand how the client can alter their experience of the relationship, or if it can be altered.

Finally, I believe that art interventions can be really powerful during the termination process. By encouraging the client to create art about termination, the client is invited to explore their feelings about saying goodbye to the therapist. In exploring the tangible art piece, the client is also able to explore their feelings about goodbyes and loss in a safe fashion, accessing their subconscious and addressing patterns and themes.

Learn more about how to become an art therapist.