Depression land: using art and play to explore and offer hope

Depression can change one’s entire worldview. The sun can seem less bright, birds less cheery, everything seems gloomier. Feeling trapped in such a place also leads to a loss of sense of control, of hope, of any possibility of something brighter.

Sometimes I will have people draw or create a sand tray representing their “depression world” this allows the person to share what depression looks, feels, tastes and even smells like from his or her perspective. Further articulating the experience and having another person validate this can be very empowering.

Inviting the person to create a pathway out of the depression world can decrease that ominous inevitability of it and allow the person to have more of a sense of control.

1. Have the individual draw, paint or create a sand tray representing their depression world.

2. Allow them to share what this means to them and validate their experience. They are the expert on their world!

3. Invite the individual to create a bridge, portal, or path away from depression world… “if you traveled away from depression land, where would you go?” This can either be a representation of what their world looks like when not depressed, or what they wish or think it could look like. Be patient. This can be hard for people to imagine. Often I find the sand tray allows for more opportunity and less feeling stuck during this prompt.

4. Create a bridge, portal, etc to get from depression land to happy/safe land. “If you could travel out of depression land to this other place you created, how would you get there?” Further explore if there are any cognitive, behavioral or other skills or efforts that have helped the person taste the other place (even briefly) when feeling depressed. “Is there ever a moment when you are in depression world that you experience some aspect of your happy world?” Further articulate these skills and efforts, solution focused techniques are great during this point!

If the individual created a sand tray, I often offer taking a photograph and providing them with a copy. Seeing what they created as a reminder can be very powerful. Offer a separate more zoomed in photo of the happy place as well. We know that thoughts affect feelings and even thinking of a safe and happy place can be powerful for many people.

Realize that for some people suffering from depression, suicide is something they have contemplated. If suicide comes up as an escape during this intervention, be prepared to explore this further and engage in next steps to ensure safety (safety planning, hospital referral, etc).

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