Collage Art Therapy (Part 1)

In collage, the client creates a piece of art by combining images, such as magazine pictures.  Collage is a great activity for art therapy because it feels less threatening to clients than other art activities like painting and drawing.  Many clients may feel nervous about drawing because they may not have done art in many years, have a feeling that they are not "good" at art, or don't know where to start in creating something.  Collage pictures can be a great way for a client to find an image that represents what they want to say.  It can also be a great way to spark new ideas and stimulate thought.  As a client looks through the selection of images, they are engaged in thought and reflection.  They may come across something they never would have thought to look for but that perfectly expresses what they need to say.  In addition, each image can have multiple levels of meaning.  For example, an adolescent may choose an image of a car and say it is because they want to have a nice car one day.  In seeing this, the therapist may also hypothesize that the car is a symbol of the adolescent wanting freedom.  Images that clients choose are influenced by many factors, both the archetypal or generally known meanings of symbols, as well as the client's own personal experiences and culture.  Therefore, it is important to remember that symbols have varying meanings; the therapist may hypothesize about meanings but should not impose absolute interpretations.  Collage art therapy can be used with individuals, families, and groups and is appropriate for all ages.

Example of an art therapy collage

How to get started:
As a therapist, it can be very helpful to collect pre-cut images.  Simply providing clients with a stack of magazines to look through can be time consuming and distracting.  I keep two collages boxes, one for images and one for words and phrases.  Some art therapists sort their images even further into categories, like people, animals, objects, and places.  When searching for images, I try to collect a wide variety of pictures--people various emotions, couples and families, places and landscapes, animals, food, cars, etc.  I generally avoid having too many pictures of celebrities or fashion models, but usually have a few of these.  Therapists should also be mindful of the clients that they are working with to ensure that they will feel represented by the people in the collage images (e.g., including various ethnicities, body types, age groups, and same-sex relationships).  Therapists vary in how they cut out their magazine pictures, such as cutting neatly around the image or quickly tearing.  I generally cut roughly around the image, but I make sure to cut off extra text, like captions.  In addition to your collection of images, you will want to have glue (like glue sticks or rubber cement), scissors, and paper in a variety of sizes and colors.  You may also have extra decorative items, like scrapbooking supplies (small brads, stickers, letters, etc.), that some clients may like to use.

There are a number of different ways to apply collage as part of therapy sessions.  Often, one of my first art therapy directives with a new client, especially an adolescent, is to have them create a collage by choosing at least three images that they like or that say something about them.  I always let clients know that it is okay to choose an image that they are drawn to, even if they don't know what it says about them.  Generally, I let clients choose all their images first and then we select a size of paper that is large enough; however, if a client needs more structure or containment you could choose the size of the paper first.  I always offer clients scissors so that they can choose to cut down the pictures or trim the edges--some clients don't mind jagged edges, some will be perfectionistic about trimming neatly.  Clients can also be given additional media like markers, oil pastels, or paints to add to their collage and create a mixed-media piece.  After the client completes their collage, it is important to have a conversation with them about the images they chose and the process of working on the collage. 

In my next post, I will discuss some more examples of art therapy collage directives and different ways to use collage.

Carolyn Mehlomakulu, LMFT, ATR is a psychotherapist in Austin, Texas who works with children, adolescents, and families.  For more information about individual therapy, child counseling, family therapy, and art therapy services, please visit 

Creative Commons License
Finding Balance by Carolyn Mehlomakulu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. The above image is my own artwork and is licensed under Creative Commons.  I request that it not be reproduced without written permission.

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