Mental Health Self Portrait

I recently inherited a coping skills group for adults that suffer from mental illness. The group has been formed of individuals that have been recently diagnosed. They are struggling with accepting how their symptoms impair their daily functioning and how their diagnosis influences their self-perception.


I have found the verbal processing of emotion has been helpful, but many are resistant to engage due to their defense mechanisms. A strategy that I have found to be effective in both providing a comfortable space to let their guard down and express their emotions is through artwork.

Art Therapy

This week, my clients were tasked to sketch a picture of their old and new selves. They were instructed to fold a piece of paper in half to draw an empty face in the center of the page. On the left side of the paper inside the face, using crayons, oil pastels, or markers they were to draw who they were before they were diagnosed with their illness. On the right side of the face, they were tasked to draw who they currently are or who they want to be.




As with all my art activities, once the instructions are provided and a brief moment of deep breathing is completed as a group, the activity is practiced in silence with soft relaxing music playing in the background. This provides an opportunity to practice mindfulness, focusing on the present moment, non judgmentally.

Therapeutic Discussion

Once the art activity was completed, the group shared what the process was like for them. There were diverse responses that ranged from relaxing to disturbing. Once their feelings were validated, each person shared their project to include what lessons they were taking away regarding their mental health journey, as well as from the exercise.




Process Questions


  • What was this experience like for you?
  • What emotions surfaced? How do you know, (i.e. your body’s sensations, your thoughts)?
  • What were you thinking when you drew your old self?
  • What did you notice about yourself?
  • Was this easy or difficult? How did you tolerate it?
  • What were you thinking when you drew your present self/future self?
  • What were your reasons for choosing one over the other?
  • What did you notice about yourself when you were drawing?
  • What do you think about yourself now?
  • When you hear other people sharing their experiences, how does this influence how you think about yourself?
  • What are you planning on doing with the drawing?
  • How can you honor both your old self and new self with purpose and pride?, (i.e. helpful self-talk, forgiveness, radical acceptance, continuing to seek answers/help)?
  • What advice would you give your old/current/future self?

*An additional way of using this activity is by assigning participants to draw on the left side of the face what they hide from others about who they are or how they feel on the inside. On the right of the face, have them draw what they want others to see.