I've noticed lately a rise in the number of people teaching self-exploration art journaling, and it's got me a bit worried. Let me explain why.
It's one thing for you to use your art journal for self-exploration. You can explore into the depths you want, pull back when it's too much - really take your time on your journey. Art journaling really is a perfect vehicle for self-exploration and process work.
Here's the problem, though, with someone teaching you to use art journaling for self-exploration - you are paying them to take you on a journey, and therefore, you are entering into a form of therapy. And from what I've seen, it's all artists teaching these classes, not therapists, counselors or social workers. In other words, they have ZERO qualifications to walk you through what is essentially a therapeutic process.
I took an on-line class a couple of years ago that was purported to take you into the depths of yourself, using art journaling. This teacher advertised that she would be there every step of the way, and would work her magic on the spreads you produced. I trusted that. Well, on the third lesson, we were diving into our origins, family stuff, heavy stuff, and I was feeling pretty vulnerable and raw. I posted my spread, and waited for her to comment. And then I waited some more. And the other women waited. It took a week for her to get back to any of our pages. That in itself was painful. But then, she did something completely unexpected - she totally invalidated my experience. She told me it was an "old story", and that I needed to move on.
I was deeply hurt and confused. When she told me it was an old story, I felt slapped in the face. We were asked to talk about our origins, I did, and I felt like the teacher stuck her fingers in her ears and said "Lalalala, I don't want to hear this." I feel I need to add that I wasn’t whining, I wasn’t asking for sympathy – I was just as honest as I could be about where I came from. That was what was asked of us for the lesson, that's what I did. But this teacher did NOT know how to handle traumatic experiences, at all. Not only were we all left hanging, me with my soul raw and exposed to a stranger (and on the third lesson - there was no time to ease into it), but then I was completely invalidated. Validation is one of the most important therapeutic tools there is. It's a necessary process in a therapeutic relationship - it builds trust and helps a person move on from the experience. I had shared something very deep and painful, in a group setting, and the teacher trampled on my experience.
However, I was also lucky. I happened to be in real therapy at the time, and was able to be validated there - not only about my experience with my origins, but that an artist with no training in therapy had no business to be practicing it. My therapist was pissed, actually, because it's just so dangerous.
See, what happens to the women in these classes, who aren't in therapy, that trust like I did, and then aren't helped? What happens when a meltdown occurs, and the teacher has no idea how to handle it? What happens when several women meltdown? What happens when someone sends out a cry for help, on-line, because they’ve just been completely triggered? It’s dangerous, to try to lead people on the path of self-exploration, without any training. That's what therapy is for.
And please, don't get me wrong - like I said above, art journaling is a perfect vehicle for probing the depths of yourself and your soul. But you can do that, without paying someone else to teach you how. Only you know what's safe and what isn't. Only you know your triggers and outcomes. You don't have to follow someone's outline to do soul-work in your art journal. In fact, you probably shouldn't - they may ask you to go somewhere you're not ready to go. No one can cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all when it comes to self-exploration.
So, please, just be careful out there.