Mandala Art Therapy
Every art therapist seems to love mandalas and the effect they often have on clients. Mandala is a Sanskrit word from India that means, “disk” or “circle”. It is often expressed as a symbolic pattern usually in a form of a circle divided into four or more separate sections. Creating such a graphic symbol allows you to focus your attention on the self, the sacred or the universe.
Jung found that drawing mandalas had a calming effect on patients while at the same time facilitating some form of integration. Mandala drawing was viewed as a creative means of traumatic disclosure that would symbolically organise and integrate emotions and experiences, while serving the same function as writing a narrative. In Henderson’s 2007 study, a significant improvement in PTSD symptom severity via mandalas was found.
Mandala Art Therapy Activity
Here’s a mandala art therapy activity for you, which will take you around 2-3 hours.
- A3 Paper and Oil Pastels, pencils, rulers, rubbers, scissors
- Round objects of different circumferences to trace around such as plates, jar tops. A compass could be used as well.
1. Prepare your shape on A3 paper.
- Cut the end of the paper off so you have a square.
- Using a pencil, draw a circle using a large plate, making sure it is equidistant space from the edge on all four sides. Creating equidistant spaces without a ruler ‘by eye’ is actually hard to do. If you fold the paper diagonally from the two corners, then fold in half horizontally, then vertically, you will have eight sections straight away, and a centre. You can then use a compass. To centre the plate circle, measure across the paper square, then measure across the plate circle. Subtract the circle width from the paper width, which leaves you with the difference, then divide by two and have that measurement on each side.
- The circle will be contained within the square. A circle within a square has an extremely relaxing effect.
- Place a light dot with a pencil in the centre of the circle to know where the centre is as a reference point.
2. Begin drawing the mandala in pencil.
Draw a mandala that is in the core of yourself, your centre, your energy. Find the spot where the energy is.
3. Draw anything you like symmetrically around the circle.
The idea here is to that no matter how you turn the picture, the patterns should remain the same. You could do quarters or eighths, for example. Patterns can be abstract or geometrical shapes or symbols or pictures such as a heart, a bird, circles or squares. Aim to make them symmetrical at least to some degree.
4. Once you have your layout in pencil, start colouring in your mandala.
Do this one colour at a time in each segment and work towards the middle. This repetition is very relaxing. Make sure you do the colouring in a place where you feel most comfortable, such as your favourite room or the garden.
5. Take your time.
Take you your time on the activity if possible. Some monks take years to draw or build mandalas, but my clients tend to take around 30 minutes to 3 hours per day or per week.
I try not to create an expectation or pressure when it comes to mandalas and hope the process creates its own momentum. This happens more often than not.
Mandalas are often used in spiritual direction and on retreats as a means of expressing a spiritual moment in a person’s life. When reflected on deeply during such a period of silence, they can lead to radical change and to an understanding of the significance of even the simplest moment in a person’s life.
I hope you enjoy this activity. Please make time for it to allow your cosmos to shrink and expand, so new insights can happen again and again.
Robert GrayDirector and Senior Lecturer at CECAT
Registered Art Therapist and Psychologist
MA A. Th., AThR; B. Soc. Sc. (Psych.) (Hons.), MAPS.; BA. Theol. (Hons), MA Theol.
A highly regarded art therapy lecturer from Germany, Robert Gray has become a much sought-after art therapy lecturer and practising art therapist in Australia. His unique approach spanning psychodynamic, humanistic, spiritual and cognitive behavioural frameworks has distinguished him as a thought leader who is frequently invited to present at conferences in Australia and abroad.
Trained overseas and multilingual, German-born Robert shares the benefits of his international affiliations and access to cutting-edge research published in various languages with his students and readers. Robert is a professional member of the Australian and New Zealand Arts Therapy Association (ANZATA) and the Australian Psychological Society (APS).