Artist Trading Cards in Therapy

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Artist trading cards, or ATCs, are small, baseball card-sized works of art. They can be made from collage, paint, drawings, words, and can even include other material such as wire, fabric, glitter, feathers, etc. Traditionally, artist trading cards are just that: a card meant to be given away—sent out into the universe to find someone whom will benefit. They are unique, meaningful, and are small enough to carry in one’s wallet.

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Creating artist trading cards is an art therapy project I love to bring in to my work with clients. Here are some of the therapeutic outcomes of these gems:

1. Simplicity.

There is only so much one can fit onto a teeny tiny card. When we are overwhelmed by a feeling or an experience, it can be helpful to contain it to a manageable size (in this case, literally). When we only have a small card to work with, we are also forced to let go of the peripheral mental chatter and bring the essence of our feeling into focus.

For example, when I am triggered into remembering a shameful experience, it is easy to lose myself in a thunderstorm of thoughts, worries, or mental battles to escape what I am feeling. But what does this shame look like? What color would it be? What texture? If it could only say one sentence, what would it say? Allowing it to express itself on a small card helps us to process it, and it also helps us to contain it.

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2. An object in transition.

Creating something that fits into a wallet can be really helpful in that it can come with us everywhere. Perhaps we want to cultivate self-love or connect with our sense of empowerment. Having a physical object that represents these things can be a powerful thing to have in your pocket. Artist trading cards and other small art therapy projects are a great way to help cultivate positive emotional experiences because you can bring them with you; they jump out at you and serve as a reminder when you need them. Once you no longer need them, you can send them back into the universe to find someone who does.

3. Letting go.

Several years ago, when I was working in an orphanage in Kathmandu, Nepal, my mother (who is a talented photographer and lover of the arts) came to visit. She had the idea to photograph the children we were working with for a project. She brought their pictures to the high school in her town, and after collaborating with the art teacher, the art students were each given a photograph from which they would paint a portrait. Once they were finished, the portraits were brought back to Kathmandu and given to the children there.

The reactions of the orphaned children after this exchange were profound; for many of them, it was the first time someone had paid attention to the details of their face or had labored over a gift for them. Many of them reported feeling understood and seen by the artists whom they had never met. My mother reported a profound experience by the artists as well; many had a difficult time letting gatc4o of the projects they had worked so hard on. Feeling connected to and changed by a project and then giving it away to another person taught about community, connection with others, impermanence, and letting go.

Artist trading cards were developed in the same spirit. Creating art is immensely healing, as it helps us connect with unspoken parts of ourselves. Sharing that art can also be profound, in that it helps show us how we are not isolated in difficult experiences, but rather connected. Sometimes art can serve as a form of communication for emotions that we are unable to express with common language; it shows us that others feel the same way and it gives others the chance to grow from our work. It also helps us practice letting go of something we are attached to, an act that can ultimately help us to feel more peaceful with the ever-changing nature life.

If you come by my office, please feel free to take or trade a card with me!

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Rachael Uris, MA, LPC is the owner of Atacama Counseling, LLC, offering sex therapy as well as individual and couple's counseling for issues surrounding sexuality, love, and pregnancy. All services are located in downtown Boulder, Colorado, and are provided in English and Spanish.
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