Drawing Inside an Empty Head On and Off Meds for Bipolar I Disorder and Bipolar II Disorder

Finished Size: 2 (8 ½” x 11”) pieces of white paper

Purpose/Goal:
To explore feelings and conversation around what it feels like to be on and off medication. Often clients on medication for Bipolar disorder experience side effects such as lethargy, changes in thinking, drowsiness, muscle spasms. Clients report a “cap on their emotions” or an inability to “think like they used to”. The medication is treating the mania, which, in some cases, is a welcome (or familiar) state for the client. The purpose of this directive is to talk about what it feels like to be on and off the medication, to share in the universality of struggle, to discover positives and benefits to taking the medication (such as increased relationship stability, ability to tolerate work and social situations more, reduced mania resulting in more safety). The clients will be asked to choose two head outlines, filling in on demonstrating what it feels like to be off medication; and filling in one to show what it feels like to be on medication. The ensuing conversation with give clients an option to explain how they feel, what their experience is, as well as an opportunity to relate with others, and potentially glean benefits (from their own work) and others. 

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Therapeutic Properties of the Media:
Colored pencils will not be used in case any of the patients are experiencing depressive symptoms. Use of the pencils require more effort than the other materials, which may deter someone with low energy. Therefore, oil and hard pastels and markers (with regular and brush tips) were chosen because of the ease of use, marking the paper and availability of a wide range of color choices for expression. According to Seiden, "color choices and means of relating symbolize feelings of hot, cold, stimulating, relaxing, clashing, flowing, deep or shallow expressions and will... be immensely important in defining the significance of the drawing." (Malchiodoi, 2011, p. 37).  

Malchiodi, C. A. (Ed.). (2011). Handbook of art therapy. Guilford Press.

  • Adaptations: Heads can be printed using different cultural features (see attached). Suggestions include: a woman with a hijab, an African American male and female profile, a female outline. Outlines can also be printed on colored card stock (most common are blue, green or yellow). These will still run through most printers, are cost-effective, and the black ink will show up on the paper well.
  • Creative Options: Offer letter, number and shape stencils that the clients can draw into. Stenciled letters can also be used to stick onto the drawing to convey ideas or thoughts, in addition to the drawing (like adding thought bubbles to the heads for racing thoughts, clear or muddy thinking)
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