Using Collage in Your Group

An inexpensive, yet powerful projective tool for process and communication is the collage medium. It works well with most age groups, levels of functioning and cultural orientations. It's an excellent communication tool for new groups, gatherings and therapy sessions.

I collect images from magazines, old art books (obtained cheaply by going to used book shops), colorful ads, and greeting cards. I select images from both mainstream and alternative sources, having a wide range of cultural and diverse sources included. I keep these in different boxes labeled: people, animals & nature, buildings & human constructs, art (including spiritual and mythical imagery), symbols & signs. I also have a smaller container for words & phrases as well as a box of Tarot card images.

Some facilitators just have a pile of magazines to flip through, but I find it helps to have the images already trimmed and easily accessible in specific categories. This works to remove and free the image from it's context and distracting influences (especially in the case of magazines and ads). I have many sizes and shapes of paper, card stock and boxes on hand for the collage process, as well as several pairs of scissors, Exacto knives and different types of glue; rubber cement, paper glue, stick glue & Mod Podge.

You may want your group to work on individual issues that they can share afterwards or on a certain theme, or maybe even work together on a large group collage. If the group is working on individual projects I tend to encourage the members to stay in a quiet, peaceful space during the creative time period in order to allow the unconscious to arise. Many times I'll do a creative visualization with them beforehand and have beautiful music in the background to help facilitate the meditative mood. Here is a wonderful Guided Imagery that you may want to use (or modify). On the other hand, if you are working on a community collage project, it may be healing to share, laugh, and openly encourage the process with each other. In this case I might play an upbeat instrumental tempo in the background. A beautifully scented candle such as rose, citrus or gardenia also takes the creative mind to welcomed heights.

This is also a useful method of introducing new group members to each other. Often times participants choose images that are more daring and expressive, or evoke deeper emotions than they might otherwise share in a group.

After spending a specified amount of time, the group is given a 15 minute warning to wrap things up and reconvene in a circle. People who wish to, are encouraged to express what feelings, thoughts, issues came up during the process and often have a deeper understanding of their experience as they express it in a supportive environment. A few members may feel more comfortable not sharing their own experience with the group. Depending on the circumstances, (if for example we have many related projects planned for the day) sometimes we just journal on what we've experienced or come back at another time with a story or poem describing the collage.

I've noticed that often the collages done over time begin to show an emerging theme, pattern or an evolving awareness. Other times a person's collages may reveal the diversity, complexity and multi-layers of the personality. I've found collage to be one of the most powerful mediums to use in a group. Many people are intimidated when faced with the daunting task of drawing, sculpting, painting or otherwise expressing themselves in an artistic way, but feel comfortable with the process of collage, which allows them to be expressive and creative without signaling the 'critical self'. It is also an excellent introduction to using art therapy. People often realize over time, that they are capable of expressing themselves in creative ways and can comfortably move into other art mediums. Most people can identify with and enjoy finding images and arranging them on a space or object they've chosen; much like finding the interlocking pieces to a puzzle. They can actively gather the scattered thoughts, feelings and aspects of the Self , bringing them together as a cohesive whole. The paper, card stock or object they choose to work with serves as a safe space with boundaries in which to work within.

Additionally, using a box to collage with can be a metaphor of the inner and outer self (the outside of the box depicting the outward persona that we show the world, and the inside revealing the secret self or even the inner child). I can often obtain an array of unusual wooden boxes from cigar shops (for free or very cheaply) and offer each participant to choose whichever box speaks to them.

Arnell Ando