The Inside Story behind Drawing From The Heart

Undercover At Quest Books

Originally printed in the July - August 2004 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Dorr, Sharron. "The Inside Story behind Drawing From The Heart" Quest  92.4 (JULY - AUGUST 2004):150-151.

by Sharron Brown Dorr

This accessible guide for healing trauma—whether due to the loss of a relationship or job, illness, violence, death, or any major life change—will work for anyone even if they can't draw. As the illustrations show, simple doodles can transform a painful experience into a source of wisdom and strength.

Holistic health counselor Barbara Ganim's transformative techniques are based on current split-brain research revealing that imagery penetrates more directly than words to the deep unconscious, where true healing occurs. Hence the power of Barbara's visual exercises as a tool to release stress, set healthy boundaries, practice gratitude, increase compassion, and find inner peace.

But this is the outside story of this user-friendly book, that sparkles with illustrations and is set for release in June by Quest Books. We send it into the world with the expectant hope that it will benefit thousands of individuals who suffer.

The inside story of how Barbara came to write the book is particularly poignant, as it reflects the difficult circumstances we all share in these troubled times. Here's how she describes it:

After September 11, 2001, and like everyone else, I was shaken to the core. Even though I hadn't personally lost anyone, I felt devastated and helpless. The following Sunday, I had attended mass at Saint Paul's Episcopal Church in Wickford, Rhode Island. As the priest, Reverend Mary Canavan, spoke about the attacks, I found myself swept up in the open display of emotion people were expressing. Witnessing everyone's pain gave me the idea of offering my services pro bono to members of the congregation who had been affected by 9/11. When I later explained to Reverend Canavan that my work involved using expressive art to help people heal emotional pain and loss, she felt that people would be receptive.

The following week my plan for a seven-week, seven-step support group was announced in the church bulletin, initially called "Drawing Out the Pain: When It Hurts Too Much to Talk." In another week, the support group was full and had a waiting list. Eventually I was running two groups back-to-back in the parish hall, just one month after the destruction of the World Trade Towers.

The program was powerful. What I discovered—something that as a counselor I had always known but had never experienced directly—was that national tragedies act like a trigger igniting a need in us to reevaluate our lives. This process inevitably connects us with unresolved issues and unhealed emotions from the past. As one of my teaching colleagues put it, "September 11 has altered our lives so drastically that it has actually brought about a paradigm shift in our national consciousness. That shift wasn't like a pebble falling into a pond and causing a small ripple. It was like a boulder falling hard and deep; and when it hit bottom, it stirred up all the murky residue that had been resting unseen, in some cases for years, beneath the surface.

In ordinary times when we're confronted with painful issues, we tend to deal only with what is essential at the moment. For example, if we're in the midst of a divorce, we rarely have the energy to worry about all of our other emotional baggage or about the associated relationships that get damaged in the process. But during nonordinary times—and 9/11 certainly was nonordinary—our focus is more universal. Because the kind of stress that emerges in a national crisis isn't usually linked to any one person, it leaves just enough energy within most of us finally to heal old and unrelated wounds. That is precisely what I found to be true in my support groups—everyone was willing and ready to address those unhealed emotions from the past.

As the groups progressed, we began calling them "Drawing from the Heart," because we were looking to the heart for its perspective on how to transform our emotional reactions to a painful experience. This focus is quite different from the way most people attempt to deal with pain and loss—which is by talking. As I know all too well from years of experience as an expressive arts therapist, simply talking about emotional pain seldom helps people heal from emotionally devastating events; to the contrary, it often makes them feel worse. The reason is that words carry judgment, and judgment can exacerbate our painful feelings by keeping us trapped in a cycle of blame, shame, and anger. Using drawing to express what the heart feels, on the other hand, enables us to move past blame and shame and begin to see what a painful experience can teach us. Once we begin to see the experience from that perspective, true healing can begin.

To my surprise, running these sessions also helped me deal with the pain from my own past, and for that I am most grateful. As the groups evolved, my thoughts about just how important it was to deal with unhealed emotions came front and center. That's when I decided to write about this process of drawing from the heart. And even though I knew that by the time this book was published, 9/11 would be long over, I also knew that emotional pain is a fact of life. Unfortunately, it doesn't take a national crisis to create it. The seven-step process here is relevant to anyone who wants to find a gentle path to healing. May it be so for you!


Barbara Ganim, M.A.E., C.H.H.C., is Assistant Professor of Expressive Arts and Program Coordinator for the Holistic Counseling and Expressive Arts graduate programs at Salve Regina University in Rhode Island. She is coauthor of Visual Journaling: Going Deeper than Words.


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