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Canadian Art Therapy Association Journal

ISSN: 0832-2473 (Print) 2377-360X (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/ucat20

From Liminality to Transformation: Creating an Art

Therapist Identity Through Myths, Metaphors, and
Self-Portraits (De la liminalité à la transformation :
création de l’identité de l’art-thérapeute à travers
mythes, métaphores et autoportraits)

Sherry L. Beaumont

To cite this article: Sherry L. Beaumont (2018) From Liminality to Transformation:

Creating an Art Therapist Identity Through Myths, Metaphors, and Self-Portraits (De la
liminalité à la transformation : création de l’identité de l’art-thérapeute à travers mythes,
métaphores et autoportraits), Canadian Art Therapy Association Journal, 31:2, 61-83, DOI:

To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/08322473.2018.1525667

© 2018 Sherry L. Beaumont. Published with

license by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.

Published online: 28 Jan 2019.

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2018, VOL. 31, NO. 2, 61–83

From Liminality to Transformation: Creating an Art Therapist Identity

Through Myths, Metaphors, and Self-Portraits
(De la liminalite  la transformation : cre
ation de l’identite
rapeute a
l’art-the  travers mythes, metaphores et autoportraits)
Sherry L. Beaumont, PhD, DVATI, RCCa,b
Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Northern British Columbia, Prince George, British Columbia, Canada;
Art Therapist and Registered Clinical Counsellor, Raven Way Art Therapy & Counselling, Prince George, British Columbia, Canada

This paper addresses a gap in the literature on art therapy identity by providing an arts-
based autoethnographic account of the author’s identity and growth-related experiences
while training as an art therapist and developing a private practice. The data analyzed
included personal journaling (written and art-based), course papers, and art made over a
six-year period. Using organic inquiry, narrative presentation, and qualitative thematic cod-
ing, analyses of the writing and art revealed evidence for the macrolevel themes of liminal-
ity (feeling between identities) and transformation (experiencing transformative growth and
self/identity integration). Within those macrolevel themes, the art and writing were related
to expressive metaphors. For the period of liminality, the metaphors included: (a) hanging
between worlds; (b) seeing without sight; (c) shapeshifting; and (d) dark night of the soul.
Within the period of transformation, they included moving from: (a) darkness to light; (b)
dismemberment to “rememberment”; and (c) death to rebirth. Throughout the narrative, the
roles of identity processes (e.g., contemplation), myths, metaphors, and art-making, espe-
cially self-portraiture, are discussed as important tools for self-identity development during
and after art therapy training.

Cet article tente de combler une lacune dans la litte rature sur l’identite en art-therapie au
moyen d’un expose autoethnographique fonde sur l’art des experiences identitaires et de
croissance de l’auteure pendant sa formation comme art-therapeute et le developpement
de sa pratique privee. Les donnees analysees sont tirees d’un journal personnel (ecrit et
artistique), de travaux ecrits pour les cours et d’oeuvres d’art realisees sur une periode de
six ans. L’enqu^ete organique, la presentation narrative et le codage thematique qualitatif
ayant guide les analyses de l’ecriture et de l’art ont mis en evidence des themes de niveau
macro comme la liminalite (sentiment d’^etre entre deux identites) et la transformation
(experience de croissance transformatrice et d’integration de soi, de son identite). Au sein
de ces themes de niveau macro, l’art et l’ecriture faisaient appel a des metaphores expres-
sives. Pour la periode de liminalite, les metaphores incluaient : (a) ^etre suspendu entre les
mondes; (b) voir sans vision; (c) changer de forme; et (d) la nuit sombre de l’^ame. Au cours
de la periode de transformation, les metaphores comprenaient le passage : (a) des tenebres
a la lumiere; (b) du demembrement au « re-membrement »; et (c) de la mort a la renais-
sance. Tout au long de l’expose, les ro ^les des processus identitaires (p. ex. la contemplation),
des mythes, des metaphores et de la creation artistique, en particulier de l’autoportrait, sont
discutes en tant qu’outils importants pour le d eveloppement de l’identite personnelle pen-
dant et apres l’art-therapie.

The issue of identity has been important in the therapy unique as a profession. More pertinent to
field of art therapy since its inception, with much this paper are the personal accounts of authors
of the discussion focused on what makes art who discuss how they conceptualize their own

CONTACT Sherry L. Beaumont sherry.beaumont@unbc.ca Department of Psychology, University of Northern British Columbia, 3333 University Way,
Prince George, BC V2L 4Z9, Canada.
Color versions of one or more of the figures in the article can be found online at www.tandfonline.com/ucat.
ß 2018 The Author(s). Published with license by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-
nc-nd/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed,
or built upon in any way.

identities as art therapists (Junge, 2014). Because provided a context and catalyst for greater self-
most of those authors have been working as art reflection and identity growth. And so, with this
therapists for many years, they offer only min- paper, I dove into the realm of pondering myself
imal retrospective details about how they came to as subject of my own identity study, with the
identify as an art therapist or some other artist/ hope that the identity and art-making processes
therapist identity. Thus, there is a gap in the lit- that unfolded will be informative for others.
erature on how students and early-career profes-
sionals develop their identities in art therapy, and
Identity processing and flexibility
equally important, how art-making and self-
exploration during art therapy training can Before presenting my personal narrative, it is
prompt and support self-development. Personal worth considering relevant theory and research
accounts of those experiences are valuable for on identity processing, particularly during iden-
students to predict and negotiate potential prob- tity transitions, such as furthering one’s profes-
lems, to identify helpful personal practices, and sional training. It is generally accepted that
to normalize and encourage them to share their identity first develops in adolescence and early
own experiences. adulthood, and then is maintained and/or modi-
This paper offers my story of the circumstan- fied across the lifespan (Erikson, 1994). Identity
ces, learning, and self-development that occurred is “an internal, self-constructed dynamic organ-
while I was training in art therapy, and in the ization of drives, abilities, beliefs, and individual
three years after training, as I began an art ther- history” (Marcia, 1980, p. 159). When someone
apy private practice. It is a personal account, and answers the question “Who Am I?,” what and
thus, is unique in many ways, as are all personal how they answer is that person’s identity. The
narratives. For example, my background is not what of identity includes one’s personal history,
typical: When I began art therapy training, I was cultural identity, religious or spiritual identity,
46 years old and was working full-time as a skills and typical activities, and work and rela-
psychology university professor, and after train- tionship roles. The how of identity includes the
ing, I continued to work as a psychology profes-
characteristic ways that one processes identity-
sor while also building a private practice. On the
related questions and concerns, solves problems,
other hand, what is not unique to me is having a
makes decisions, and copes with stress
lifetime of making personal art, believing in the
(Berzonsky, 2011). Identity processes, then, are
power of art and art-making for growth and
“the means by which identity content is encoded,
well-being, and wanting to add a helping profes-
elaborated, and integrated” (Berzonsky, 1988,
sion to my work. The art-making and identity
processes that I experienced are also not unique p. 256).
to me; but they are identifiable, and so this Considerable research in psychology and
account may be informative for those interested related fields has focused on the identity proc-
in the underlying creative and identity processes esses that people use to negotiate challenging life
that can occur during art therapy training. transitions. The general conclusion is that proc-
To further contextualize this personal narra- esses that foster flexibility in one’s identity are
tive, I should note that I have empirically studied key: being introspective and open to experiences,
the complex underlying processes that foster using a balance of rational and intuitive thinking
identity development toward greater self-know- styles (Berzonsky, 2011), and using identity proc-
ledge, wisdom, and individuation for over esses based in contemplation (e.g., self-reflection
20 years. This background provides me with a sci- and insight, mindfulness, self-compassion, accept-
entific understanding of the psychology of iden- ance; Beaumont, 2017) lead to the greatest adapt-
tity processes and development. It has also ability of identity. Those findings are consistent
fostered a more personal commitment to under- with education in art therapy that focuses on the
standing my own identity development. importance of self-development. For example,
Embarking on professional training in art therapy Moon (2002) argues that practicing art therapy

requires professionals to develop self-awareness consolidation or integration in one’s identity

by engaging in continual self-examination. (Beech, 2011). In addition, Ibarra and Obodaru
(2016) argue that personal growth during liminal
Identity work and play during liminality
experiences is fostered by identity play, or
“agentic playfulness in the service of creating,
A commitment to self-development or identity inventing, and ‘becoming’” (p. 26). Identity play
work is critical for professional development involves the provisional practice of behaviors,
(Beech, 2011). Identity work is characteristic of qualities, and techniques associated with the
people who “are continuously engaged in form- developing role in order to envision a possible
ing, repairing, maintaining, strengthening or revi- future self-identity (Ibarra & Obodaru, 2016). I
sing” their identities with the goal of developing believe that art therapy training is primed for this
greater integration or cohesiveness in self-identity kind of identity play due to its inclusion of studio
(Alvesson & Willmott, 2002, p. 626). Beech art-making, role-playing with instructors and stu-
(2011) argues that identity work is particularly dents, and direct contact with clients in practi-
helpful for negotiating the liminal state that often cum settings. Through my experiences in those
accompanies career transitions. Liminality is an activities, along with my own private art-making,
experience of being in-between two roles or iden- much of my identity play included making self-
tities; the person feels that he or she is “neither portraits, which fostered greater self-understand-
one thing nor the other” (Beech, 2011, p. 286). ing through symbolic, mythic, and metaphoric
The concept was originally coined by anthropolo- interpretations. Thus, a goal of this paper is to
gist Van Gennep (1960) to describe the transition demonstrate that artistic self-portraits, along with
phase that occurs in rites of passage when the their mythic and metaphoric meanings, provide a
person feels an ambiguous, nonstatus sense of source of self-expression and personal meaning
self (Schouten, 1991). The term was later used in that foster and demonstrate identity integration
literature on organizational behavior to explain and self-transformation.
why identity transitions during career interrup-
tions or changes are felt by many people as
Self-development as transformation
ambiguous states of being “betwixt and between”
(Beech, 2011). As will be shown, although my journey started
Through a case study of my personal narrative, with being between identities, that liminal state
this paper will show how training in art therapy gradually gave way to a period of transformative
can prompt a liminal state. Considering art ther- changes. According to Metzner (2010), “the
apy training as a context for liminality is consist- transformation of the individual requires a
ent with research on training in other helping turning inward, toward self—not in narcissistic
professions. For example, researchers found that self-absorption but in aware self-confrontation”
counselling students experienced confusion and (p. 18). What is transformed is consciousness
self-doubts in the early and middle phases of itself, one’s thoughts, feelings, perceptions,
their training (Sawatzky, Jevne, & Clark, 1994). assumptions, resistances, complexes, values, and
Art therapy training has additional sources of motives. It involves not just a change in world-
potential confusion based on identity issues view, but a change in how one feels about the
inherent in the field (e.g., historic arguments world and oneself, with a movement toward
about art in therapy vs. art as therapy; Junge, greater acceptance, compassion, and individu-
2014). Furthermore, if trainees are adding art ation (Metzner, 2010).
therapy to an already existing occupation, as I The variety of human experiences that lead to
did, then the potential for liminality will be even self-transformation appear in many traditional
higher as they attempt to negotiate old and new myths in which heroes and heroines are changed
work-role identities. by overcoming hardships or through transcend-
Although the experience of liminality is anx- ent experiences (Le Grice, 2013). In this context,
iety-provoking, with identity work, it promotes a myth is a story, along with symbolic imagery,

that is passed through generations of people therapy, as I understood it, while considering my
within a culture to communicate important per- place within it.
spectives or truths (Le Grice, 2013). In myths I was particularly committed to using a layered
and contemporary personal accounts, there account of autoethnography, which involves sim-
appear to be common metaphoric themes in how ultaneous narrative writing and examination of
self-transformation is talked about and under- data, such that the author’s different writing
stood (Metzner, 2010). For instance, self-trans- styles or “voices” are evident in the narrative
formation is often described as moving from (Rambo, 2007). Thus, my account relies upon a
captivity to freedom, illusion to clarity, or death weaving of different writing styles, including my
to rebirth (Metzner, 2010). Thus, transformative personal voice in the narrative and journal
experiences really bring together mythic and excerpts, my academic voice when presenting
metaphoric ways of understanding oneself. This relevant psychological literature, my storytelling
paper provides an arts-based personal example of voice when recounting traditional myths, and the
those types of experiences in the context of ques- “voices” of the characters portrayed in my art or
tions about identity while becoming an other imaginal experiences.
art therapist.
In summary, the goal of this paper was to pro- Research approach: Organic inquiry
vide a case study, in the form of a personal nar-
As I began to create a layered autoethnography,
rative, of how training in art therapy prompted a
it became evident that my research approach was
liminal state, which was transformed into greater
evolving; the writing of this paper, especially in
self-development through identity work (e.g.,
the revision process, was changing my under-
contemplation) and play (e.g., self-representation
standing of myself and my story. Thus, I sought
art-making), along with mythic and metaphoric
an appropriate framework from transpersonal
personal meanings. My hope is that this account
psychology, or “the study and cultivation of the
will be informative for others struggling with
highest and most transformative human values
identity questions about their place in the field of
and potentials,” which includes research
art therapy.
approaches that acknowledge the transformative
nature of doing research (Anderson & Braud,
Methodology 2011, p. 9). According to Clements (2011),
organic inquiry is a transpersonal research
Research method: Autoethnography approach that recognizes that the processes and
I chose autoethnography as the fitting method products of research can provide opportunities
for my goal of using narrative and visual art to for transformational changes in the personal
illustrate my identity development. worldviews of researchers, research participants,
Autoethnography combines autobiography and and readers.
ethnography, providing a method for narrating Organic inquiry is an emerging approach to
one’s experience within the transformative con- qualitative research that attracts people and topics
text in which it took place (Ellis, 1997). This related to psycho-spiritual growth. The psyche of the
method embraces artistic writing and creation as researcher becomes the subjective instrument of the
research, working in partnership with liminal
methods of evocative personal expression for the
[threshold] and spiritual influences … Called “organic
purpose of making arguments or contributions to inquiry” because it’s a living and therefore mutable
a sociocultural context (Muncey, 2010). For this process, the approach invites transformative change,
paper, the primary context is the field of profes- which includes not only information, but also a
sional art therapy training and practice. The transformation that provides changes in both mind
and heart. (Clements, 2011, p. 131)
intent is to use my autoethnography not only as
an example of narrative identity writing, but also The use of organic inquiry fosters opportuni-
to make a statement about the field of art ties for transformative changes because the

researcher is open to and seeks transpersonal program, and then while developing my private
experiences while conducting and writing the practice. For all of the art presented here, my art-
research. Such transpersonal experiences could making process (in vivo and in situ) included
include states of consciousness that connect the analyzing symbolic and mythic meanings using
individual to a liminal realm, or “a state beyond Jung’s active imagination and amplification meth-
ego that may be visited by the individual psyche ods (Chodorow, 1997; Keyes, 1983). Specifically, I
to gather useful experience” (Clements, 2011, would make spontaneous or process-oriented art,
p. 133). In such unstructured states, these trans- contemplate and analyze the symbolic meanings
personal experiences are witnessed rather than of the images, explore relevant myths related to
controlled, and thus, they may be felt as spiritual those meanings, then construct personal mythic
or mythical. The written research product meaning of (and sometimes with) the image
includes stories and metaphors, which better through contemplative methods (e.g., mindful-
capture the intuitive feel of those experiences ness, introspection, reflective writing). Thus, both
(Clements, 2011). the art images and the analyses of those same
Although to the best of my knowledge, this images became part of the data used for con-
approach has not often been used in art therapy structing the narrative.
research, it is consistent with the way that trans- The narrative construction involved a qualita-
personal art therapists describe the spontaneous tive research process of deconstructing and then
and egoless experience of art-making that hap- reconstructing (Chang, 2008) the meanings of the
pens when one trusts in the power of inspiration art and written data through several passes (lev-
and imagination. In those approaches to art- els) of thematic coding relevant to identity and
making and art therapy, creation and imagination self-development. The first coding pass identified
are likened to transpersonal forces beyond the the most obvious, macrolevel themes of liminality
control of one’s ego (Farrelly-Hansen, 2001). (feeling between identities) and transformation
Because many of the experiences I recount were
(experiencing transformative growth and self/
transpersonal in nature, the art-making and writ-
identity integration) which characterized the two
ing processes were organic, the presentation
natural periods of my journey: Liminality charac-
relied on storytelling that incorporated meta-
terized the period of most (all but the final
phoric themes, and the writing process unfolded
3 months) of my art therapy training (Sept.
in a way that revealed and supported transforma-
2011 – Dec. 2013), and transformation character-
tive growth, my approach naturally followed
ized the period of completing training, and then
Clements’ (2011) organic inquiry.
preparing for and starting my private practice
(Jan. 2014 – Jul. 2017).
Research process: Constructing the narrative Within those macrolevel themes, the art and
What is common to both autoethnography and writing appeared to constellate around metaphors
organic inquiry is a focus on personal narrative that expressively captured my experiences. Four
or storytelling as a research tool and presentation metaphors of liminality were identified: (a) hang-
method. Autoethnography involves autobiog- ing between worlds; (b) seeing without sight;
raphy as storytelling (Muncey, 2010), and organic (c) shapeshifting; and (d) dark night of the soul.
inquiry relies upon stories for both preparation With respect to the period of transformation, the
and integration phases of the research (Clements, metaphoric themes were consistent with com-
2011). Thus, I use personal narrative, along with monly used metaphors of self-transformation
visual art, as the method of presentation. (Metzner, 2010). They included: (a) from dark-
To construct the narrative, I relied on raw data ness to light; (b) from dismemberment to
in the form of over 200 artworks and 1,000 pages “rememberment”; and (c) from death to rebirth.
of writing (personal reflective writing and course The following narrative tells the stories of the
papers) produced over a six-year period while imagery, myths, and metaphors that were evident
completing a postgraduate art therapy diploma in my art, writing, and experiences.

Figure 1. The Hanged One. # Sherry Beaumont. Used with permission of artist.

Liminality order to develop wisdom (Noble, 1994). Odin

Hanging between worlds
stabbed himself in the side, plucked out his eye
(so he could see through other means), and then
As soon as I started making art in the open stu- hung himself by the ankles from The Tree of
dio environment of my first art therapy course, Knowledge in order to create a state of con-
my art-making was different than it had ever sciousness between life and death, or between
been; in short, it seemed to feature mythological everyday consciousness and a deeper, hidden,
characters. Figure 1 was made in the first few more mystical state of consciousness (Paxson,
days of the initial course-intensive period. It is 2017). There he hung for nine days and nights
me as the mythological figure of the Hanged One with his two ravens, Hugin and Munin
who voluntarily hangs upside down from The (Thought and Memory), connecting him to the
Tree of Knowledge in order to receive some world by acting as his eyes. At the end of his
insightful message (Noble, 1994). On the art, I ordeal, he discovered the runes, a mysterious
spontaneously wrote: “The hanged one … waiting symbolic language, which gave him knowledge
and watching … in limbo … There will come a of the meaning of existence. With the help of
time when I can no longer watch and wait … get the runes, he became wise and powerful; he
ready.” I was feeling between worlds, so I repre- learned to heal himself and protect others in
sented myself hanging at cross-limbs between my their struggles (Paxson, 2017). His greatest
two “trees of knowledge,” scientific psychology powers were of vision (as in visionary
and art, an old restricted identity and a new and intuitive perception) and esoteric wisdom;
fledgling identity. I was marking my initiation thus, he is sometimes described as a shaman
into liminality by an artistic ritual, asking myself (McCoy, 2016).
to get ready for what was to come. Although shamanism originally comes from
The classic Hanged One myth is the story of traditional practices within Indigenous cultures
the Norse god, Odin, who sacrificed himself in around the world, core shamanic practices have

been embraced as neo-shamanism by many peo- Seeing without sight

ple wishing to benefit from the spiritual or imagi- A few days after making Figure 1, during the
nal processes that are involved (Deatsman, 2011). open studio part of a course on counselling skills
The most often used core practice is shamanic for art therapy, I painted Figure 2, “Seeing
journeying. The practitioner, with the help of Without Sight,” which made it more obvious that
repetitive sound (e.g., fast drumming), inten- I was engrossed in shamanic mythology. I was
tionally enters into an altered or imaginal state able to process the meaning of this piece with a
of consciousness (a “journey”), in which the classmate who role-played the art therapist.
soul or spirit is experienced as acting without
the constraints of physical reality (Walsh, September 22, 2011 Transcript of art therapy session
(edited excerpt; used with permission)
2007). While in those altered, imaginal states
(referred to as “non-ordinary reality”), they can Me: I’m not sure if this is me or not. Probably. But
see, hear, and interact with the spirits (or I’m not sure why I felt the need to draw an Aboriginal
man. I purposefully made the crow as if it was coming
images) of animals, guides, or mythological and
out of his eye. For his hand, I was going to draw it in
archetypal beings (Deatsman, 2011; Walsh, proportion to his body, but then I realized I actually
2007). Practitioners seek these interactions in wanted it to be my hand, so I traced my hand. But
order to receive knowledge for the purpose of most of it was very subconscious. I just went with
helping or healing themselves or others whatever was happening. So the eyes on the back of
(Deatsman, 2011; Walsh, 2007). the hand just seemed like they should go there. And
the heart, same thing. I felt this need to put the heart
Scientists would argue that belief in spirits or
in between my fingers or resting in my hand … I
out-of-body experiences involve magical thinking, purposefully wanted the bird to be a crow and not a
or worse, psychoticism. However, in contrast to raven. In Celtic mythology, Crow is a shapeshifter. So
hallucinatory states in those suffering from psy- for some reason I chose Crow, and I’m not entirely
choticism, shamanic practitioners voluntarily sure why, but I think it’s important because something
entered into an imaginal state, maintain con- in this is about shapeshifting. To me that means the
scious awareness of their bodies and their envi-
ronments, and they function normally after a
shamanic journey (Walsh, 2007). After studying
and practicing shamanic techniques for over
17 years, I take a Jungian view that interprets
these experiences as a form of active imagination
in which the journeyer loosens control of the
mind enough to consider imagery and insights
that come from one’s personal unconscious or
the collective unconscious (Smith, 2007). In
fact, it has been argued that Jung himself
believed “that shamanism was the earliest fore-
runner of analytical psychology” (Smith, 2007,
p. 145). Whether the images are actually pre-
sent in some “non-ordinary reality,” or are part
of the collective unconscious, is less important
to me than is the symbolic or mythic meaning I
can make in order to explore my art and
myself. Thus, I proceed with an assumption
consistent with McNiff (1992): Art-making and
shamanic practice are alike in that they create
“imaginal realism, a direct presentation of the
life of imagination by the person who is experi- Figure 2. Seeing Without Sight. # Sherry Beaumont. Used
encing it” (p. 67). with permission of artist.

ability to connect with different realms, like different into birds and flying through the air in order to
realms or levels of consciousness … And his eye had to “see,” to gain a more intuitive perspective, during
be a reflective gold, so I colored it with a gold gel pen.
shamanic journeys. These “flying” experiences
And his eye is the same color as the man’s eye. So I
think this crow is him, shifting. And I’m sure the usually brought “insights, intuitions, and new
words I wrote have something to do with that too: images” (Metzner, 2010, p. 241) on the shaman’s
“Seeing without sight … flying sightless.” or others’ problems. Shamanic seeing, then, refers
Therapist: And the words are about perception, but to the ability to see through the surface appear-
not the perception that comes through the eyes, but an ance of things to a deeper reality; it is about
understanding that doesn’t rely on vision? working to clear away projections and distortions
Me: Yes! That’s it exactly! in one’s perceptions and fears of the unknown
(Deatsman, 2011). More discerning perception
Therapist: You also mentioned that the figure could
involves “seeing with the heart, or knowing in
be you?
your heart that what you are perceiving is truth”
Me: Possibly, it’s not consciously, but then everything I (Harner, 2013, p. 50). Pondering that informa-
make seems to be somewhat of a self-portrait so I’m
sure it probably is … So maybe it’s me in male form
tion, along with the art, made me realize that this
or it could be a spirit guide or maybe both. Actually it part of my journey was about gaining a deeper
has to be me because this is my hand and this is his awareness and acceptance of aspects of myself
hand. So it is me. that had previously been “hidden” (e.g., fears,
… attachments, and resistances) in order to be able
to transform into a person who could be an
Therapist: And if you think of yourself as an intuitive
healer, which you demonstrated that you are in the
art therapist.
work you did with another student earlier today. To be
able to do that you have to be able to reflect and listen Shapeshifting
and see. Not just with your eyes, but with your whole
being and your whole spirit. The theme of shapeshifting was evident in my
Me: When you said, “you are a healer,” I went “eek.” interpretations of both Figures 1 and 2.
Because the words “wounded healer” came to mind. So Shapeshifting is a shamanic technique that allows
you saying that makes me feel a real sense of the practitioner, during a shamanic journey (i.e.,
responsibility. I have to heal myself before this “flying in “non-ordinary reality”), to temporarily merge
sightless” would be really comfortable … their consciousness with the “spirits” of other
This dialogue reveals my penchant, at the time, entities, such as animal or guardian spirits, in
for interpreting my art in terms of mythology order to gain knowledge or to manifest their
imbued with symbolic and metaphoric meanings healing capabilities (Harner, 2013). It is not sur-
that would guide my thinking toward what I prising, then, that the language of shapeshifting is
needed to develop; in this case, learning more also used in myths, such as the story of Odin, to
intuitive ways of knowing and healing myself. In suggest that the mythological figure was a sha-
the three months that followed, I spent consider- man (McCoy, 2016). I believe I represented
able time exploring the deeper mythological myself as a shaman (Figure 2) not because I
meanings of the art. The combined meanings of naively saw myself as a shaman, but because I
the hand and eye as symbols of intuitive aware- was interpreting my artistic and psychological
ness is reminiscent of the myth of Odin, whose experiences through various myths that demon-
hanging posture and plucked eye symbolize the strated the metaphor of shapeshifting in order to
need to explore the hidden or unconscious gain a different perspective and image of myself.
aspects of ourselves in order to gain a more Metaphorically, shapeshifting means exploring
insightful perspective on ourselves and the world and practicing new ways of seeing the world: “It
(Metzner, 2010). is like trading heads for a time, or emptying your
Figure 2 is also consistent with the concept of own head, so that it can be filled with new per-
shamanic seeing. Shamanic mythology includes ceptions and new life” (Cowan, 1993, p. 30).
stories of shamans being magically transformed Artistically, it is the idea of embodying the voice

wisdom, lime green for strength, rose for warmth, and

yellow for non-judgment). I added the baby with the
conscious thought that it represented an archetypal
image of the inner self-critic—the vulnerable infant
reaching out for both protection and freedom/
exploration. The baby is surrounded by an alchemist’s
image of the symbols of the transformations of the
seasons; I added this to depict “the seasons of one’s
life.” I called the piece “The Protector” because to me
it leans more towards the protection (strength)
characteristic of a compassionate person/being …
I have to acknowledge that upon further analysis of
my art, I now realize that the bird-woman has
elements in common with the Egyptian mother
goddess, Isis, who is usually depicted as a bird-woman,
or in her shape-shifted form as a falcon or kite, with
her outstretched wings protecting those who are in
need of healing (Wilkinson, 2003) … Interestingly, I
entitled my art, The Protector, a full day before I had
these realizations, so if these mythological meanings
filtered into my art, it was unconscious.
One final analysis is worth noting … I wonder about
my initial choice of words in describing the image of
the baby. I originally saw it as a self-critic archetype,
Figure 3. The Protector. # Sherry Beaumont. Used with per- even though I have found no literature in Jungian
mission of artist. psychology to support the existence of such an
archetype. However, since creating the image and
or movement of our artistic images to explore writing the initial description, I remembered that Myss
the deeper meanings of the art (McNiff, 1992; (2003) elaborated on Jung’s concept of the child
archetype by adding an aspect that she called the
Rugh, 2001).
“Wounded Child,” which holds the memories of not
Six months after making Figure 2, I made having felt cared for and protected by one’s parents,
another piece that also included imagery related and the “Magical/Innocent Child,” which holds the
to the metaphor of shapeshifting, but this time, it gifts of imagination and possibility, “the qualities of
was an image of a female mythological character. wisdom and courage in the face of difficult
Only by working with this new image (Figure 3, circumstances” (p. 374). What is most fascinating is
that Myss (2003) argues that these child archetypes
“The Protector”) was I able to figure out how the
plant the seeds for developing imagination, compassion,
shapeshifting metaphor was supporting the devel- and the possibility of wisdom. Thus … I would now
opment of artist and art therapist identities. say that the baby image depicted in my art represents
I was completing the assignment for a group the wounded and innocent child archetypes reaching
processes course, which consisted of developing a out towards protection, compassion, and possibility.
10-session art therapy program, offering one ses- The myth of Isis and her husband Osiris is
sion to a group of volunteer “clients,” and mak- one of the most influential of Egyptian myth-
ing response art. My program was an arts-based ology (Cavalli, 2010). When Osiris is killed and
version of Gilbert’s (2010) compassion focused dismembered, Isis transforms into a bird, finds
therapy (Beaumont, 2012 for more details), and his body pieces, and restores life to his body. She
my response art was a version of Gilbert’s exer- then conceives and gives birth to their child,
cise of imagining a perfect compassionate being. Horus, who represents the divine or eternal child
April 15, 2012 Paper Assignment (edited excerpt) and “who becomes the hero of identity” (Cavalli,
The compassionate being that came to mind was a 2010, p. 62). The myth reveals Isis’ wisdom and
bird-goddess … with the colors symbolizing the knowledge over death and dismemberment, and
qualities of a compassionate person (purple for so, she is regarded as a goddess who has the

power to protect and resurrect (Cavalli, 2010; means to me—I have been immersed in a process of
Naydler, 2005). As mother of Horus, Isis is also “re-shaping” myself into a person who can use the
power of art to help others transform.
considered the personification of the Great
Mother archetype, which guides our unconscious
processes with respect to femininity, mothering, Dark night of the soul
and being mothered (Cavalli, 2010). It is the pro-
tection and mothering aspects of Isis that I sym- As I began my first art therapy practicum, I soon
bolized in Figure 3. When thinking about a realized a problem with taking on an identity
higher compassionate being, I unconsciously that was suggested to me (i.e., artist-as-therapist;
painted a Great Mother goddess whose powers of Moon, 2002): It was difficult to internalize
love and protection appeared in shape- because I hadn’t generated it myself. Identity
shifted form. researchers speak of this problem as premature
A month later, during an intensive period of commitment to an identity (Marcia, 1980).
art therapy courses, I kept reimaging the bird- Without going through a full process of identity
woman from Figure 3, trying to personalize the exploration, one does not build a firm foundation
mythological and symbolic meanings. For the that protects against self-doubts. I no longer
paper assignment for one of those courses, I doubted my artist identity, but I did have doubts
more explicitly considered the extent to which in my ability to be a therapist. My conception of
the metaphor of shapeshifting had guided my the identities of artist and therapist were not
thoughts about developing an art therap- integrated with each other, much less with my
ist identity. other identities; and thus, I was still in a state of
liminality. To quiet my doubts while working
August 1, 2012 Studio Paper Assignment
(edited excerpt) with clients, I focused on holding the space, while
leading with the artistry of art therapy, which
Overall, the art that I made for this assignment
seemed to be helpful for clients. Yet, when I was
included enriched versions of symbols that had
previously emerged in the art that I made in the May not in the therapy room, I was confused about
Studio course. In particular, symbolic images of which mindset and “voice” to use, and this lead
animals, mythic beings, hands, eyes, and hearts to more existential doubts about developing a
recurred. When I engaged in the art review for the “therapist” identity. Four months into my first of
Studio course, a theme of shapeshifting became two practicums, I wrote:
apparent. At that time, I was thinking of shapeshifting
as it relates to one aspect of my spirituality (e.g., December 26, 2012 Personal Journal
shamanic practices), and since those spiritual thoughts It’s been such a strange year. I’ve been so driven to be
were heavy on my mind during the Studio, I made the something (i.e., an artist-as-therapist) that I’ve lost
assumption that they were coming through in the art touch with what/who I already am. In being driven to
in a conscious way. achieve, I lost touch with my soul. I don’t even
Interestingly, the images that I made for this remember why I decided to do this. It was supposed to
assignment also contain the shapeshifting theme, but be a way for me to use my artistic self to fulfill the
my interpretation is now quite different (or expanded). transcendent need for generativity—which is an
The fact that this theme recurred in the context of awesome goal, but I’ve misplaced my spirit in it.
thinking about my approach to art therapy suggests to
Two days after that journal entry, midway
me that the shapeshifter imagery holds a meaning that
is more specific to my struggles with constructing a through my practicum, I developed viral bron-
personal identity as an artist and art therapist. I now chitis that quickly became chronic laryngitis,
believe that this whole journey (art therapy training) which meant that I was unable to teach or see
has been about claiming and accepting my identity as clients for over two months. Although I tried to
an artist through the process of developing a new practice good self-care, I felt guilty for not fulfill-
professional identity … After reading about the
ing my responsibilities, and I feared not finishing
importance of seeing oneself as an artist, I identify
more with an artist-as-therapist identity (Moon, 2002) my practicum in a reasonable time. So, as soon
than an art therapist identity. Creating this artist-as- as my voice started to return, I pushed myself to
therapist identity is what the shapeshifter imagery now complete my practicum. By the end of it, I was

burned out, and immersed in a dark night of the represent the different chakras (centers of life
soul, which lasted for several months. force as seen in Eastern spiritual philosophies;
March 21, 2013 Personal Journal Ronnberg & Martin, 2010), focusing mostly on a
butterfly (symbol of possibility of change) going
I have so loved doing my first practicum, but I have
reached a point where I have lost touch with why I
into the forehead and another one coming out of
started this journey. Did I do this just for self- the chest. Finally, I added a line connecting the
development, to build character? I want my work and chakras (to symbolize intraconnection), and titled
life to change somehow. it “Bliss” to capture what I was feeling (Figure 4).
The act of reimaging an earlier piece of art
May 27, 2013 Personal Journal
prompted me to more fully analyze its meaning.
Something is happening within me, yet it is also I realized that it is a self-portrait of my soul (so I
blocked. I can see myself punching through a brick guess, it is a soul-portrait) in a state of comfort,
wall and standing on the other side of it. But there I connection, and safety, which is how I felt when
stand blinded because there is nothing to see—I see making art or in a shamanic journey. It also rep-
nothing. My creativity is a giant blank screen upon resented the desire to take the space to integrate
which nothing can be reflected because there is no light
my experiences over the previous months. So not
source (my eyes are closed). I wonder if I have chosen
to close my eyes because I am so bloody exhausted. I only was Figure 4 a piece that broke through a
really don’t want to see anything except the path to period of creative aridity, it was also an import-
rest and rejuvenation. I need to at least find that flash ant buffering image: Creating temporal and spa-
of light that will illuminate my path. tial boundaries buffers a new and developing
The dark night of the soul is a metaphor used identity from the demands and influence of an
to describe a period of feeling that one’s life is older identity as the liminal person engages in
stagnating, being trapped in a dark mood, or feel- identity play (Ibarra & Obodaru, 2016).
ing a lack of clarity. In this state, there is no
choice but to withdraw, take time for oneself,
and be mindful of whatever comes to light
(Moore, 2004). For me, it felt like a culmination
of my liminal period; something was about to
change, but it was still gestating. I took advice
from Moore (2004), who advocates for imagining
the dark night, or one’s suffering, as “a large, liv-
ing container in which you are held captive. But
this container is moving, getting somewhere, tak-
ing you to where you need to go” (p. 4).
After being immersed in a dark night for a
couple months, during which I was not seeing
clients because my new practicum had not yet
started, I finally felt like I needed to make art to
try to gain some clarity. I decided to reimage a
piece I had made in my first art therapy course
(two years prior) with different media. As I
worked, I felt soothed by the movement of my
hand holding the brush. Then I felt the urge to
include more depth and texture, so I added inter-
ference pigment powder and crackle medium.
Even though it was a good visual replica of the
earlier image, it did not seem finished. I spontan- Figure 4. Bliss. # Sherry Beaumont. Used with permission
eously added painted-over collage pieces to of artist.

The playful making of Figure 4 created a personal contemplative practice that included
motivational shift. I had a renewed commitment MSC practices and reflective writing.
to finishing my training (i.e., a final practicum). Contemplative practices are geared toward devel-
At the same time, I was developing a new oping self-insight and greater connections beyond
research program that would pilot the effective- oneself in order to develop equanimity; “the con-
ness of mindfulness meditation, reflective writing, templative approach is one of inquiry into the
and self-compassion practices for identity devel- nature of things, a scientific suspension of disbe-
opment among undergraduate students. It was lief (and belief) in an attempt to ‘know’ reality
the art therapy training, especially the paper that through direct observation by being fully present
resulted in Figure 3, that inspired this research. in the moment” (Barzebat & Bush, 2014, p. xiii).
To gain the necessary knowledge and skills to To support my contemplative and art-making
offer this intervention, I registered for Mindful practices, I also continued with occasional sha-
Self-Compassion (MSC) training, which is a com- manic journeys as a method of generating mythic
prehensive program of psychoeducation, mindful- and imaginal experiences. For example, about a
ness meditation, and self-compassion practices month after the MSC retreat, I wanted to follow
developed and taught by researcher Kristen Neff up on one of the MSC exercises about discover-
and psychotherapist Chris Germer. The intent of ing personal values and needs, and so I sought
the program is to teach skills related to mindful- insight through a shamanic journey.
ness, or “the ability to pay attention to any February 17, 2014 Personal Journal
experience—positive, negative, or neutral—with My Spirit Guide greeted me and led me into a stone
acceptance and equanimity,” and self-compassion circle – like Stonehenge, but much smaller. We sat
(e.g., self-kindness and self-soothing) that can be cross-legged in front of each other. I was much smaller
used in everyday life (Neff & Germer, 2013, p. than her—it was like she was a giant, or I was a child,
29). The learning and experiences during that in size. She looked as before, blue-black skin covered
with stars, and she wore a cloak that also looked like
training is what would move me out of liminality
wings. I asked her, “What is my purpose for this part
and into an ongoing period of personal of my journey.” Then, she took her cloak/wings off and
transformation. wrapped them around me, and I became like her, black
with sparkling stars. She put her hand on my belly, and
then when she moved her hand, there was a big amber
eye there, like the eyes of a jaguar, and it was fully open
From darkness to light in order for me “to see more clearly.” And then I
transformed into just a body of light—the shape of a
A few days before I was to leave for the five-day human body but just made of light. And she said, “Do
MSC workshop being held in California, I slipped not forget that you are a being of light.” Then she
on the ice, hit my head, and ended up with whip- introduced me to a large group of other “light beings”
lash and a concussion. It was a chance event, but who greeted me with warmth and familiarity.
it felt like a physical manifestation of dropping In both traditional and contemporary accounts
out of liminality. It was as if the ropes that had of shamanic journeys, it is very common to see
previously held me in the Hanged One position oneself as a body of light (in “non-ordinary real-
had been cut. ity”) because the nonmaterial aspect of human
Although the fall resulted in a concussion, beings is considered to be made of light
when I told the emergency room doctor about (Deatsman, 2011). Being transformed into light is
the upcoming workshop, he suggested that I go also a metaphor for being able to see things with
because the meditations and retreat setting might clarity, especially things that are hidden or “in
be good for recovery. Later at the workshop, the the dark” (i.e., aspects of one’s unconscious;
vulnerability created by the concussion put me in Deatsman, 2011). The fact that similar experien-
a very receptive state for the soothing and ces occur across individuals seeking personal
insight-oriented effects of the MSC meditations growth is what confirms the imagery of light as a
and exercises. After the retreat, I developed a metaphor for self-transformation through

increased clarity of perception and vision

(Metzner, 2010). Thus, this shamanic journey
represents my desire to see and understand
myself more fully and honestly; it was an expan-
sion of earlier insights gained from processing
the meaning of Figure 2.
About a month after that shamanic journey, to
mark the occasion of completing my art therapy
training, I made a self-portrait, which I titled,
“Now I Can See the Moon” (Figure 5). In making
this piece, my intention was to integrate the sym-
bolic meanings of some of my earlier art: the
crow heralding the way forward in shape-shifted
form (from Figure 2); the hands manifesting
healing and creativity (from Figure 2); the bindu
representing intuitive perception (from Figure 2);
and, the moon and womb both representing Isis
as feminine or mother goddess (from Figure 3).
The jaguar was included to represent the “jaguar
eyes” from the recent shamanic journey and to
symbolize awareness of aspects of myself that
were previously hidden, unconscious or denied.
My goal was to “bring light” to myself as I was
in that moment, to see myself fully, and also to
honor the richness and meaning of my earlier
art-making experiences. Later, I read the follow- Figure 5. Now I Can See the Moon. # Sherry Beaumont.
ing from Metzner (2010), which I now see as the Used with permission of artist.
epigraph for Figure 5:
In Jung’s view, the unconscious, both personal and functions at the individual level in the same way
collective, is like the night sky, an unknown infinity that a cultural myth functions in society, by pro-
studded with myriads of tiny sparks of light that can
viding guidance and meaning about fundamental
become sources of illumination, insight, and creativity
for the person in the process of individuation (p. 21). truths (Feinstein, 1997). Personal myth-making
adds depth to our self-understanding by bringing
Following the completion of my art therapy a greater sense of personal integration and whole-
training, I moved to my summer cottage in ness, as well as giving us a broader and more
another province, where I would spend a sabbat- connected perspective on our place in the world
ical leave from my university teaching and service (Atkinson, 1990; Feinstein, 1997). In addition to
responsibilities. This temporary living situation biological, biographical, and cultural influences,
meant that I would have eight months to plan our personal myths are based on our most mean-
and prepare for beginning my private practice as ingful experiences. In fact, Feinstein (1997)
an art therapist. In addition to fulfilling my focuses primarily on the influence of transcend-
research responsibilities, that time was spent ent experiences on one’s personal myth, saying
exploring and developing my sense of self beyond that “those episodes, insights, dreams, and visions
limited ego, role, and history-based identities. In that have a numinous quality, deepen a person’s
other words, I was in the process of developing a values, expand perspectives, and inspire crea-
personal myth. tivity” (p. 511).
One’s personal myth addresses the broad ques- As I engaged in personal myth-making, I was
tions of identity, direction, and life purpose. It integrating insights gained through my recent

artistic and transcendent experiences. Rather than moment awareness and acceptance, as well as for
seeing myself in terms of limited role-related preparation to work with clients who were griev-
identities (e.g., scientist or art therapist), I was ing, aging, or dying (Dass, 2013). So I partici-
beginning to see myself more in terms of an pated in a workshop called “Shamanism, Dying,
inner core with contemplative, mystical, artistic, and Beyond” offered by the Foundation for
and healing qualities. That perspective is consist- Shamanic Studies. On the final workshop day,
ent with claims from transpersonal psychology or after being educated in shamanic beliefs and
Eastern spiritual philosophies that we all have practices around death and dying, the teacher
access to an inner wise center that is free from invited us to do a shamanic journey in which we
resistances, defenses, and cognitive distortions; imagined what would happen at the moment of
and thus, it provides us with wise and compas- our deaths.
sionate guidance (Hartman & Zimberoff, 2015). March 15, 2015 Personal Journal
Both art therapist McNiff (1989) and psychologist
At first I just stood there in the dark, afraid to move
Feinstein (1987) call this inner wise core, the sha- forward because I couldn’t see anything. Then I just
man within: started walking, and the darkness started to fade until
Cultivating the shaman within is to develop an I was standing in a dimly lit round room with a dirt
observing ego which, like the ancient shaman, is able floor. The walls were covered with etched paintings of
to use altered states, rituals, and dreams to embrace dozens of Egyptian gods and goddesses, which then
more primordial forms of experiencing, peek behind came alive, greeted me, and led me out into a
the mythology that is operating, assess its limitations, courtyard that was so brightly lit that I had to squint.
and push on in new, considered, inspiring directions I saw two golden thrones, and standing before one of
(Feinstein, 1987, p. 269-270). them was Isis, who greeted me with an embrace. Upon
the other one was her husband, Osiris, with his
For me, that inner core, my shaman/mystic/ double-feathered white crown. Osiris came before me
contemplative/artist/healer within, included a holding a long gold staff that turned into a snake,
blending of my experiences and knowledge from which entered into my mouth and travelled throughout
my body until my body fell to pieces. Then the pieces
art therapy and transpersonal psychology with
exploded into a million atomized bits, which were
my personal experiences of contemplative practi- gathered and put back together by Isis. My new body
ces, symbolic and mythic art-making, and sha- appeared to be made only of light. Isis said, “Your new
manic journeying. That kind of personal myth is life is about being in the light.”
consistent with McNiff’s (1992) arguments that
Through an exploration of modern shamanic
the shaman is a universal archetype of the healer,
literature, I discovered that the imagery of one’s
and those who practice art therapy are the mod-
body being taken apart and made new is com-
ern version of that universal shaman archetype as mon in the reports of shamanic practitioners and
they use art for healing purposes. His notion of is referred to as a “dismemberment” and
art and art-making as medicine (“the medicinal “rememberment” experience (Harner, 2013). As
agent is art itself, which releases and contains Deatsman (2011) describes:
psyche’s therapeutic forces”) became part of my
personal mythology regarding the healing and Dismemberment is a common initiation brought
about by spirit when the initiate or shaman is in
discovery benefits of art (p. 3). nonordinary reality. Dismemberments facilitate a
shamanic death for the purpose of healing; while in
From dismemberment to “rememberment” the spirit worlds, the shaman typically experiences a
metaphorical physical dismemberment and death,
When I returned home at the end of my sabbat- while his or her actual, physical body, present in the
ical leave, I began to enact my personal myth by ordinary world, experiences no pain or discomfort.
working with clients through my private practice Once “bodyless,” the shaman experiences what it is
like to be spirit energy, free from the confines of the
and teaching a contemplative practices course to
physical body. Before the shaman returns to ordinary
undergraduates. At the same time, I began to reality, the body is reassembled, or “remembered,”
work with the idea of contemplating death as a minus debilitating energy intrusions and blockages.
consciousness-raising practice for present- The dismemberment/shamanic death releases the

stronghold of the “old mind,” stimulating new ways have to live a very altered lifestyle of not bending
of thinking and a new awareness of the spirit-self’s my neck to read, type, write, or make art, and
connection with the web of life (p. 71).
any accident would undoubtedly cause paralysis.
Metzner (2010) argues that dismemberment If I did have the surgery, the risks were damage
and “rememberment” imagery is an example of a to the spinal cord resulting in paralysis or death.
metaphor of self-transformation from fragmenta- Because of the implications of continuing symp-
tion to wholeness. This metaphor is common in toms for my lifestyle and well-being, I felt I had
many spiritual philosophies that advocate for per- no choice but to gamble on the latter. The sur-
sonality and self-integration as part of transper- gery date was six weeks away; I spent the time
sonal development: “[It] is the notion that preparing myself for both a likely recovery and a
disjointed, separated or fragmented parts of the real possibility of death.
psyche can be and need to be synthesized into a My preparations focused on letting go of
harmonious, integrated whole” (Metzner, 2010, p. attachments, to my body and to my ego, and
94). In shamanism, “fragmentation,” or the con- accepting fear of pain, suffering, and death. In
scious dismantling of one’s ego defenses and addition to art journaling, my primary method
resistances, is intentionally sought as part of the was the mindfulness meditation practice of culti-
process of developing skills needed for healing, vating an observer or witness consciousness, which
because wholeness and integration are seen as involves observing oneself with some distance by
synonymous with health and wellness (Metzner, “disidentifying with thoughts, emotions, and
2010). This information provided me with a psy- body sensations as they arise and simply being
chospiritual context from which to make sense of with them instead of being defined (i.e., con-
my shamanic experience of dismemberment and trolled and conditioned) by them” (Ardelt &
“rememberment.” Grunwald, 2018, p. 3). Witness consciousness is
Soon after that shamanic journey, I began to about building nonreactivity and acceptance
experience nerve pain in my shoulders and arms, through present-moment awareness (Dass, 2013).
along with pins and needles in my hands. At
So for the month before the surgery, I made a
first, I wondered if these symptoms were psycho-
commitment to being present with fear and vul-
somatic having earlier read that many shamanic
nerability. I was afraid, and so I just let myself be
practitioners report physical illnesses around the
afraid, without distraction or resistance.
time that they experienced dismemberment
imagery (Ingerman & Wessleman, 2010). December 19, 2015 Art Journal (16 days
However, I was quickly disabused of that thought before surgery)
when the nerve pain became intense, often wak- Today I carry the heavy weight of anxiety and fear,
ing me out of my sleep, and my hands began to but also the dream of being whole. I dream of
get numb after only short times of writing, typ- equanimity. Dreaming of being balanced and content
within myself.
ing, or making art. Medical tests and appoint-
ments with specialists rendered a diagnosis of December 24, 2015 Art Journal (11 days
cervical myelopathy, or compression of the cer- before surgery)
vical (neck) spinal cord due to degenerated or Only 10 days until we leave for Vancouver for my
damaged discs (the spongy cushions between the surgery. I am nervous about the recovery more so than
vertebra), which was likely made worse by the the surgery, although that’s scary too. I really just
want the recovery process to be a period of growth … I
earlier whiplash and head injury. The recom-
hope I’m whole enough to walk through this door.
mended treatment was to make an incision in the
front of the neck, push the trachea and pharynx I began to wonder, who is it who is afraid?
aside, then remove two cervical discs and replace What part of my “self” is afraid and what part is
them with artificial implants. unafraid? I contemplated what happens to “self”
At the consultation with the neurosurgeon, the when “I” die. I pondered what is “self” and “I”?
risks of having or not having the surgery were It occurred to me that my “self” dies all the
made clear. If I did not have the surgery, I would time—every time my identity had changed, an

old “self” no longer existed, so in a sense, it had

died. And yet, some other “I” remained. And
after much pondering, I came away with knowing
only one thing that I was sure of: One’s sense of
self is always whole, because it exists only by self-
conscious thoughts occurring in the present
moment, and the present moment is always per-
fectly complete. Unless one’s thinking is
“disordered,” one’s self-conscious thoughts create
a sense of self that is “whole.” For example, when
I think about my past “self,” I am pondering a
different “self,” one that no longer exists, and it
is my present “self” that is doing the thinking.
And so, my present “self” is not fragmented by
all of those past selves. Rather, it is a complete
whole, and that whole is not made less whole by
feeling afraid, vulnerable, or in pain.
January 1, 2016 Art journal (written on Figure 6)
I have to go into this thing completely naked with no
expectations for the future and no fears related to the
past. Completely stripped down, knowing only that I
am safe.
Figure 6. I am Safe. # Sherry Beaumont. Used with permis-
sion of artist.
From death to rebirth
Thankfully, the surgery went well. I was sent Egyptian myth of the benu bird or the more
home with a neck brace, pain medication, a plan popular Greek myth of the phoenix bird, Firebird
to rest for eight weeks, and an understanding is a Russian myth that tells the story of a color-
that full recovery of the nervous system would ful, glowing bird who regenerates itself from its
take two years (at the time of this writing, I am own burnt ashes, which symbolizes self-renewal
just finishing that recovery period). At first, I felt or “rebirth” (Shumaker, 2008). Realizing that my
as though I had been dismembered at the neck, first painting after the surgery was a spontaneous
and the neck brace was scaffolding to hold my image connected to the myth of rebirth was
head up. Gradually I began to think of the amazing to me, particularly when I discovered
implants as “rememberment” supports; they were that in Egyptian mythology the benu bird is a
the connecting “bones” that created the potential symbol for Osiris who was resurrected through
for new embodiment. the compassionate love of Isis (Cavalli, 2010). It
Five weeks after the surgery, I was well enough reminded me of what McNiff (1992) describes as
to paint Figure 7. I covered my hands with red spontaneous and autonomous images that “arrive
paint and made hand prints on the canvas, which whenever the soul opens to itself” (p. 19).
became the bones of a bird’s wings. I wanted all The Phoenix myth is an example of a death to
of the insides of the bird to be revealed, espe- rebirth metaphor, which is considered to be a
cially the throat and heart, which were symbol- form of transformation that is characterized by a
ized by an open red circle in the bird’s chest. feeling of one’s old self-identity dying and a
When finished, what popped into my mind was, new sense of self being born or reborn
“This is a firebird.” I did not know what a (Metzner, 2010). Lesser (2005) describes this
“firebird” was, if anything, so I did some mytho- common journey of self-transformation as “the
logical research. I discovered that similar to the Phoenix process”:

You and I are the Phoenix. We too can reproduce

ourselves from the shattered pieces of a difficult time.
Our lives ask us to die and be reborn every time we
confront change—change within ourselves and change
in our world. When we descend all the way down to
the bottom of a loss, and dwell patiently, with an
open heart, in the darkness and pain, we can bring
back with us the sweetness of life and exhilaration of
inner growth. When there is nothing left to lose, we
find the true self—the self that is whole, the self that
is enough, the self that no longer looks to others for
definition, or completion or anything but
companionship on the journey (p. 55-56).

In the year after the surgery, my art trans-

formed as well, it was as though I had new hands
that were more freely and fully connected. I
began a series of self-portraits that enacted an
artistic ritual of bringing previous symbolic
images into the self-portrait (into me). In ancient
Egyptian initiation rituals, the aspirant is asked to
symbolically “eat” magic (Heka) in order to take
on the soul’s power over death. Heka is the god
of creativity and imagery, so absorbing the power
of Heka meant taking on the power to be Figure 7. Firebird. # Sherry Beaumont. Used with permission
imaginative and creative (Naydler, 2005). That’s of artist.
what came to me as I was painting these images:
I was ritually absorbing the “power” held by the
meaning I had made of earlier symbolic images, and the circles or spirals in the “womb” and
in order to revision (recreate) myself. It was a heart areas. The hand gestures are also similar to
process reminiscent of McNiff’s (1992) arguments each other in meaning, and yet, are different
about art-making and images as “medicine” for than my use of hand symbols in previous art. In
the soul. Figure 8, the hands are greeting and receiving, in
In Figure 8, “I Surrender,” I portrayed myself Figure 9, they are relaxed (resting behind my
as a bird-woman, reminiscent of Isis in Figure 3, back in order to reveal my soul inside), and
but with the firebird from Figure 7 contained finally, Figure 10 depicts hands that are empow-
inside of my body as a symbol of self-transform- ered to create and heal. No more reaching or
ation. My wing or hand are greeting my inner grasping, as in my previous images; these are ges-
“Buddha-nature,” which refers to the inner fun- tures of present moment being rather than seek-
damental nature of all human beings ing or doing.
(Makransky, 2012). Similarly, Figure 9, “I am The last self-portrait I made in this series,
Whole,” includes Figure 4 as an embodiment of Figure 11, “My Ba-Soul,” is a depiction of my
my soul, and Figure 10, “I am Ready,” is my “reborn” self, again as a bird-human hybrid, with
compassionate and integrated Self, who holds the a version of the child-symbol from Figure 3
more vulnerable parts of myself (from Figure 6). incorporated. In addition to being a symbol of
Also, Figure 10 can be viewed as an “up-righted” Isis, as previously mentioned, the bird-human is
Hanged One (Figure 1), with the two spirals a common symbol for the soul, especially in
(trees) now integrated and my “empowered” Egyptian mythology where the ba (soul) is always
hands no longer bound. imaged as the person’s own likeness (the head)
There are similarities in these self- or soul-por- with a bird-like body (Naydler, 2005). What is
traits; for example, the light around the heads interesting about my “likeness” in Figure 11 is

Figure 8. I Surrender. # Sherry Beaumont. Used with permission of artist.

current coiffure. This child-like self- or soul-por-

trait is consistent with philosophical and Jungian
depictions of the transformed or “reborn” self
being like the eternal child who is filled with the
qualities of wonder and freshness of appreciation
(an ability to “fly”):
For the individual in a process of transformation, the
imagery and mythology of the eternal child fosters a
positive and life-affirming attitude: we are encouraged
to confront and transform our fear of death, to
embrace the process of “dying” as liberating and as
bringing wisdom. We thus come to know that out of
the turmoil and darkness of dying comes the
sparkling vitality of the newborn self. (Metzner, 2010,
p. 158)

The goal of this paper was to provide a personal
narrative of how training in art therapy
prompted a liminal state, which through identity
work (e.g., self-reflection) and identity play (e.g.,
Figure 9. I am Whole. # Sherry Beaumont. Used with permis- artistic self-portraits), gradually led to self-trans-
sion of artist. formation and a more integrated sense of iden-
tity. When I entered art therapy training, I was
that it is similar to how I looked as a child: my between identities; I no longer identified strictly
face is younger; my eyes are blue, which was my as a scientist, partly due to my experiences with
eye color as a child (in all of the other self-por- art. Yet, I did not think of myself as an artist,
traits my eyes are their current color, green); and and I had no idea what it would mean to be an
my hair is styled without the hair products of my art therapist. Without fully exploring its meaning,

Figure 10. I am Ready. # Sherry Beaumont. Used with permission of artist.

I quickly took on the provisional identity of art-

ist-as-therapist. Although that provisional identity
helped me to accept myself as an artist, it led to
doubts about me as a therapist. However, after
gaining some direct experience with clients
through my practicums, I came to see myself as
an art therapist. That initial art therapist identity
gradually evolved into a deeper and broader per-
sonal mythology of the shaman/mystic/contem-
plative/artist/healer within.
My journey included various educational, per-
sonal, artistic, and spiritual (e.g., shamanic) expe-
riences that informed my self-development
through interpretations from myths and meta-
phors. For example, I experienced a liminal state
that involved meaning-making through imagery
from three specific myths (Odin, Isis, and Osiris)
related to shamanic mythology, which were asso-
ciated with the metaphors of: (a) hanging
between worlds; (b) seeing without sight; (c)
shapeshifting; and (d) dark night of the soul.
Along with growth from personal challenges, fur-
ther imaginal experiences with those mythologies
contributed to self-transformation that metaphor- Figure 11. My Ba-Soul. # Sherry Beaumont. Used with per-
mission of artist.
ically unfolded as movement from: (a) darkness
to light; (b) dismemberment to “rememberment”; experiences, history, personality, interests, and
and (c) death to rebirth. beliefs. However, as illustrated in Figure 12, there
Obviously, the details, myths, and stories are identifiable patterns and processes evident in
within my overall narrative are specific to my my narrative that might be informative for others

struggling with identity questions about their

place in the field of art therapy. As illustrated by
the movement of the arrows in a spiral from
right to left, I began in a state of liminality, feel-
ing between identities; yet, I embraced spontan-
eous art-making as part of identity exploration.
The art was interpreted in terms of the myths
and metaphors that were revealed through the
symbolic meanings of the images. The insights
gained from the art images and their interpreta-
tions helped me to make sense of personal
(chance) crises and identity doubts. Those crises
and doubts were transformed by developing a
personal mythology that provided a deeper and
broader way to envision my identities. My per-
sonal myth included aspects of what I had experi- Figure 12. Summary of narrative development from liminality
enced and learned about myself (e.g., the value of to transformation through art-making, myths, metaphors, and
intuition and compassion) and about art and art identity processes.
therapy (e.g., the mythic, spiritual, and healing
aspects of art-making). My experiences and per- spontaneous art and interpreting its meaning
sonal myth were then expressed through a series through specific myths and related metaphors, to
of self-portraits that integrated earlier art images making self-portraits that were an expression of
as a way to demonstrate transformation toward a my personal myth. I believe that movement high-
greater sense of wholeness and integration. lights the important take-home messages of this
In the center of Figure 12, I have listed the story about the role of mythic art for self-devel-
gradual changes in my use of various identity opment: The value of embracing the art-making
processes, from self-exploration and reflection, at process as and how it happens, working with
the beginning of my journey, to more mindful- one’s images and letting them “speak,” and con-
ness and compassion practices used later in my sidering one’s art as a reflection of oneself. My
journey. Generally speaking, then, as my thinking art was meaningful to me because I made mean-
about my identity became more open and com- ing from it; I believed that my art would show
plex, my identity processes became more contem- me who I was, what I needed to learn about
plative. Contemplative identity processes are ways myself, what I needed to let go of, and who I
of understanding and accepting the nature of could be. Those images, and their mythic and
one’s inner and outer reality through direct metaphoric meanings, provided a creative way
experience and observation in the present for me to gain personal insights about what I
moment (Beaumont, 2017). They include proc- needed to develop in order to be an art therapist,
esses and practices that lead to deeper self-under- and more importantly, to be a healed and more
standing (e.g., self-reflection and insight) and whole person.
broader awareness of connections beyond oneself The point of this story for art therapy is to
(e.g., mindfulness, compassion, acceptance; illustrate how artistic, mythic, and metaphoric
Beaumont, 2017). Mindfulness-based practices engagement with identity questions can lead to
are related to greater identity flexibility, which is deeper and broader self-transformation toward a
important for adaptiveness to challenging and personal myth that integrates one’s artistic and
difficult experiences (Beaumont, 2017), as was mythic nature into a larger whole that transcends
certainly true of my personal experience. specific role-related identities. I believe that this
One final pattern evident in the narrative is more holistic art and healing mythology is com-
demonstrated in the horizontal movement from mon to all of us as creative and imaginative
right to left in Figure 12. I went from making myth-makers. It is from that awareness and

common humanity that art therapists can be pre- moment in which I am aware that those ques-
sent and supportive to the creative myth-maker tions were just an invitation to a journey that led
within each client. to discovering and releasing attachment to the
answers to those questions. And now my favorite
Coda verse from the Sufi poet, Rumi, is running
through my head (Dass, 2004, p. 96): “Pilgrim,
Through this identity journey, I have discovered
pilgrimage, and road were all but myself towards
this insight. Whether reflecting on myself, prac-
myself, and my arrival but myself at my
ticing mindfulness and self-compassion, writing,
own door.”
or making art, the point is the same—To become
aware of the present moment. In that awareness,
I am not thinking of myself as anything, I have
no “identity.” I’m just aware. I just am. The
moment I think about who I am, I project myself Appreciation is extended to all of the teachers, colleagues,
friends, and family who taught and supported me through
into the past or into the future, missing the
my initiation into art therapy, especially Llona O’Gorman,
experience of the present. And the present
Katy Scoones, Todd Pryor, Merrick Irwin, and Brenda Daly.
moment is where life happens.
I realize that identity only serves a functional
purpose; it doesn’t capture who I really am. All Funding
of us are a lot of things, and no finite identity I gratefully acknowledge funding from the University of
can or should capture who one is. I went through Northern British Columbia.
many challenging experiences only to realize that
it doesn’t matter what I call myself, whether I References
frame my identity as scientist or art therapist,
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