Long Term Benefits of the Integration of Art, EMDR and Sand Tray Therapies

Long Term Benefits of the Integration of Art, EMDR and Sand Tray Therapies

The long-term benefits of the integration of art, EMDR, and sand tray therapies are significant for clients in the treatment of grief & loss or any other life events related to trauma.

As a therapist for the past 25 years, I have come to believe that all trauma is essentially a grief & loss issue. When anyone experiences trauma, regardless of age or gender, they have lost something meaningful in their lives. Something is lost, whether it is a sense of safety, emotional validation, peace of mind, or the knowledge of the characteristics of a healthy relationship as well as the meaning of true intimacy.

Personal growth and meaningful change require two essential traits.

The individual must truly and desperately desire to change and believe that they can change successfully. Each individual, regardless of the type of trauma they have endured, experiences it in their unique way. What may be traumatic to one may not be to another. They also experience and utilize what they learn in therapy, no matter which therapeutic modality they choose, in their way.

I have observed this, especially with EMDR therapy. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a powerful method of psychotherapy that utilizes bilateral eye movements with visual imagery that relieves many types of psychological and emotional distress. The method is highly efficient and effective for most clients. What may take up to two years to talk
therapy may only require one to eight one-hour sessions with EMDR.

Francine Shapiro, PhD, introduced EMDR. In 1989, according to her research (Shapiro 2014), “Upon termination of therapy, the EMDR group of the study continued to improve over time. At follow-up, 91% of the EMDR group no longer had any PTSD symptoms.”

In conjunction with the holistic style of therapy and the concepts in humanistic psychology, which advocated “unconditional positive regard” for the client, EMDR, art, and sand tray therapy are unique and complementary therapy styles.

Carl Rogers, a well-known psychologist who advocated humanistic psychology, stated in his famous quote: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” Rogers encouraged unconditional positive regard by the therapist for every individual who seeks therapy and wants to live up to what he called their “ideal self.” They can efficiently move forward in therapy toward joy, peace of mind, and, ultimately, self-actualization.

Client Feedback

The recent reports I have received from clients who have engaged in the unique combination of EMDR, art, and sand tray therapy and this therapist’s unconditional positive regard seem to develop and continue to improve over time, as Francine Shapiro found in her study. Progress seems to occur quickly after the first EMDR processing session for most clients.

There are also exceptions based on a variety of variables. Once the client experiences the initial EMDR processing session, the psyche, as Freud called it, seems to know what hurts the most, what direction to go, what problems or issues are
crucial for resolution, and what specific experiences have been repressed or buried.

Clients are reassured that engaging in this unique combination of modalities often requires them to take the risk of addressing past trauma and the courage to face the truth no matter how severe.

It is not an easy task, but as Carl Rogers stated (1959), “A person with high self-worth has confidence and positive feelings about him or herself and can face challenges. They can accept failure and unhappiness at times and are open and honest with others.” The expression “step up to the plate” can be applied here just as well as in baseball. Rogers also said, “ The process of the good life is not, I am convinced, for the faint-hearted. It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and more of one’s potentialities. It involves the courage to be. It means launching oneself fully into the stream of life.”

In the interpretation of art therapy, as well as in sand tray therapy, there are recurring indicators that are based on probability and statistics.

An example would be when a client draws a sun in the upper right quadrant of the page, which is
considered the spiritual future; it may but not always indicate an interest in spirituality. The upper left quadrant of the page is considered the spiritual past. Whenever a client draws a sun in this position, it may indicate the desire for a better relationship with one’s biological father.

There is no moral evaluation attached. These indicators are based on thousands of samples in art therapy research and often provide a window for the client to embark on the dangerous and often frightening areas of one’s inner repressed experiences and trauma.

Sand Tray Therapy

Sand tray is very similar to art therapy but in a 3-D format. The quadrants are the same, and the variety of small toys offered often represent what the famous psychologist Carl Jung (1953) called the “archetypes of the collective unconscious.” The hero in stories is one example of an archetype and a villain.

Clients are asked to review a collection of small toys to create a scene and place them in a sandbox on a stand about waist-high. The bottom is painted blue to encourage the creation of lakes,
streams, or the ocean. When the client feels that the scene is completed, they are asked to make up a story about the scene.

As in another well-known art therapy task called the “8 Frame Squiggle Drawing, (Steinhardt 2006), unintended relationships appear during the story-making with the 8 titles like a message from the unconscious that gives the images a verbal shape.” The objects placed in the sand tray are similar to the titles in the 8-Frame Squiggle Drawing. The action in the story often mirrors closely what issues the client is currently struggling with in their life.

If the therapist can create a sense of trust and safety through sincerity, genuineness, and transparency, the individual will start to make changes in their self-image, which will become more psychologically integrated, creative, and effective, as well as
emotionally mature and resilient. Over time, clients engaged in this combination of modalities have recently begun reporting the personal and psychological benefits. Most clients have been in therapy with this counselor for six months up to four years.

These benefits and changes approved by clients include but may not be limited to the following:

1.) Improved self-esteem, self-image, and self-confidence
2.) Identification and motivation to change towards the “ideal self”
3.) Improved personal boundaries with less co-dependence or enabling in personal
4.) Strengthened assertiveness
5.) Effective and efficient resolution of trauma and grief & loss
6.) Healthier relationships
7.) Peace of mind, happiness, and the willingness and ability for true intimacy

As a therapist, my genuine and sincere hope is to assist all those I come in contact with
Those in distress and suffering can move forward with confidence, perseverance, self-control, and optimism to their ideal self through the unique combination of EMDR, art therapy, sand tray therapy, and unconditional positive regard.

Deborah Kiser, M.Ed., ART-BC, LPC, is a therapist here at Airmid Wellness. Learn More about Deb.

Managing Stress in Children

Managing Stress in Children

Managing Stress in Children

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, emerging data from the pandemic suggest that many children are experiencing an increase in stress and other mental health concerns, including symptoms of anxiety, depression, self-harming, and eating disorders. This is why recognizing and managing stress in children is so important!
Airmid has expanded our ability to support more children with three play therapy rooms dedicated to traditional play therapy with sand trays, puppets, and art movement. 
Sand Tray Therapy is a form of Play Therapy where children are encouraged to explore the life events that may be affecting their present situation and creating difficulties.
As researcher and author Garry Landreth explains the play therapy experience, “Toys are like the child’s words, and play is the child’s language.” 

Learn More about Play Therapy>>>

The fourth room in our Play Therapy Center is committed to SMART Moves.
SMART stands for Sensory Motor Arousal Regulation Treatment, an innovative mental health therapy for children and adolescents.
Our SMART Moves Program provides the opportunity for the child to practice making better choices, ways to self-regulate, and to co-regulate with a parent or caregiver. Through movement and sensory experiences, the child can find balance in their system and then process their concerns, struggles, and traumas.
Our SMART Moves Program also facilitates attachment-building between the child and caregiver and builds strategies and self and other-regulation toolboxes that can be easily built into the daily routine at home to further support the healing process. 
SMART Moves has been listed as an Evidence-Based Practice with the Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness and in the National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices.
SMART is designed for children and adolescents who have experienced complex stress and traumatic exposures including…. 

Read More about SMART MOVES>>>

Sign up for a Yoga or Meditation Class! 



What is change?  Why do so many of us fear it? 

In psychology, change is viewed as a positive aspect of a crisis as it provides the opportunity to do things differently.  Yet, people fear change.  Change of jobs, neighborhoods, or schools.  As life occurs, we inevitably experience change.  There is the natural process of change, infant to toddler, school-age child to adolescent, and young adult to older adult.  There are biological changes and environmental changes.   Some changes are self-generated and under our control.  Some changes can be dependent on encounters with others – family, friends, colleagues, and intimates.  Many changes occur as a result of circumstances or fate, the proverbial “date with destiny.”

Change is inevitable and it can disrupt the usual flow of our lives, but it also provides the opportunity to examine our lives and decide whether to stay the course or to change our direction.  We can meet the change with acceptance and gratitude or with bitterness and resistance.  If we deny ourselves the opportunity to explore the change, to understand it, and to decide how it will be perceived and processed in our file of life, we can be deprived of the invaluable gift of powerful lessons. In the Psychology Today journal, Dr. Abigail Brenner wrote, “Change without transition may only serve to recreate old scenarios and reinforce old patterns of behavior – for change to have a salutary effect on us we need to learn – to effectively work with it and not to run the other way when it presents itself.”

When my son was 4-years old he began to cry when he found out that I traded our propane tank for another one.  I wasn’t able to find a replacement for our current tank, so I resorted to trading in my empty canister for a full one at my local grocery.  My son noticed the subtle differences between the one we had and this new “borrowed” one.  Through his tears, he voiced that he did not get a chance to say goodbye to it and that he would miss it.  Change.  We continually move toward it, looking to better ourselves, to improve our lifestyle, but yet, when change stares us in the eyes, we shutter at the prospects of what it will be, what this stranger offers, and if it can be trusted.

For many of us, even the idea of change is often overwhelming and anxiety-provoking. For some, change is something to be avoided at all cost.  It is important to recognize those transformative moments and find the valuable lessons in your change moments.

Writing Prompts:

  • Write a list of changes in your life.
  • Identify which changes were self-generated.
  • Identify which changes were out of our control.
  • Make a list of all the perceived negatives from this change.
  • Make a list of the valuable insights you gained.
  • Make a list of all the powerful lessons learned.
  • Finally, choose one of the items from your change list and write about it in detail. Maybe you were not able to see the gifts at the time of the change but now you can write through that change memory to identify the gifts.

Writing example

 I recently had a new stone patio put in my backyard.  There had been extensive water damage that required the removal of the deck.  Once the drainage was addressed and a beautiful new stone patio was complete, I asked my 3-year-old grandson if he liked this new patio.  His response surprised me. “No”.  He informed me that he missed the other one, the wood one with the rotting boards and uneven planks – he missed that one.  The wood deck was all he had known.  It was that wood deck where we played shaving cream games, tossing hands full of the thick white foam at each other, smearing it into each other’s hair, and making designs and faces in the foam.  The wood deck was where we sat on summer mornings and drank some chai tea, clanking our mugs together and shouting “salud” as we giggled and took our first gulp.  The wood planks became roadways for his Tonka trucks, and he raced back and forth for hours, crashing them into the side of the house while laughing and declaring a winner of the race.

The deck had several tears from the previous owner.  She had an above-ground -pool and the tears were like steps leading to the pool.  I removed that pool my first week living in the house, not wanting to be a slave to the maintenance and winter care.  The tears are now dangerous if you are not watching your step.  But for my grandson, they were mountains that he would jump off of to the lower level.  He was so proud of himself for the great height he concurred and demanded applause from all of us.  Those variations in height became cliffs that his trucks would drive off and an ambulance would rush to the scene and magically fix the trucks and declare that no one was hurt as they were returned to the higher level of the deck once again.  For my grandson, his mountains were removed, the cliffs were gone and possibly, he feared, that memories attached to those rotted wood planks, to the uneven deck that sagged under our feet, were also gone.  Change.  He voiced not wanting the change, and not being happy about the change.

This was a needed change but certainly not one I openly embraced because of the extensive work and expense to resolve the water damage.  It was a change that came from necessity and safety and at a time it determined when it would be addressed – not me.  I do, however, love the ease of movement now, the freedom of setting up my patio and arranging my furniture any way I desire without level constraints or safety issues. I love the solidness under my feet. The shades of burnt sienna, crimson alizarin, burnt umber, and black stones remind me of the rawness of the desert landscape that I once enjoyed.  My grandson has now moved his attention to the hill in the yard rolls down it and sends his trucks flying down.  Both he and his Pitbull sister, Raven, happily chase them and romp about racing to reach the truck first.  He appears to have discovered another source of fun, reaching beyond the borders of the old wood deck and creating new play scenarios and even making space for his dog to join in.  Change.

From a Grain of Sand to a Pearl

From a Grain of Sand to a Pearl

From a Grain of Sand to a Pearl

Pearls are what happens when an oyster or some other mollusk is irritated by the invasion of some disturbing intruder into its closed shell. 

A grain of sand may be slight but not too slight to cause a pearl to form.  Pearls are layers and layers of soothing nacre intended to insulate the delicate mollusk from the irritant that has abraded it. 

At the very core, a pearl is a disturbance, a beauty caused by something that isn’t supposed to be there.   It is the interruption of equilibrium that creates beauty.  Beauty is a response to provocation, to intrusion.

Artists can invite intrusions into their lives and then use their fire as creativity. 

They turn the environmental irritants into words, images, and sounds that renew the onerous attacks in the lives of others.  Our world is an oyster and it is filled with irritants and disturbances. 

Many of us may try to keep our shells tightly closed to avoid any disturbance within.  Others may be inviting this discord in closer, allowing a metamorphosis to occur.  This change – even the most infinitesimal change – presents an opportunity to create a precious pearl in our lives.

I sit in my home office, pen-to-page, contemplating the irritants that have found their way into my life shell.  

A ladder of memories, both distant and recent, forms on the blue lines of the page.  Some bring pause like the larger events, divorce, births, and deaths.  Others slip along one after the other with only a glimpse out of the corner of my memory’s eye.  All of them, meniscal or grand, torpid or alive, all shimmer together forming the many pearls in my life. 

In writing this blog I have realized that every one of the pearls, black, white, cream, or green, make up a life lived and experienced. 

How do I view the jewels of my painful moments in life?

Do I honor them or merely place them in a crevice in my mind that goes unnoticed like a tarnished penny on the street?


  • Make a list of all the disruptions in your life.
  • Make a list of all the irritants – no matter how small – that have caused you to react in a way that set you on another direction in life.
  • Make a list of irritants you may have invited or allowed into your life.
  • Make a list of all the pearls that have been created because of the irritants you experienced.
  • Explore turns that have been sharp or maybe more of a slight deviation in your direction due to an interruption in your life.
  • Make a list of people that may have entered into your life whether they were welcomed or unwelcomed, and how they may have subverted your life or merely shifted your firm stance.
  • Once you have your list, I welcome you to do a free write about the experience of the irritant entering your shell. Create the layers of nacre over and around the irritant and then describe the pearl that was created in your life.  Slow down while remembering and allow each layer of the story to be full and enriched with details.  When your story is complete, spend time with it so that you can take in all the beauty of your transformation and resilience, wear your pearl with pride!

Writing example:

When my spouse walked out on me, he opened and closed the door behind him and never looked back.  I thought I was going to implode.  I knew it was the best thing for me but inside I felt like my lungs became stone, no air could pass, no breath could flow.  I wanted to cry a monsoon but inside was only a drought, a basin filled with memories, debris. 

They were washed there by the flooding waters and left as the monsoon softened bringing the torrid desert sun.  My lips quivered and my body trembled as my mind struggled to comprehend what had just happened. Was I standing or sitting? was I inside or outside? 

I don’t remember how long I was there in this torpid state, alienated from anything around me and bound to nothing.  I don’t remember how I was able to welcome my kids home from school that day or to parent them at all, but I know I did.  I moved through task after task disconnected from family or friends and myself.

I began to feel this force inside of me, this propulsion, but I did not know what that was or how to release it in this turbulence.  I reached out to my old writing group and found myself swaddled among all the other wonderful women whose voices and stories I had missed.

I started writing again from a deeper space, from the basement and attic of my soul.  I found myself going deep into the earth, below the roots of my life, and being able to look at them, touch them, and feel the vibration of every one of them.  It was writing that helped me to understand them.  I wrote my way to some clarity and found my way back to me.

I began to remember all my qualities and strengths, but more importantly, I remembered my passions.  It felt as though I had been swept up in the eye of a tornado and I was sent spinning and twirling, a mere particle that had no control or say in what was happening. When I relaxed, I suddenly just dropped from the tornado’s hold and landed back in my life.

My new relationship with writing was the pearl that was created out of what felt like an unbearable pain.  This pearl remains a critical part of me and one that continues to enrich my life.  It illuminates every grain of sand that enters my shell, guiding me toward creating something better from life’s irritants, something worthier of a life lived.

Enjoyed reading From a Grain of Sand to a Pearl? Try one of our other blogs: The Brain Health Benefits of Meditation, Nobody’s Perfect.



Birthing’s are almost always associated with having a child, but they are not always defined by the generative process

There are thousands of ways we “give birth” in our lives, such as birthing an idea, new artwork or plans for something novel in our lives.   I have experienced many different birthing’s of myself over my lifetime.  Some more painful than others.  Some bearing more fruit or a fuller and much healthier result. Other birthing’s were wrought with much loss like divorce and the death of family and friends.  Some were lower on the pain scale like when changing jobs or schools. Many others were very simple, quick and over without a pause between the before and after. Several birthing’s took a lot of planning, editing out some fluff and whittling down the initial expansive idea to a more workable and achievable reality.

We are constantly birthing and re-birthing ourselves throughout our lives as we learn new perspectives, travel and our experiences increase.  In Composing a Life, by Mary Catherine Bateson, she explores the lives of several woman who were very successful in their careers’ but later in life they changed their professional direction.  All of these women gave birth to completely new careers’ requiring them to re-define themselves as women, mothers and partners.

After several years of growing and nurturing the concept of Airmid, the labor ended, and she was birthed.  Airmid is now in the world, conceived of all the dreams, ideas and hopes for her presence in the world.  My partners’ and I held hands as we stood on the precipice of change.  We each left full-time jobs with paid vacation and health plans, to bring forth this labor of love and passion.  As we stood there, silent, hands clasped together, and our eyes speaking a mutual fear and joy, we jumped off the cliff and into a new unknown.

We birthed and rebirthed Airmid daily, nurturing her to her full potential as a mother does her child.  Those daily birthing’s, although, laborious, almost go unnoticed as do many of the smaller birthing’s everyone experiences from day to day. Today I invite you to remember, and in remembering, to honor, all the birthing’s you have had in your life. There are the birthing’s after a loss and the ones meticulously planned for, but none the less they are birthing’s.


Writing Prompt #1

  • Make a list of all your birthing’s, in chronological order or in thematic order (i.e. family, work, relationships) or in the order in which they occur to you now.
  • Choose one of the items identified on your list and write about that.
  • Continue to move through your list and write about each of the birthing’s you identified,
  • Write about birthing your dreams, a new business or relationship.
  • Think about times in your life that you may have changed directions professionally, academically, socially or creatively. Often one birthing can lead to many others like where you go to college could lead to where you work and start a family.
  • Write about leaving an old identity and venturing into a new one.
As always please feel free to deviate from my prompts and write about anything that emerges as you read through the above prompts. Keep your hand moving, even when the internal critic tells you that you are wasting your time or that what you are writing is meaningless – keep writing through that and into a deeper relationship with yourself.

Birth your story and have fun with it,


Art For Healing

Art For Healing

The Art of Healing

COVID-19 has dramatically changed all of our lives.

It has limited our ability to join classes, listen to live music concerts, and attend exhibits at the Art Museums. Many people have already established their routine art groups, scrap-booking groups, and ceramic studios that they attend for their artistic release or mental/emotional escape from the realities of life.

Being home and unable to access your groups, to be involved in life where most of your inspiration comes from, may have left you feeling that creativity pushing against your chest or images bouncing around in your head with no clear direction for birthing them.     

Indeed, it can feel intimidating to stare at a blank page in a sketchbook or the white space of a canvas.

Without the direction of a prompt or the creative energy of a class, it can feel overwhelming as the pull to create goes head to head with the frenetic search for a clear direction to begin.

It is important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to do art.

You simply have to start making marks on a page or gluing items together to discover what your unconscious wants you to know.  Art can provide the boundaries for intense and chaotic feelings, creating safety for them to be expressed in their “bigness”. Art can also be a fun way to bring family members together. It enlivens us, energizes us, and is a playful way to explore ourselves. No one needs to possess great talent to do art. Art is a process, not an end.     

And it doesn’t just feel good, creating art has been proven to facilitate healing.

The use of art has been studied in a variety of populations receiving therapy such as veterans, cancer patients, children, and the elderly with dementia. Dr. John Diamond, founder of the Arts as Healing Foundation, found that people with dementia and other progressive neurological diseases can still create because creativity continues to be present all the while past language skills and the ability to reason are compromised. Dr. Diamond also found that visual art can reduce stress and create a more relaxed state in our bodies and mind.     

Art with guidance has been shown to facilitate new understandings, insights, problem-solving abilities, and new perspectives that can lead to a more positive outcome and healing.

Carl Gustav Jung considered the father of analytical psychology, designed and used the mandala as a way to tap into the unconscious. Today, Jung’s concept remains in the form of adult coloring books. In nearly every store in the country, you can find these coloring books in a variety of designs that intend to guide you toward mindfulness and a state of calm.

I will be presenting art prompts weekly for you to do individually or as a family.

Now remember that there is no bad art.

In fact, the Japanese call this “Wabi Sabi”, or releasing your unrealistic expectations and embracing the imperfections of being human. If you keep waiting for the perfect moment, the most amazing idea, or all the right materials to create with –you will never begin. Art is in the moment, of the moment and it will pass with the moment just as another moment presents itself. Welcome it.

Allow the other moment to leave so that you can have the space for your new guest.


Since masks have become a necessary part of our lives, I thought it might be fun to make some silly paper masks. You can have each family member make one and then do a family mask photo. You can have each member draw or color the face of their favorite animal or even a piece of fruit.               #Mask #Fun Mask #art for kids Instructions:

  • Take a piece of blank printer paper and fold it lengthwise.
  • Unfold the paper and cut along the folded crease.
  • Fold the corners on the short side toward each other and staple them so the ends come to a point.
  • On the front side, you can draw or color the face you like (i.e. pig, cat, dog, simile face, a man with a mustache, or maybe a rainbow or butterfly).
  • Then take two rubber bands and staple them on the back of each end point wrap the rubber bands around your ears have a family parade of animals and take a family photo shoot.

MAKE A MONSTER #Monster drawing #Kids fun drawing Instructions:

  • Take a sheet of printer paper or construction paper and fold it into thirds.
  • One person draws a head on the top third with lines from the neck slightly crossing over onto the second third.
  • Pass the paper to the next person – folded so they can only see the second third of the paper.
  • Then draw a middle section of the monster (without knowing what the head looks like!).
  • Then fold the paper so only the last third shows.
  • Then pass it to the next person and that person draws the bottom portion of the monster.
  • Once it is completed open it up for everyone to see and enjoy!

Alternatively, each family member can draw a part of the monster on a single sheet of paper.

Once everyone has completed their drawing, the separate parts can be taped or stapled together. What kind of monster did you create? Give your monster a name and identify what sound it would make or how it would move. Have fun with your new monster!               

TEXTURE SKETCH #textured sketch #Kids drawing Instructions:

  • Choose any size of paper you would like, whether it be a large poster size or computer-size paper.
  • Then place your paper on items with textures inside of your house or outside (for example, tree trunks, leaves, textured seating, a lamp base, the top of a lid, or a rough stone).
  • With a crayon or pencil lightly color in back-and-forth strokes on the paper and watch the textures appear.
  • Create a collage of textures on your paper and fit as many as you can.
  • Challenge your family to take their paper and crayons and find as many textures as they can. When you all come back together share them and talk about which textures you found and how you created your design.

Enjoy doing your art and Wabi Sabi to you!!

Enjoy reading The Art of Healing? Try one of our other blogs: Nurtured by Nature, Improving Sleep Habits