Written by Catherine Barton, MA, LAPC
I use the following art intervention or activity with clients in a group as well as individual setting to help the clients identify and express emotions; recognize that the emotions they show on the outside may differ than those within; and to provide a safe platform to discuss internal conflicts. This mask is extremely fun to make and often engages clients due to its tactile nature.
After making this mask, I find that adolescents often want to bring their parents into the session to discuss specific emotions and the weight they carry. This makes it a great conversation tool and allows the client to talk with his or her parent(s) about emotions, which may be difficult to verbalize.
- Plaster bandaging strips
- List of emotions handout (in photo)
- To identify and express feelings
- To develop self-concept and self-esteem
- To identify and process healthy and unhealthy methods of self-expression
- To develop perspective on how the client feels inwardly in comparison to what he/she expresses externally
The activity is usually done in multiple sessions as the plaster takes a couple hours to dry. It begins by the group or individual brainstorming what colors should be paired with which emotion on the handout. In a group setting, this activity encourages the group members to compromise in a productive manner.
The second part of this activity consists of the client or group members composing their masks (in a group, I recommend being intentional as you partner group members with one another).
The following is step-by-step instructions to making the mask:
- Cut the plaster gauze into strips (start with 20-30 strips that are 1” wide by 6” long).
- It is important to keep the hair out of the individual’s face. Therefore, tie the hair back and put a headband on the individual (remember that this plaster will stick to hair, so tie it back and put Vaseline on the edges).
- Instruct the individual to put a thin layer of Vaseline on his/her face. Make sure you supervise this part closely. The Vaseline keeps the hair from being pulled off the face and makes it easier to pull the mask off afterward, so make sure it is covering his or her entire face.
- Place towels or plastic bags on the ground for the individual to lie on. This activity can get messy!
- Place a bowl of water next to the individual’s face, and your stack of plaster strips next to the bowl.
- If doing this activity in a group setting, focus on the importance of communicating and self-advocating. Ask the person to communicate with their partner if they want their eyes, mouth or nose covered. Instruct the partner to consider going around the eyes, nose or mouth based on the individual’s preference.
- Now, working quickly, fully immerse a strip in the water, pull it out, and then remove excess water by running it through two fingers.
- Place the strip on the forehead, smoothing out any creases in the bandaging; repeat this step for the whole face. Start by outlining the individual’s face and then fill it in with the plaster strips.
- Give the face another layer or two, making sure there are 2-3 layers on the entire face.
- Running a wet finger over the entire mask will smooth out any bumps and combine the individual strips.
- Let the mask dry for 5-10 minutes. Make sure you tell the group that his or her face will feel warm right before it is ready to be taken off.
- To take the mask off, work around the edges slowly pulling away from the individual’s face.
- Carefully sit the mask onto a surface to dry for 3-4 hours.
- The individual will have to wipe the Vaseline off his/her face with a towel and then wash with water.
After the mask dries, it may be painted with Acrylic or Tempera paint. Use the printed Emotions Handout to encourage the individual(s) to pair colors with specific emotions (as he/she or the group has designated). Discuss with the individual or the group that there are some emotions that we choose to show, even though we feel something different inside. For example, someone might be embarrassed, but instead of showing embarrassment, they show anger. Another example is that we may feel sad inside, but choose to display happiness. Using the Emotions Handout, encourage the individual to paint the inside with colors representing emotions that he/she does not always allow others to see. Then paint the outside with colors representing emotions that he/she does allow others to see. Make sure to encourage that he/she is intentional with the size of the colors to represent the intensity or frequency of the emotions.
For parents, teachers, or therapists:
This project gives parents, teachers and/or therapists an insider’s guide not only to how the individual feels, but also to the feelings that they refrain from expressing and the impact of these trapped feelings. It also opens the door for productive discussion using skills other than talking, such as creative expression. The individual may use this art project as an avenue to help explain internal feelings and conflicts, which may allow insight to complex emotions.