I have always kept an open mind when it comes to healing, and I have no doubt our body and mind are connected on so many levels. When I first heard about Transpersonal Art Therapy, it sparks my interests. I remember Carl Jung said “Everything in the unconscious seeks outward manifestation“, and I sense that when we express our creativity through art, we are allowing our unconscious to come through. It is like letting another language to speak through us.
Therefore, when I came to know about Karen, I think her life story and healing work will be of great interest for those who are seeking complimentary modalities to help them on their healing journey, or for those who are interested in art therapy in gereal. Before I interviewed Karen, I didn’t know the difference between art in therapy verses art as therapy. So, to say the least, my interview with Karen has opened my eyes (and heart) in many ways. I hope you will find this interview helpful and inspirational. You can listen to the podcast, watch the video or read the transcript!
About Karen Curran
Karen is a qualified Transpersonal Art and Sandplay Therapist with interests in Art in Therapy, Sandplay Therapy, Music, Dance, Storytelling, Spiritual and Inner Healing. As a transpersonal therapist, Karen uses various tools and activities, including working with nature in a holistic way, to help the seeker/client discover their true self. Karen is also an artist and teacher. Karen resides in the Blue Mountains NSW Australia.
- What is Holistic Counseling?
- Why it is so helpful and complimentary to other modalities or medical advice.
- Holistic counseling looks at the whole body and mind together as one. Many times when people have suffered, or had a shock or have been grieving whether it’s a child or an adult, they don’t understand what it is that’s making them feel bad.
- Transpersonal Art and Sand play therapy: working with our inner spirit
- Sand play or art therapy for children – a tool for deeper emotions communication
- Creating a safe space and a feeling of peace to connect to our heart and tap into our inner wisdom.
- Drumming, singing bowls, chanting or music are all tools that can help us to connect to our inner world/subconscious
- Karen’s personal journey from seriously ill to discovering transpersonal holistically counselling and then the right medical person
- How her subconscious was trying to show her what is going on in her body and the incredible story of the medical discovery and her eventual recovery
- The difference between art in therapy versus art as therapy
- Karen’s online courses and offerings
If you would like to connect with Karen, please visit her website: www.KarenCurran.com.au
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|Sze Wing:||Hi, everyone. I’m really excited to introduce you to my new guest of my podcast this week. Today, I’ve got Karen Curran with me, and we’re exploring one of the new therapy– I mean, not new, but it’s new for me that I don’t know, but I’m really excited to talk to her about it.|
|Sze Wing:||So little short introduction. Karen is a qualified trans-personal art and sand play therapist with interest in art in therapy, sand play therapy, music, dance, story-telling, spiritual and inner healing. As a trans-personal therapist, Karen uses various tools and activities including working with nature in a holistic way to keep seekers, the client to discover their true self. She is also an artist and a teacher, and she lives in the beautiful Blue Mountains in New South Wales, Australia. We just have a quick chat before, and I’m really eager to ask more about her work. So welcome to my show, Karen. How are you?|
|Karen:||Thank you. I’m welcoming you too into my studio.|
|Karen:||It’s a beautiful day here.|
|Sze Wing:||Yeah. When we first connect on screen today, I will just say how beautiful her space is, and I know that’s where she does all her work. So it’s like we’re in a time where a lot of the work we’re doing is digital and online because of COVID-19. By the time this podcast come out, maybe we are ready to go out again. [laughter] But at this stage, a lot of the work is still not face to face. So to see someone sitting in a beautiful setting really tempt me that love to go and visit and– because she showed me also her work around her studio, which it’s beautiful. But anyway, I’ve got so many questions, so let’s get started. First of all, I really want to ask you what is holistic counselling because I don’t know, and I guess some people may be really interested to find out. So tell us a bit more about holistic counselling and maybe trans-personal art and sand play therapy as well.|
|Karen:||Okay. Holistic counsel is actually using everything and honouring the body, soul, and spirit. So we don’t separate them. We believe that all of those things interact together and affect our body and affect our mind, everything. Now, holistic counselling is actually complimentary to anything other people are using. So it doesn’t go against doctors’ medications or anything like that. I don’t give medical advice. This is all about the inner spirit. And many times people have suffered, whether it’s a child or an adult, and they’ve suffered through their life, and they don’t understand what it is that’s making them feel bad. Or they might have had a shock, or they might be grieving something, and that’s a really good time to have some holistic counselling. Also, if there is serious illness because serious illness often is related to something that happened to us. We don’t know what time period until we go into that, but it’s not the cause of it, but it’s related to it. And it’s also related to the way we actually move through illness as well.|
|Karen:||I’ve forgotten the next part of the question.|
|Sze Wing:||I get it. The holistic counselling really look at the whole body and mind together as one. And then, yes, because I know you also particularly specialise in sand play therapy, tell me about– or tell me a little bit more about sand play therapy because it sounds very different, and I have never experienced it myself.|
|Karen:||Okay. The two main tools I use are sand play and also art processes. We have even done sand play successfully online recently, which is a different process again. But it is best in studio. What it is, is that it’s a psychotherapy where we are connecting with our inner heart and inside our spirit. So what happens is that a person may come to me troubled, and they’ll talk about whatever it is on their mind but only in a brief way, and I’ll say, “Well, let’s see what your inner spirit needs to reveal to you today, what it wants to do.” And I’ll play some music, and they will move connecting into the sand, and then going to whatever objects are calling to them. They [inaudible] want to make sense to them, but the objects are called, and they go into the tray. I’m talking about older teenagers here and adults; not little ones. Little ones work differently.|
|Karen:||So they put the objects in the tray, and when they are finished, they know– sometimes, there might be 5 or 6 objects. Sometimes there might be 10. With children, they can be a whole tray of them. It’s quite different. But we then sit down and look at the tray, and generally, something will come up immediately from client that’s staring out. And it’s not what objects actually mean as what we may thinking of them.|
|Karen:||For example, say somebody put a heart in the tray. Now, it might be a red crystal heart. That could have many meanings to the outside world. I’ll give you an example. It could be love, hate. It could be grief. Valentine’s day. It could mean a broken heart. All of those different things. So the therapist cannot put their own perceptions upon that object. It is always what it means to the actual client. So the client then looks at that object or feels over it and feels into it and sees the energy that’s coming up to them straight away, and generally, the word will come immediately and their feeling, and they’ll know what it means.|
|Karen:||Say it was a broken heart, I would then ask them, “Well, let’s feel into that, and what age do you feel that you are?” And we go through a whole process, and they discover something about themselves. If it needs healing, we then do other processes using visualisation art processes, which is actually art in therapy, where the person draws an image that they’ve seen or related to the tray. If I take someone on a visualisation journey in healing, often something else will come. Sometimes, they might need to forgive somebody. So here’s where the transpersonal comes in, and I might need to write a letter, and I write something down and tear it up, and then we destroy it in a fireproof ball either inside or outside. There was a funny story with one client. We forgot to do that, and the alarm went off. I had to take the alarm outside quickly, but generally, it’s fine. I definitely do not burn things.|
|Karen:||So it’s really an important process. And yes, sometimes clients feel very tired after it because it is such an inner work, but it’s so beautiful and so empowering, and it’s the processes that I went through my own self in my own journey.|
|Karen:||With children, the sand play is somewhere where they put all their energy. They will come in– say that they’ve been upset– children who are part of broken families or are having to go from one family to another, often they feel like they don’t belong anywhere, and they’ll have a mixture of emotions. So it might even be silent, and going into the tray, they will put all their energy into the tray. They’ll do all kinds of things, according to the music, then they’ll go and get objects that mean something, and they’ll put them in the tray. They’ll cover them up. They’ll expose them. They pour sand all around it. It’s really quite remarkable how they actually let their energy go into it.|
|Karen:||It can have miraculous answers sometimes that you don’t expect. I had a child come to me who had chosen not to speak for some time because they didn’t like what was going on in their world. And so when they put their inner world in the tray– because this is what it is. We’re working on our inner world. When the inner world was finished, they said, “Can I show my parent this?” and I said, “Yes.” And I brought the parent in, and the parent was directed to undo, in other words, uncover something that the child had buried in the sand, and it was actually a heart. I’m bringing back to the heart thing again. This gives me Goosebumps when I remember. And the child then expressed something to the parent that brought such a healing between them. It was incredible, and I was very honoured to witness.|
|Sze Wing:||Wow, that’s really–|
|Karen:||So that’s an example.|
|Sze Wing:||That’s really interesting because I think sometimes, we– I have a little girl, three-year-old, and they have their own language and way to express themselves, and because they’re not fully-formed with all the language and words, so sometimes when they want to express themselves, they use different ways and means to let you know. And sometimes they don’t know what they’re trying to express either because they’re too little. So it’s quite beautiful because it’s intuitive process for them to share something. And I know that the children you work with are older than my daughter, but I still think it’s really interesting because they’re still young, so they’re able to be very authentic about what it may mean to them, which leads me to comment on– not necessarily comment, but you know when you talk about you have different interpretation for object– everybody have different interpretation of an object? And it’s actually the same, in a way, when you talk about Oracle cards that people use. So yes, when people go to a psychic reading, they may use a deck of cards, and maybe the card says one thing that is more standard, and, “Oh, if you pick this card, it usually means,” I don’t know, “you are confused or something.” But it’s actually up to the person who picked the card, look at the card, and see what is in their mind, and the conscious mind to tell you what it means to them. And I like that because it’s actually blending both your spiritual inner wisdom as well as science because your brain fine wired that answer based on how you feel in your heart, and that’s related to intuition as well.|
|Sze Wing:||So the deck may say confusion, but for you, it may mean being busy and – I don’t know, I’m just making things up. That it’s completely different, and it’s so important to let people interpret what their heart and mind are saying at the same time. And having that space that you provide, it’s the way that people don’t get confused because sometimes, our heart say one thing; our brain say another, but when you’re in a safe place, when you create the environment with your drums, with your beautiful herbal tea in the background, you create a space where people can connect, and then they can tell you what it means to them.|
|Karen:||Yes, absolutely. We’re connecting with the heart. The youngest child I’ve actually had in here was two and three quarters, and they were able to work in [inaudible]. They just do it instinctively, and it’s really, really amazing. It is for all ages. But also, it’s the same thing that I do with art in therapy. We’ve all heard about art therapy as it’s therapeutic. Any creating of art– and I’m not just talking about painting here. I’m talking about music, writing, anything creative. It can be very therapeutic because it makes us feel good, or it can be comforting, or tell a story, or whatever it is to us. But when we use it in therapy, we’re tapping into the subconscious exactly the same way as sand play because we’re tapping into the heart and the inner wisdom.|
|Karen:||So, for example, if I take somebody on a journey, and I might use my drum or singing bowl or music, whatever it is, I will take them into their inner world. I don’t describe it. They see their own inner world. It’s an incredible place. I allow them to give themselves permission to tell them what their inner world wants them to know – the same way as the tray does. And so what happens is that they start seeing something, and when they come out of the journey, they draw on paper what they actually saw. And it can be a quick diagram or it can be colours. It can be anything like that. And they look at it, and it’s the same reaction as with the sand tray. “Oh, my goodness. This was,” such and such.|
|Karen:||I’m going to actually read something to you. A client who wrote this about– it was really important to read it to you, and I can’t find it right this minute. But it was about that they had such a sad space, they were able to– here it is. Karen was able to provide a very safe space for me to explore my hidden world. With guided visualisation, she took me on a deep inner process allowing me to resolve a much thought after relationship which had been severed early in life. She has a natural gift to take you on a transformative journey and can ignite the light within your heart and soul. And I thought, that’s really true. This is what I’m doing. I’m helping you ignite the light within you. I help you tap into your inner wisdom, in whatever way it is, then we do the healing processes that are necessary for you, whatever it is. And it’s whatever is brought to you that day. It’s not something you were mulling over three weeks earlier. It might be, but it’s whatever you actually present on that day is that’s what your subconscious wants you to do. It’s a whole different way of working.|
|Sze Wing:||Yeah, I love it. And it reminds me of a story where I heard– so there was this spiritual teacher who was in Tibet, and he was living with some monks a while, observing them. And he asked the monks, “So you spend a whole day chanting and doing this whole ceremonial ritual. So what is it all really about? What are you doing, essentially?” And the monks said, “We’re creating a feeling of peace.” Actually, real answer is, “We’re creating a feeling so that whatever we’re saying or put out there is energy formed.” But it’s about all the chanting, all the processes. All the ceremony is about creating a feeling. And I felt very similar when you first described to me how you take a clients in a journey. So you cross that bridge– you can elaborate in a minute. Cross the bridge, drink the tea, and the music, and the visualisation. It’s all about creating that environment, either visual or senses, but it’s creating that feeling, so you can tap into the inner wisdom. And then I thought, it doesn’t matter how many people I interview. A lot of times, when things are truly working or important, it all comes from that sort of connecting to our body and mind by providing a safe space and environment, so you tap into that inner wisdom.|
|Sze Wing:||Some people can sit down, meditate, five minutes, we’ve got that. Some people would take walking, hiking for five days. I don’t know. But I found it really interesting how all this therapy that I know works or help a lot of people from the story is they need to go through that journey to get there by being in that environment. So maybe tell us a little bit more about your process and how do you lead your client to tap into that phase? You talk about the bridge and stuff, and I love listening to it again.|
|Karen:||Yes. Well, my studio is an our garden in the Blue Mountains, and I created a little pond. And the garden around the studio is shaped in half a butterfly, so it’s called The Butterfly Garden of Healing. And as the client, no matter what age, comes to the beginning, there’s a little bridge to cross. So they cross the bridge, or they stand on the bridge first, and I ask them to breathe out and just let things go and look at the little pebble stream either side and just feel it, and that starts the relaxation process. So then they come in. They go up the little steps into the studio. They come in and we sit down. They have candles lit always. If it’s a child, I’ll offer them to light it themselves with a very safe candle, always supervised, that they get a great sense of empowerment in being asked to do something to start the session.|
|Karen:||And then we always have some herbal tea, and I offer it. Whether they want it or not, it doesn’t matter. They can have water as well. I had both cups next to it. So it’s like a little tea ceremony – mini one, just welcoming and just sitting down and breathing into it, and, “Is there anything that you wish to share with me?” kind of thing. So depending whether it’s a child or adult, we will move them to sand play or art therapy, and the beautiful process, the music will start, and they will go into it.|
|Karen:||Generally, if it’s a child, they can’t wait to get to the tray. They’ll just be virtually jumping up and down ready to start with music started, ready to connect. With an adult or older person, yes, they will be ready. They’ll have shared what’s troubling them. I said, “Well, let’s see what the tray says to you,” because generally, it’s quite different to what they’ve shared. And that’s because I give them that space to be able to tap into their heart and their inner wisdom, and it’s a really great honor to witness what people can do.|
|Sze Wing:||And when people come into, say, a healing modality or learning to become a therapist and so forth, people choose different pathway. What attracted you to more tap into the art-related pathway?|
|Karen:||Okay. I am a creative. I love art, music, dance, storytelling, writing, all of that. Really, that’s all of it. But I was born in the ’50s, which was post-war years in a time period where children were seen and not heard. And unfortunately, that resulted in me being harmed, but no one knew about it. And I didn’t know myself because I disassociated from it because it was so intense. And many years later, when I was around 50, I became seriously ill, and it was so bad that I was sent for test after test; medical test, everything. Yes, I had all these symptoms of things going wrong, and in many ways, my body was giving up, but no one could pinpoint what was wrong. And I was ended up– I was led to a trans-personal therapist who’s now retired, but at the time, I had never experienced it, but I heard the word art therapy, and it kind of intrigued me, and I thought, “Okay, I’m willing to try.” But it wasn’t just about that. It was full trans-personal counselling. And she gave me the safe space that I now create here to be myself, to feel safe enough to do things that will show me that something was troubling me, and for the trauma to be remembered, to reveal itself. Actually, that’s trauma is plural. And what happened was as I was allowed to do this, everything came back with such clarity but within such a safe environment that I was able to change my beliefs and the effects of it upon me. And as I did that, my body really started healing, or I found I was led to the right medical person that could help fix the next thing.|
|Karen:||There was one incredible process which is important. You often hear of Carl Jung and the fact that visualisation is important. This is art in therapy process. I started having these images come to me on a daily basis for weeks, and they were a picture of an eye. Then I would draw the eye– and just in felt pens. It was just something, a quick drawing every morning, and it had all these clouds, black clouds. It was always in a circle, and I’d do it that way, and each day it started changing. And as I was going to weekly therapy, I took them with me to therapist. And we looked at them, and we thought, there’s something really going on here. You can see this. And at the same time, I had gone to my doctor for something minor and mentioned that something didn’t feel right, and I was due for blood tests. And he did blood tests and added an extra one without telling me, and it came up that I was in serious trouble. And I ended up having a hysterectomy immediately within a week, and it saved my life. And when I went for the ultrasounds before it, they took pictures of it. I had a copy of the pictures on my phone that I’d been drawing. We looked at it, and they were the same picture that the ultrasound had taken. It was so obvious it was the picture. It was like an eye in the area.|
|Sze Wing:||Oh, my goodness.|
|Karen:||And so this is an example of where my subconscious was trying to tell me that there was something I needed to deal with medically. This is why I’d say it’s complimentary. Anything can come up if you are in tune to your body, mind, and spirit. And this is why it’s important to journal with your art journal and just write down thoughts and dreams. Dreams are really important because I had been dreaming those things. And when you write them down, and you question, “Well, is this a message for me? Is it good or bad? Should I be doing something?” And then you have to go on your instincts. And that’s the trans-personal.|
|Sze Wing:||Wow. That’s a powerful story because when you talk about the eye, people are probably thinking, “Oh, what is it about?” But at the end of the day, it’s actually how the ultrasound looked like. And sometimes people are so– I think it’s the Hollywood movies that you start to think about weird interpretation about the eye, but in this case, it’s really just signifying that, yes, something physically you need to look at, and it just happened that is a similar image. Well, I find it a powerful story because a lot of people, when they hear a certain therapy, they’re just like, “Ah, this is just– whatever. How can I use art to seriously save my life?” and they felt it’s too far-fetched and not connected. But then you need to be honest. If you don’t know what’s going on. You’ve tried a bunch of things. What is there to lose, right? And then you try something just because you’re curious or it feels good. And I always think that’s my rule of thumb. I don’t know what’s the connection, but if I feel like drawn to do a painting class, a creativity class, even though I have some physical illness, and I don’t know how they can help each other, but if I’m drawn to it, there’s nothing wrong about trying it out and see how it feel. At the minimum, you feel better. You feel lighter. You feel happier that day. That’s already a win. But then your story illustrate further that there could be something so deep in our subconscious that we don’t want to know or we didn’t know, and it can comes up because we find an easy way in. And that is a powerful thing because then, it comes up and it draw– and obviously, you were not just going for art class. You were going for a trans-personal art therapy session so that has more depth to it. But I always think that people sometimes should just be more open-minded and try it out, and if it is not for you, that’s okay, but it could have such a powerful consequences. And then now, you become a therapist to help other people because it works for you, and therefore, you want to share it. It is beautiful. Evolutionary.|
|Karen:||Absolutely. I love the whole studying of it as well.|
|Sze Wing:||Yeah. So, okay, I think another thing–|
|Karen:||It’s just really quite amazing.|
|Sze Wing:||Yes, absolutely. And I want to ask you because [inaudible] from your website, your website, I read somewhere, and I’m curious. So you talk about there’s a difference between art in therapy versus art as therapy. Can you talk to us a little bit more about that?|
|Karen:||Yeah, because art as therapy, I think just being therapeutic, is something we can do for ourselves, which you just [inaudible]. We can go to in art class. We could just paint on our own. We can do something– it’s therapeutic because it makes us feel good. The same as music. We can go and write a piece of music or play something of our own making because it makes us feel good. And that’s therapy, really, because it’s a wonderful thing to do, okay. But when we do it in counsel, it is so that we are tapping into that subconscious for a reason to see what it is that’s troubling us right this moment in order to find a way through, and that is the difference. And we’re not trying to create a pretty picture or something wonderful because we’re not. We’re creating impressions. We’re just doing quick impressions of what comes to us.|
|Karen:||Many children, as you said earlier, they’re too young to be able to explain what it is that is troubling them. But ask them to put something on paper, drawing it, they will draw something for you, and then they will share what it is that is drawing. I have a process I love to use when someone comes in really, really upset to start with. They want to do the sessions, but they were really upset. And I draw a circle on a piece of paper, and I ask them to take the crayons that I have in front of them, and to put all their emotions into that circle, how they’re feeling, and they’ll scribble it. This is often before a sand play as well. And they’ll scribble it in, and it’ll get darker and darker, and they’ll feel it. It’s all contained in the circle, so it can’t hurt them. And they get this sense of relief because it actually lets go of those emotions, and they can then settle and go and see what can happen for them in the session.|
|Karen:||This is an exercise that works beautifully with young children as well as with adults. And particularly, the time that we’re recording this is while we’re in isolation with COVID, and it’s a good process for anyone who was feeling out of control or their energies are just really– they can’t make sense of them. Get a dinner plate. Draw a circle on a page, and put that energy into the circle. It’ll make all the difference in the world.|
|Sze Wing:||Yeah, love it. And listening to you, I know a lot of your work is quite experiential, experience-based, and one-to-one, face-to-face. So I know that you have some online courses coming up. So how does it work in that sense that can still help people? Can you tell me a little bit more about your online courses because I know that they are [crosstalk] heart with soul based, but everything we talked about, cover about, it’s often about face-to-face. So tell us a bit about the online offering that you have.|
|Karen:||Yes. These courses are really exciting. I’ve been actually asked by a number of people to do them, and it’s taken me a couple of years to get my act together and decide that it’s time to do them, so I have. I’m releasing them this week, the first ones. This will be an ongoing series. And the beauty of them is that I take the participant on a journey. There are short videos. We include drawing techniques within it. Even though it’s heart with soul, I also do how to do something so that a person is led. Even if they’ve never done any art, they can do these courses.|
|Karen:||And the first one is based on the Tree of Life, about how we connect to nature. This is where the soul is. And so we take a journey, and we learn from observation and witnessing change. We look at it as how it relates to us as well. We look at even studying a leaf as to how it changes. Does it have a message for us? And I incorporate nature in everything. For those people who do not have access to outside gardens or anything else, it doesn’t matter because I actually have made downloads of PDFs with photographs for people to use in the course so that they’re actually able to feel the same way as someone who’s gone out and picked them off the ground. And it’s a beautiful process. There are many tasks within it. They end up with a beautiful painting at the end of their own choosing and a certificate of achievement, which is something that most people like to get once they’ve finished something. But each module has a series of tasks, and it’s something really, really exciting.|
|Sze Wing:||Wonderful. So I guess if people are tempted and want to explore more about your courses and your work, then they can probably just go to your website and find you, connect with you, and get more in-depth information of you. So what’s the best way? Tell us your website to get in touch with you.|
|Karen:||Okay. My website is Karen Curran. It’s spelt in my name, K-A-R-E-N, C-U-R-R-A-N, dot com.au. It’s actually called The Heart of Us, and that’s because we work with the heart of us all the time. But you get links immediately there to the other soul courses as well as individual therapy pages. I keep adding to it. I have a beautiful blog there of stories as well which are inspiring, and all my work is meant to inspire and encourage, so I hope that they find it worthwhile when they go there.|
|Sze Wing:||Wonderful. So thank you so much, Karen, for your time today, and I’m going to list your website on this podcast details, so people can just click online–|
|Sze Wing:||–and find out more about your and your work as well as your online courses and your therapy offerings. So thank you so much, and it has been wonderful talking to you today.|
|Karen:||Thank you very much.|