Editor's note: This is a guest post by Diana Coholic, PhD, adapted from her chapter in Mindfulness and Acceptance in Social Work: Evidence-Based Interventions and Emerging Applications.
In an earlier research paper, I discussed how children living in foster care engaged with spiritually sensitive themes in arts-based mindfulness group work sometimes in response to a specific activity and sometimes unexpectedly, perhaps because they knew there was room to do so (Coholic, 2011). For example, a boy’s group comprised of ten year olds constructed a group collage depicting what guides them in their lives. This activity led to a group discussion about death, heaven, and reincarnation after one of the boys commented that eventually, everything dies. The theme of loss often recurs in group work with vulnerable children as they have suffered serious losses in their short lives, such as being removed from biological parents and siblings.
In facilitating mindfulness-based interventions, if spirituality is not introduced or asked about, we may never know how relevant this topic is to a person’s experiences. The same can be said about dreams. Also, dreams have long been connected with spiritual and existential themes, and many cultures believe that dreams can foreshadow events or enable us to communicate with ancestors or deceased loved ones. An arts-based mindfulness activity effective with both children and adults is to construct collages of dreams, which can be used as a tool to explore feelings, thoughts, beliefs, behaviors, memories, and so forth (Coholic & LeBreton, 2007). Dream collages can be rich in imagery and themes for discussion that can lead to improved nonjudgmental self-understanding and awareness.
For instance, in a small group with adult women, one of the participants, a mature social work student having come to the profession after suffering a work-related injury that ended her previous career, constructed a dream collage that appeared full of positive images and messages. There were pictures of nature and a couple canoeing, women in serene and relaxing poses, and butterflies. Words were affixed to the collage that read “go with your gut,” “change,” “spirit,” and “soothe your soul.” Interestingly, the woman felt quite stressed and anxious about the dream the collage represented because her initial interpretation was that the dream indicated her desire for an affair. However, after the group discussion about the collage, she came to understand that she was in a period of huge change and growth in her life, and she realized that she was not listening to herself; the man she was talking with in the dream represented a part of herself that she had been ignoring. She then expressed that learning mindfulness was spiritual growth, and that becoming more mindful helped her to trust in herself and in the decisions she needed to make.
Coholic, D. (2011). Exploring how young people living in foster care discuss spiritually sensitive themes in a holistic arts-based group program. Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work: Social Thought, 30(3), 193—211.
Coholic, D., & LeBreton, J. (2007). Working with dreams in a holistic arts-based group: Connections between dream interpretation and spirituality. Social Work with Groups, 30(3), 47—64.