Imagine yourself pausing for a moment of reflection. Your chosen source of inspiration is a deck of collaged cards that you have created. You reach out and recognize the image you randomly picked as if it were a member of your family. It is in fact the symbolic reflection of a unique aspect of your inner family. You remember the pleasure felt while creating it, and you anticipate the dialogue this visual key is about to elicit in cohort with your intuition and your inner wisdom.
SoulCollage® is a visual and verbal method of personal inquiry that encourages self-awareness, self-acceptance, and the integration of subconscious and unconscious contents. It captivates one’s creativity and intuition with its opportunities for playfulness and for unsuspected depths of insight. The SoulCollage® process prompts one to seek perspicacity beyond what one already knows of oneself and triggers the larger understanding that comes from unearthing and exploring material akin to that of dreams. These welcomed transformative experiences result from inviting the four fundamental dimensions of being (psychological, energetic, social and spiritual) to reveal themselves visually and verbally through collage and free-association writing. Because it is both a hands-on process, as well as an opportunity for creativity and reflection, SoulCollage activates the visual, the kinesthetic, and the verbal channels simultaneously.
The power and joy of SoulCollage® live in the doing. Describing this experiential method in words simply doesn’t do it justice. The resulting images and their accompanying words are so personal and unique that showing or describing a few seems like describing the ocean by presenting a few drops. This uniqueness constitutes part of the beauty of SoulCollage®, which offers to any interested, able-sighted individual the opportunity to express his/her numerous inner selves freely, without judgment and limitation. I invite you to use your intuition, your imagination and your creative impulses as you read along as if you were about to create a SoulCollage® card for yourself. If you cannot wait to try, please follow the following instructions without any agenda.
Dig out a few old magazines (or take out of the closet that box full of images you have been collecting for years), find a piece of cardboard (about 5”x8”), scissors and glue, light a candle and give yourself time to sit in your favorite spot, alone, or with a good friend willing to join you in this experiment.
Leaf through the magazines and give yourself permission to tear out the images that elicit in you an emotional response, whether it is attraction, aesthetic pleasure, repulsion, curiosity, or just a sensation in the body that grabs your attention.
After twenty minutes or so, review the images you selected and choose one as your central focus. Cut each image so that it is detached from its original background. Then place it against other backgrounds and pair it up with one or two other images that seem to support it until you are satisfied enough with your composition. Cut and paste them all on your cardboard.
Again, let your inner critic rest, take paper and pencil (or speak aloud and let your friend write down your words), and venture into the “I Am One Who…” exercise speaking as if you were the image itself and starting your sentences with those words.
Are you intrigued, surprised, or skeptical? Read along to find out more about how this process evokes your intuitive wisdom and awakens self-discovery.
Images have the uncanny power to evoke an immediate and complex affective response that would require hundreds of words to describe. This is the gift of visual arts, of a beautiful landscape, of the facial expressions of our interlocutor. While this is particularly true for those who have a highly activated visual channel, it still applies to the majority of individuals who can see. We absorb and very rapidly process a tremendous amount of information through our eyes, especially when they meet an image rich in symbolic content.
I have often clinically exploited the power of images with clients who would sit in my office declaring that they had nothing to share. I would then scatter a few dozen images free of written and potentially identifying words cut out from magazines and ask the client to pick the one most compelling at the moment. It has never failed. There is a direct link between images and the unconscious (think about the stuff dreams are made of), which allows the most relevant emotional content and memories to quickly surface. As a client shared his/her responses to the chosen image, the therapy hour would turn into a rich and meaningful exploration. You will easily understand from the description of this process, which is deeply rooted in Jungian psychology, Psychosynthesis and Gestalt, how I thought I had struck gold when I first encountered SoulCollage® through its creator, Seena Frost LMFT, over ten years ago.
SoulCollage® was developed by Seena Frost, M. Div., M.A., in the 80’s, resulting from her life-long love for images and for playfulness, combined with her studies in the fields of theology, spirituality, and psychology. The creation of a SoulCollage® deck entails the assemblage of collaged images on mat boards sized to be held comfortably in one’s hands. Making a card and giving it voice is an intimate and introspective process, interspersed with deep insights, synchronicities and surprises. The cards offer rich opportunities for further consultation through free-association writing, when an image’s voice brings to the surface relevant information from the deep seat of one’s inner intuitive wisdom.
Although this is for many a satisfactory daily solitary practice, SoulCollage® releases its full potential when shared with others. In dyads or in a larger group, participants take turns writing down for each other the inspired words conjured up by consulting the images and often leave with a profound, healing experience of having been deeply “seen” and accepted.
When we make SoulCollage® cards, we engage the right side of the brain without much thinking or planning, allowing the intuitive knowing of creativity to lead our actions. We “sense” what cut-out image “wants” to be at the core of the card and what supporting pieces need to be glued together to enhance it, so that the composition eventually “feels right.”
Because a small collage can be assembled without specific artistic abilities, the creative process can be satisfactorily engaged even with clients that usually shy away from any artistic production. This opens the door for unconscious material not usually or easily offered up by the more linear process of verbal communication. Since the ultimate purpose of this method is personal exploration and not aesthetic achievement, it is truly impossible to end up with a “wrong’” card.
When a card is completed, it is time to let it speak, to gather clues as to its identity, its gifts, needs, and purpose. We do this through free association, by “gestalting” the card. Rather than limiting one’s words to the card’s description, one becomes “it” and lets the words flow as if the image itself were speaking. To overcome the initial awkwardness, it is helpful to start the first sentence with the SoulCollage phrase I mentioned above: “I Am One Who…” I usually suggest that my clients write down their words so that they may enter a light reverie state where the intuitive, unconscious processes are freer to surface. Once the unique identity of a card is revealed, a shift back to the left side of the brain is encouraged so that a client can determine the card’s suit, reflect upon the card’s role in his or her life, and explore the meaningful correlations of the card to other aspects of personality and experience. Of course, the client must be open to this revelatory process.
As previously mentioned, SoulCollage® has four main suits.
The Committee Suit (the psychological dimension) contains one’s sub-personalities, recurring emotions, and the roles played in life; a few examples may be My Risk Taking Self, My Wounded Child, My Angry Self, The Competent Teacher, and so on.
The Companions Suit (the energetic dimension) relates to the seven Chakras in the body represented in this method by animal totems encountered through a guided visualization. Animals are usually preferred because their presence revives primordial instinctual qualities often dimmed by our civilized daily life.
The Council Suit (the archetypal dimension) represents the invisible guiding forces that inspire one’s life purpose and link us to the Larger Story of the collective unconscious and with the “realm of the gods.” These cards are often inspired by mythological characters as well as by well known archetypes such as The Hero, The Wounded Healer, The Creator, etc.
The Community Suit (the social dimension) is a collection of family, friends, mentors, teachers, authors, artists, and other beings with which one feels a loving and/or an inspiring connection. Each one of these cards is the expression of an aspect of one’s self, and it has power, wisdom, and knowledge to share. Because our world and our psyche are intrinsically defined by duality, SoulCollage acknowledges that each luminous aspect represented in a card contains at least the potential of its shadow counterpart, and likewise, every aspect that is less agreeable to the Ego holds within a sparkle of light.
The conscious exploration of this multiplicity of experiences, impulses, thoughts, desires, emotions, and expressions (well represented in the suits described above) strengthens the sense of one’s unique identity. However, how can we acknowledge the aspiration towards wholeness, the spiritual aim to be one with the Totality, the psychological ambition to move beyond fragmentation, the intuitive certainty that there is a unifying force shared by the whole of creation? Even if we shy away from theological formulations, we cannot ignore the recent discoveries of quantum and subatomic physics and Einstein’s explorations of the unified field theory. These changing scientific paradigms point towards unifying principles hidden at the heart of what we usually call matter, describing every particle of the universe as mutually influential and somehow part of an all-encompassing “reality.”
Whether we come from a spiritual or religious perspective or not, this striving for Oneness is likely a familiar experience. In SoulCollage®, the transpersonal card, The Source, represents the unnamable Oneness of the Universe or the Presence of Spirit. Beyond words and beyond imaging by definition, and therefore, in its transpersonal quality, it has no shadow. Usually represented by images of light emerging from darkness, by the heart of a flower, or by photographs of galaxies, The Source is not consulted or used for the writing exercise; rather it is positioned in a place of honor whenever SoulCollage activities take place.
In recent years, after the publication of Seena Frost’s book, SoulCollage®, the ever growing practice of this process has inspired the conceptualization of two more cards without shadow: The Witness, and The SoulEssence. Both these cards are transpersonal in nature and therefore cannot be used for readings. The Witness points to the ineffable experience of sensing a watchful presence within, a presence filled with wisdom, compassion, and equanimity. The SoulEssence represents the core component of the self that shares with the Source its timeless and unspeakable qualities.
Clinically, SoulCollage® has innumerable applications, including the development of self-reflective and self-soothing tools. It offers openings to increase clients’ confidence in their decision-making process and opportunities to recognize and access their own strengths. It has proved particularly suitable in anchoring those precious “Ah, hah!” moments that occur during the therapeutic process and for overcoming internal as well as external conflicts. It also provides a most constructive approach to working with shadow material and to overcoming the negative impact of trauma. It has been successfully used also in the treatment of eating disorders, in grief and loss counseling, with at-risk youth, and with the elderly.
SoulCollage® appeals to diverse age groups and organizations. Although it has a transpersonal orientation, it is not affiliated with any particular religion and is therefore easily embraced by followers of most traditions and by those who are not connected with religion per se, but who have a sense of the spiritual in their lives. While it involves the creative process, it does not require artistic abilities, but rather offers a practice to those who desire to express and know themselves more deeply. It is a practice in which whatever emerges is always welcomed and never pathologized. There are no rules in SoulCollage®, just invitations. Everyone is free, while honoring the internal structure of the system (written down as the “Principles of SoulCollage®”), to adapt, export, add, and even take away as needed.
Note: *SoulCollage® is a Registered Trademark. SoulCollage cards are not sold, traded, or bartered to respect the artists whose images are collaged in the cards. To facilitate groups called “SoulCollage® Group” or to call oneself a “SoulCollage® Facilitator”, one must attend the SoulCollage® Facilitator Training. Please visit the SoulCollage® website for details.