Exploring Inner Landscape: An Art-Based Heuristic Study on Illustrating Somatic Narrative

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Welsh, Zoe
Master of Arts in Art Therapy
This study employed an art-based heuristic method to explore the metaphor of inner landscape expressed through visual media. The purpose of this study was to develop a deeper understanding of the impact of outwardly depicting one’s inner experience through art-making, as well as explore the relationship between regular creative self-expression, improved strategies of emotion regulation, and physical wellbeing. I maintained openness to new learnings that emerged related to somatic symptom relief as it correlated to my experience with anxiety. Data collection coincided with my own experience of pregnancy after experiencing a prior perinatal loss. Therefore, the impact of emotion regulation on maternal perinatal mental health was also explored. Rigorous immersion in personal experience with daily art-making alongside weekly dialogue with a co-researcher and visual artist enabled a richer, more complete understanding of the lived experience of inner landscape and its impact on the body and mind. The landscape images produced during the study display opposing themes of scarcity and abundance, expressed through environments of varying degrees of danger and safety. Corresponding dominant emotions of fear, anger and sadness correlated to greater experience of tension and pain in the lower extremities, experience of insomnia, and digestive upset while contrasting feelings of gratitude, trust, and safety correlated to decreased experience of somatic disturbance and greater levels of self-esteem. Additionally, a strong relationship between the experience shame and physical pain was noted. These findings provide important insight into potential mental health strategies using visual art making during the perinatal period, particularly as it may support the experience of pregnancy after loss.