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Written by Laila Ghattas, with permission. 04/09





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This is one of the most stunning examples of how creative self-expression enables a powerful healing experience.

The client was describing the chronic physical pain in all her joints, which increased and felt debilitating after periods of sitting or lying down. Although she'd had this pain for years, it intensified and worsened after her plan to leave her current stressful job in order to create a more enjoyable lifestyle was perceived to be compromised and threatened by changes in the economy. Her feeling of entrapment, her stuckness was mirrored in all her aching joints.

Figure A. is an alarming self portrait showing the red hot searing pain she experiences all over her body most of the day, with her hips being a particularly intense area. She puts on a happy face to hide her pain from the outside world.

Figure B. is a drawing of what the client wanted her life to look like. And this is where the magic and miracle of self-expression is so clearly illustrated. The soul and unconscious truth that lives inside all of us communicates through creative self-expression, even though the head thinks it's in charge of the outcome of the composition.

The client described Figure B. as an expression of her dream of getting out of the tight box of the job/financial situation that she feels she's stuck in. She wants to be free to get out, just like a Jack in the Box. She attempted to liven up the character with colour, and even decorated the box to look good. But upon further exploration with the facilitator, it became clear that the picture was not all it seemed to be.

The mouth did not really resemble a smile, more like a grimace. Despite the colourful outfit and exterior, the truth of a Jack in the Box is it can NEVER leave. It is only free to go out occasionally, only so far, and always has to go back in the box. It is legless, joined at the hip, cannot move even if it was outside the box. It also isn't in charge of when it can go in and out of the box because the crank is on the outside. Jack is completely disempowered.

Her choice of metaphor for what she wanted her life to look like in fact came from her soul not her head. The message in this image shed light on the unconscious belief she held about her situation; her hopelessness and futility is disguised by this toy. The drawing shows us that she did not really believe it was possible to leave her situation, even as she explored imagining another kind of life. She unconsciously believed she was as stuck to her box as this Jack; as disempowered to make positive change in her life.

The client was astonished by this alternative perspective. Her head had been utterly convinced it had created a more positive scenario. The clarity of understanding of the depth of futility she felt about her situation was the necessary awareness that preceded her emotional and physical liberation.

You can't contradict a belief you hold with your actions. You need to recognize your belief and change it.

Her body had been sending increasing messages of feelings of stuckness using the messenger of painful joints. She ignored or tolerated these messages as she continued living the way she always had, believing it was her only option while taking medication for her ailment. When her escape plan seemed sabotaged by the economic crash, her feeling of desperation increased as did her pain while she continued to perceive she was in prison and not free to move.

With the new awareness of her belief of underlying hopelessness, she WOKE UP, and realized she had to truly imagine herself free to move in her life if any change was to be made. She had to get past this self imposed debilitating belief that she had no choice in her fate. But she had to become aware of that falsehood first before she could move on. Her body, through the pain, was pointing out the incongruity between the truth about her life and her belief about her situation.

The miracle occurred the next morning when for the first time in years she woke with a complete absence of physical pain. She reported this with awe, wonder, and a whole lot of joy. Shortly after she had occasion to travel in a car for over 6 hours, only feeling the natural stiffness from the experience, but no pain. She was well aware that prior to this process it would have been a debilitating day. Instead she was able to enjoy the ride!

Figure C. is a final self portrait, as she continued to enjoy her liberated body. In this drawing she wanted to reflect her newly found freedom, her capacity to freely move with her own legs and dance barefoot to her own tune.

She and the facilitator in the meantime had worked on optional ways of coping with the stresses of her job, ways of saying 'no' to tasks she was unwilling to do, ways of being kinder to herself, of including her own needs on the 'to do' list, of viewing the world more positively.

The most recent report is she continues to bask in her freedom of motion while nurturing a sweet new joy in her heart. She's exploring options to her job situation while at the same time coping in much healthier ways at the office. Her urgency to get out is gone, replaced by an increasingly pervasive peace of mind brought on by her renewed hope for her future. This is what happens when we commit to getting some of our own needs met each day.

Our bodies talk eloquently to us. First in whispers, then louder until there's an ailment that we begin to focus on, attending to the symptoms rather than the message at its source. In this case, through this therapeutic process, my client finally heard the real message her body was yelling at her through her worsening joint pain, and once heard, the messenger could recede into quiet and peace.

Listen to your body when it whispers. Take the break, say 'no' to the umpteenth favour asked of you, say 'yes' to the vacation, cry when you hurt, ask for help.

Listen to your body when it whispers. You'll feel better for it.

Update April 1, 2010. This client has reported she is still enjoying a pain free life!

Renewed hope along with reclaimed self-empowerment translated into action back home after the retreat. A reinvented life followed: immediate shifts within her job environment, a comfortable new car and eyeglass replacing eye surgery!

Update summer 2011 A short year later this client dared to volunteer for an early retirement package, begin retraining in another field, sell her home upon graduation and relocate across the country to live near beloved family. She remains pain free to this day.

UPDATE 2015 Happy to report that many years have been spent now with ease of motion, living her dream of freedom and joy exactly as she chooses.


In this clients own words

Laila Ghattas is an artist, Gestalt therapist and Reiki practitioner. She is an author, public speaker and the founder of Aziza Healing Adventures.

Laila combines creative self-expression with psychotherapy in programs designed to heighten awareness, inspire personal insight and improve the life of those who participate.

She holds therapeutic workshops in Toronto, and draws on her worldwide outdoor adventure experience to facilitate international healing retreats for women, couples, mixed groups and corporations.

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