A Picture of Good Health: Art Therapy and the body


Art therapy can be all about being in your body.

It can be a very physical exercise.

It is all about touching the paper, the mediums, seeing and allowing the energy of the way we view the images we’ve created to move through our bodies. Feeling the wax of the crayons on our fingers, feeling the texture of the paper.

Art therapy can also help people with physical illness because they can temporarily forget they are sick as they create art.  Patients in hospital who have lost a sense of autonomy over their bodies can regain some control over their lives through choosing the medium they wish to draw with, the style or subject matter they want to create…

Drawing about health problems can bring in a big sense of control to a situation where you could be feeling helpless or victimised. You can feel like you’re back in the drivers seat again of at least one aspect of your life.

If you are suffering with an illness you could start a somatic drawing journal to create a personal visual language for your pain. Start by drawing your physical symptoms. This can help you understand how things change over the course of days and weeks and what might be triggering them.

If you have a certain pain that you suffer from regularly such as back pain say, think about how it feels and then how you would creatively capture that feeling. What shapes, lines, colours, themes would you use to describe that back pain? Would you use pencils, markers, crayons, collage, paint, ink or pens?

Regularly draw shapes and colours that are connected to the bodily sensations you feel and in particular pay attention to your dreams. Drawing your dreams can give us all sorts of clues to what’s going on with your body and your unconscious.

One client brought in their health art journal with me and we were able to discover that a particular repeating dream predicted he was on the cusp of getting an infection.

The artistic health journal helps clients suffering illness feel a sense of mastery over their lives again.

Daily Art Therapy Tip

Keep an art journal! Go buy one from an art shop, newsagent or even KMART! Try to buy a really big one so you’re not constrained by the small size of the page.

Your journal’s purpose will be to document how life is. Just draw images from your life. No judging. Just capturing them.

Try to set aside a little time every day to work on your art journal so that it becomes a habit. Even just five minutes a day is better than spending hours just on a Saturday.

You might draw your emotions, things you see on your day or an actual experience that unfolded for you.

Don’t try to dissect or analyse your expressions. Just give them the outlet they require. Allow them to be. Pay attention to the glimpses they are giving you.

If you are struggling to draw anything or find yourself judging yourself too harshly try this exercise to help you get outside of that harsh and analytical judgment space.
contour drawing.jpg

Grab a pencil or a felt tipped pen. Grab some paper or turn to a page of your journal. Choose something in front of you that you want to draw. Do not look at your pen or paper but only on the thing you are drawing. See what is actually there without looking at what you are drawing. Draw the entire thing without looking at the page once. Trust your hand and fully notice the object you are drawing.

This is a special kind of disciplined seeing. You could even find yourself over many of these exercises being able to draw an inner feeling using the same technique. Don’t look at the page, just draw what you see or feel.

Tell me how you go!

Interconnectedness, metaphors, symbols and meaning..

Wow! Watch this documentary about the Aboriginal art and engravings in the wilderness area our next women’s retreat is being held. Nowhere in the world is there such a site with so many rare drawings on the edge of a major city.  Wollemi National Park, has more than 120 ancient rock art sites!

The blurb reads, “Wollemi National Park is one of the most rugged and wild parks of New South Wales, Australia. Since 2001, a team of archaeologists, Aboriginal community members and bushwalkers has discovered and documented hundreds of archaeological sites, many with magnificent drawings, stencils, paintings and engravings in sandstone rock shelters and on rock platforms.”

(I acknowledge my Westernised bias here and openly acknowledge I am no expert on Australian Aboriginal spirituality. In this writing I reflect on what I learnt from the documentary and make some observations with how it relates to the practice of art therapy and transpersonal psychology.)

Dreaming tracks document the journey of spirit ancestors as they travelled through the landscape. This region is all about the journey of the eagle ancestor.

The documentary talks about Eagles Reach and the area that was devoted to the Dreamtime being, the Eagle ancestor.  Putting the landscape into totems is a way Indigenous people remembered the landscape. This helped them navigate their way. Listening to the description of seeing the eagle in the hills gave me goosebumps.

The artwork at Eagles Reach was only uncovered a few years ago after lying secret for generations.  Eagles Reach revealed 1200 images  depicting at least 25 different species of animals, and even some composite beings; half animal, half human that were created around 2000 BC to the early 19th century.  It was pretty unusual that there were various different styles of art and that there was up to 11 layers of art one on top of the other. This is almost unheard of according to local researchers.

Some archaeologists believe it was a junction or meeting place where people from different Aborginal groups were using the area together.

eagel ancestor

I was quite struck by the mention of interconnectedness. The documentary discusses the ‘chains of connections’ and how all these different things are related to each other though dreaming tracks, songlines, the powers of ancestral beings and through people coming together for ceremony.

I love how the elder talks about different images and metaphors that would hold different meanings for you at different parts of your life and through your iniations. This has incredible paralells with art therapy.

Images work on our unconscious and hold very different meaning and power for everyone.  Art therapy has many links with spirituality and ritual.  Indigeneous perspectives towards mental health “includes a much more holistic and spiritual approach than is embraced by most counseling theories used by the dominant society”(Roberts et al., 1998.)

The reason I studied transpersonal counselling and art therapy for over three years was because transpersonal psychology bridges spirituality and psychology. Art therapy has so much to give in the area of spirituality and wellness. I was discontented after being trained in the western mental health model and saw so many limitations.

Transpersonal art therapists can use active imagination and creative processes to help intergrate archetypal dreams and symbols from the unconscious.

I first became fascinated with the idea of art therapy when I travelled all over the Northern Territory, Australia and Ireland and the UK when I was the tender age of 18, 19  and 21. The ancient rock art that I was blessed to witness everywhere from walking around the base of Uluru (I refused to climb it)  or Ubirr Rock, to walking inside the tomb at Newgrange or the Westbury White Horse, first got me deeply thinking about the use of symbols throughout different cultures. These ruminations evolved into a passion about using symbols and working with art as a healing tool.  It were these first seeds that started germinating and growing  as I was working as a photographer and using creativity in my personal life to help me everyday.

Shaun McNiff called art making “soul making” and encouraged art therapists to use models of shamanic healing.  We can access our emotions and thoughts easily in a non verbal way through symbols and art. Art bypasses our verbal defenses.

Art therapy professor, Bruce Moon describes art therapy as more of a pilgrimage or a journey.   I’ve witnessed how art therapy has helped my clients take positive steps in their lives through creating a new sense of spirit.

Fellow transpersonal art therapist Mimi Farelly Hansen has documented how art therapy can help clients reconnect with their relationship to nature. Like her, I agree that art making is inherently spiritual and spirituality is an important element in therapy and becoming whole.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, it was accepted in the West that art making was an accepted medium for shining light onto spiritual truths. It wasn’t until the Expressionists, Impressionists and Surrealists that art became concerned again with depicting worlds beyond our material plane. 

There’s an amazing part of the documentary when the elder describes how one of the drawings depicts how a wedge tailed eagle is first lifting off and about to fly.


eagle aborginal
The word for wedge tailed eagle in four Indigenous languages.  It is Australia’s largest bird of prey.

In this eagle ancestral area one of the men says about the detailed rock art that shows men dressed as eagles;

“You’ve got to be the form of the animal. We are taught who we are through dance, and you’ve got to be able to do that correctly and we’ve got to be able to be that animal..  And through that you learn who are you and what your processes are. “

Embodiment, movement, dance, ceremony can all be important processes in self awareness and identity in art therapy. In the same way the men in this documenatry undertake a pilgrimage of sorts to access this ancient art in accessible places, art therapy is also an inner pilgrimage.

The concept of “sacred purpose” to western thought generally makes us think of religious activity.  In many Indigeneous teachings, “sacred purpose” refers to our intimate relationship and responsibility we have with the earth. This is firmly underpinned by the belief that everything is interconnected and interrelated. This term has more of an overlap with the western term, “life’s purpose.” What is your reason for being on the earth. Plato wrote about each of us being born into this world with a specific calling.

As an art therapist I was really struck by the power of the images in the cave and on the rock and how they deeply affected the male viewers.  One man said he was crying and then happy and then crying again. The emotion in the cave was palpable.

Creating art with intention in a therapeutic setting creates outcomes very similar with various spiritual practices; reawakening of the senses and of the body, a more heightened sense of our selves and others, more acceptance for our all aspects of our self and others, compassion, love and a greater sense of belonging to something beyond our own ego, greater ability to be fully present in the moment and a sense of wonder at the ways the image speaks to us of worlds way beyond our conscious understanding.

If you re-read the above list, I believe that’s what some of those men were feeling in that cave and that ridge when they gazed at the ancient rock art and engravings.

How did you feel watching the documentary? I’d love to know your thoughts.

I thought I’d end with quoting this poem written by Jennifer Sharon Vivian. Living in Canada, Vivian is an Inuit descendent who explores her identity through poetry, ritual and art. She proposes an art therapy model based on Aboriginal traditional healing modalities and traditional art therapy.


Breathe. Get grounded.
Set in roots.
Hold the rocks where your ancestors danced.
Trust that they are with you.
When you call, they are there
The rocks hold you to the earth
Set in your roots like a tree
Balance like a tree
Accept all parts of yourself
Your heart seeks what is
Your heart knows what is bad
For you, not for everyone

Everything is connected

I can’t wait to be surrounded by this beautiful ancient wilderness with a small group of powerful women…

The retreat is almost sold out!
See you there

Oh and here’s the professor in the documentary. He’s doing some great work that you can read more about here.


What’s holding you back from being more creative?

When do you feel the most creative or what inspires you to be creative? 💖
What’s holding you back from being more creative?
These answers are different for everyone and I’d love to know yours! 💖


Does your own inner critic hold you back? Where did that nasty judgemental voice come from? Was it your parents or teachers that told you being creative was stupid, a waste of time or “not a real job?” Was it from years of not trusting or believing in yourself? Did a toxic intimate relationship make you lose so much confidence because you internalised all of your partners put downs and criticisms? Have you been bullied or belittled by partners, school or work colleagues and do you now take on this job for yourself?
Start paying attention to that voice! Start questioning it and speaking to yourself with patience and compassion..
Exploring in nature always helps me to feel more creative! The shapes, colours, light, movement and shadow reinvigorate my eyes and make me just want to write, draw, paint, photograph, sing, dance, bake, sculpt clay, make collages, make music, design, sew, build, plant etc! How do you define creativity and where do you channel your creativity? Creativity is much more than just painting..
Some people can have a very creative outlet in their life and not even realise it.
Creativity is inexplicably linked with our sexuality and sexual energy. Have a ponder about your creative blocks and how they relate to any emotional sexual blocks you might have.
When I’m out in Nature like today my senses are stimulated by Springs caresses. The invigorating wind blowing through my hair, the sun kissing my skin, the intoxicating smell of jasmine and dozens of other heady nectars electrifies my nostrils, the sights of all the colours and textures of flowers of all shapes, sizes and colours, the sound of the birds and the feel of the earth under my feet all re-ignite my creative juices! ❤️ I notice I breathe more deeply and even stand differently! For me it’s ecstatic bliss and I breathe in the spring winds and feel myself tremor with delight! 💜

If you are struggling with blocks to your creativity or sex drive imagine for a moment that the creativity and sexual energy of the world flowed through you like an abundant, beautiful waterfall or a stream of water.. It might be like jet pack propulsion or just a few drips. Imagine there’s a blockage somewhere like in a hose or a branch upstream of the river that’s blocking that sexual and creative flow of yours. Imagine unplugging the block or moving that branch so that you feel the entire gush of the waterfall flow through you dissolving all the critical thoughts, lack of self belief and confidence away! Notice how it feels and visualise how your life would start to look once these blocks were removed. This is the future we will be working towards together in my retreats and one on one coaching sessions. It’s so rewarding seeing my clients opening to a way of being they’ve always dreamt of.

Please get in touch via the link below if you’d like to unblock your creativity or sexual energy and live a more sensual artistic life full of pleasure and yummy creativity.. You deserve it! 💜

Catherine O Dowd

Art therapist 🌷Sex Therapist 🌷Couples Counsellor


Ps-No Photoshopping or skin improving filters on this mobile snap of me because I’m a therapist not a model! 🙂 And I’m learning to love and accept all of my flaws. Now that’s another blog post topic right there!14264041_958830394239173_4287609064255697328_n.jpg

Spring time and new beginnings. You have to let go to move forward.

‘Dreaming Tree’ by Christian Schloe

Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” – C. S. Lewis..


I’ve been meditating about new beginnings as we start the season of Spring. Spring is a fitting time to start afresh, start an emotional, mental and spiritual “spring clean” for yourself. Ask yourself these questions…

What do you need to let go of so that you can truly move forward?

What’s holding you back?

What’s keeping you stagnant and in the same holding pattern?

Are you enacting the same destructive patterns in your relationships?

Spring is a good time to start becoming aware of these patterns and start shifting them. Transpersonal art therapy works on a deep level to shift unconscious blocks that may have started in childhood. I use psychoanalysis combined with hypnosis like techniques and art therapy to help you uncover deep blockages and patterns. Becoming aware of these unconscious blocks can be how some of my clients describe, “a light bulb switching on” so they are more able to make conscious decisions in their life and move forward in a more positive and healed way..

You can’t change what has happened in your life and relationships, but you can create a new beginning, one choice at a time. Sometimes it’s not a true ending, it’s the same thing beginning in a new way.


Spring is  a fitting time to let go of negative and toxic relationships in your life and seek out healthy and positive connections in a “spring cleaning” of your emotional life.  It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to tell these types of people to, “get stuffed” but you can love them from a distance and lengthen the cord between you. Despite their good points, some people just dump their negativity on us and if you don’t see things ever changing releasing that person from your inner circle can be beneficial. Sometimes we continually attract similar types of people into our lives; friends or lovers that might be re-enacting a similar toxic power balance we may have learnt from a young age was ‘normal.’

I encourage you to take the first step and come and see me. It can take a lot of courage seeking help but I am open minded, non-judgemental and you will find me easy to talk to. Click on the link and send me an email. I’d love to hear from you.




Ecstatic orgasm, taking breaks, spirituality and psychology.

I’ve just made it through four long day of lectures, discussions and presentations and am feeling exhausted but inspired! I’ve been learning all about the spiritual aspects of the human experience within the framework of modern psychology. This all made perfect sense to me, as I’ve been harping on about the spiritual aspect of sex and sexuality for a long time!
I’m loving having a foot in both worlds; in the biomedical model of mental health and clinical sex therapy and also in the world of psychotherapy, holistic counselling with an integrated approach, transpersonal psychology and expressive arts therapies. This gives me such a richer insight into emotional well being; in particular how it relates to relationships, identity, sexuality, gender, sexual dysfunction, anxiety, depression, PTSD, trauma, transition, dreams etc.
This expanded perspective gives me a more ‘elaborate’ tool kit to help my clients heal past traumas and change their life. I’m so inspired to help my clients with all this new knowledge.

At the end of a long day of learning so much fascinating material my brain reaches saturation point so I’ve been going for walks along the beach or in the forest.

Here’s a snapshot from my mobile, wherainbown a rainbow appeared just as I was about to jump into the water.
What self nourishing things do you do for yourself when you are burnt out or exhausted or to give yourself a break? Do you do anything for yourself?

Sometimes we just keep pushing ourselves to go, go, go! Never having a break or ‘downtime’ actually hampers our productivity and wellbeing in the long run. How many people eat their lunch breaks at their computer while they work? Sometimes we feel guilty for taking a break or ‘doing nothing,’ and keep pushing ourselves. Living a fast-paced busy life without downtime can also work as a defense mechansim or distraction, sometimes we don’t want to ‘stop’ because there’s things we don’t want to have to think about or make time for. Staying busy can sometimes be a coping mechanism for past trauma because we never have to look within if we don’t make time.

If we are going through a transition, coping with a trauma or processing and intergrating lots of heavy and new knowledge, it’s great to give our mind some ‘time out.’
My ‘nature’ breaks at the end of every lecture helped me to reflect on everything I’d learnt, be in the moment, be present in my body and appreciate everyday beauty. From a more holistic approach, they help me feel “part of the whole.”  I get to leave our world of “pragmatic utilitarianism” and enter a different state of being.

These self nourishing “breaks” can help us get back in touch with ourselves. When you have a break, turn off your phone, don’t try to do three things at once and concentrate on your breathing. Practicing this mindfulness can help us be more connected in our sexual experiences. Have you ever felt like you can’t turn off your mind or your worries in a sexual encounter and that this is holding you back? It’s like a blockage in a pipe,  you try to turn on the tap on and only a drip comes out. Removing these blockages can bring about a flood of sexual energy and ecstacy. Learning to enter this “in the moment” space can lead to greater sexual heights and connection. Ecstatic orgasms can feel like you are one with the universe and floating up high, not in your physical body anymore.
Get in touch with me today if you’d like to learn about this in more detail.

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

― Albert Einstein

Get in touch today to book a session with me, I’d love to hear from you.


Using poetry and writing in therapy

“Poetry Therapy” can help us to view things in different ways and gain more insight into our situations.  “Poetry therapy” can refer to  bibliotherapy (which is all about the use of literature) or  journal therapy (which is when I will ask you to do life-based reflective writing in your journal). It can also encompass storytelling and film and photography.

I’ve posted a poem by Walt Whitman for your reading pleasure. Let me know how it makes you feel once you have read it. Perhaps read it a second time to let the words really seep in.

Unfolded Out Of The Folds

UNFOLDED out of the folds of the woman, man comes unfolded, and is
always to come unfolded;
Unfolded only out of the superbest woman of the earth, is to come the
superbest man of the earth;
Unfolded out of the friendliest woman, is to come the friendliest
Unfolded only out of the perfect body of a woman, can a man be form’d
of perfect body;
Unfolded only out of the inimitable poem of the woman, can come the
poems of man–(only thence have my poems come;)
Unfolded out of the strong and arrogant woman I love, only thence can
appear the strong and arrogant man I love;
Unfolded by brawny embraces from the well-muscled woman I love, only
thence come the brawny embraces of the man;
Unfolded out of the folds of the woman’s brain, come all the folds of
the man’s brain, duly obedient;
Unfolded out of the justice of the woman, all justice is unfolded;
Unfolded out of the sympathy of the woman is all sympathy: 10
A man is a great thing upon the earth, and through eternity–but
every jot of the greatness of man is unfolded out of woman,
First the man is shaped in the woman, he can then be shaped in
Walt Whitman

Setting up my new therapy room!

The view from the therapy roomI’ve been working hard setting up my new therapy space today. I’m consciously creating a harmonious space that is perfect for transformation, healing and growth. It’s part counselling space/part art therapy studio and part bushland retreat! I can spread out all my art and clay therapy materials out, and I can burn a candle or oils for meditation exercises to create the perfect peaceful atmosphere for my clients. It is a truly healing space for clients that have suffered trauma, abuse or any upheavals. The sounds of Nature and the birds in the trees are the perfect backdrop for art therapy exercises and meditations.

Do you think you would find this a relaxiCat O'Dowd's therapy roomng space to work on healing and transforming yourself?  I find Nature very healing and relaxing and the view of the National Park out the wrap around windows creates such a soothing atmosphere. I’ve put bunches of fresh flowers throughout the space and burnt some sage. It feels like a sacred space and I’m ready to see my clients here. I’m just sp excited to start using this space tomorrow!

I see my clients in a clinic in Sydney’s CBD, Rozelle and now in this beautiful bushland retreat on Sydney’s north shore. Please get in touch if you would like to book a session with me and change your life.

What I’ve been up to. More Art Therapy workshops..

I’ve just spent an incredible and intense four days of full time workshops and lectures learning hands on more and more about art therapy and transpersonal counselling.
In order to learn best what will work for our clients we have to do all the exercises on ourselves and each other. It is always a very life changing few days!


We studied symbol, myth and healing in art therapy. We explored  the structure and dynamics of the psyche. We got to explore and compare the similarities and differences between psychoanalytic traditions and ancient shamanic practices.  I love learning about the overlaps between Freud and ancient Shamanism. It’s quite fascinating!

I learnt some wonderful new exercies to help my client and I’m so excited to share them! I’ve also learnt some powerful exercises for clients who have suffered trauma and abuse or have body image and eating disorders. We learnt some more clay therapy exercises and worked with transformational masks and body masks. We were trained in specific Gestalt practices to help clients communicate at a deeper level with their inner selves and their body or their mind. Too often we can be too trapped in our mind and have cut ourselves off from our body. I can help you get back in your body with different art therapy and meditation exercises. Sometimes we can be stuck in our body and cut ourselves off from our mind. I can also help with this.

I’ve just attached a little picture I took of our materials before we started a big exercise… I’m exploding with inspiration and knowledge and can’t wait to implement it all! Our lecturer was so inspiring, she works as a counsellor and art therapist in her own private practice and her knowledge and experience taught me so much.

Are you projecting the fears of the past onto your present relationship?

“To grow, you must be willing to let your present and future be totally unlike your past. Your history is not your destiny.” – Alan Cohentrapped_by_myriahanyia-d32mglx
Too often people are so scarred by past experiences with sex and relationships, and they project these fears and expectations onto the present with hazardous results. Insecurity can scare away a new partner, and sexual anxiety can limit your potential to experience true connection and a sexually empowered life. How often have you projected the fears, hurts and experiences in a former relationship onto a present lover? How often have you tried not to do this, but just ended up doing it anyway?  We don’t have to repeat these old patterns again and again..


Book a session with me today to leave these scars behind and experience true fulfilment and sexual empowerment. I can help you live in the present, not dwell in the past and open yourself up to receiving and giving pleasure, bliss and love.  Art therapy can help heal old hurts and give you insight into your life. Sex therapy can help you create the fulfilling, exciting sexual life brimming with good sexual health that you deserve. Click on the link to book a session with me today!