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Jelena Kovačević



Creating Maze Art Therapy Activity


Maze Art Therapy Activity is an art therapy task initially created by the author of the text for working with school children due to its playful attributes that ease the therapeutic approach. In this text, several two-dimensional mazes don by school children will be created as a part of art therapeutic process


Lina,s maze, photo: Private albumLina,s maze, photo: Private album Luka's maze, photo: Private albumLuka's maze, photo: Private album Mak's maze, photo: Private albumMak's maze, photo: Private album


The maze is a splice of paths in which some of the tracks lead to blind alleys. Since there is a risk of wandering to a place with no exit, the main goal is to find the right way that leads to the center of the structure. Maze allows the adventurer to access its focal point through the process similar to initiation. The journey through the maze is a matter of symbolical presentation of temptation that challenges one while trying to find the path to the center (Chevalier, Gheerbrant, 1987). Because of its strong symbolism, walking through the maze can be related to ups and downs a person faces throughout her/his lifetime.

Maze Art Therapy Activity is an art therapy task I initially created for working with school children due to its playful attributes that ease the therapeutic approach. When offered, children focus on the movement of their finger while trying to work their way through the maze. Thus the creation of the overall atmosphere starts with a game in which one loses her/himself for a brief moment. Since almost everybody likes to play games, I decided to offer the activity to the student population and the beginning was equally joyful for them as for the 10-year-olds.

The practical part of art therapy activity lasts for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the technique used. It is being done quicker when working with colored pencils than with, for example, collage. It must be noted that the activity is adjustable to various situations and expressions, and it can be done in any of the techniques, even in three-dimensional ones. In this text, I will present several two-dimensional mazes done with collage. The size of the maze stencil depends on the therapist, client’s capabilities or the length of the therapeutic session.

At the beginning of the activity, a client is given an A4 size piece of paper with a printed maze. The art therapist can choose various online examples that are free to be used but she/he has to keep in mind that average children and people with lower cognitive skills usually work better with simpler examples of the maze, while more complicated examples are suitable for adults. After given the stencil a client is asked to mark the starting point and the exit of the maze. Simply by placing the starting and ending points on the paper, a person can determine the orientation of the path. The next directive is to try to find the way through the maze which usually takes approximately one minute because the art therapist would not want the client to concentrate too much on this part nor to get frustrated if being unable to find the path that leads to the exit. When finished, a client is directed to depict one of her/his goals at the end of the maze and afterwards+ to present her/himself in the present moment. It is advisable for the goals to be realistic and placed in the near future, so the client can observe his walk through the maze in reality, from one session to another. Regarding the current presentation placed at the exit, it can be a self-portrait but also a symbolic representation of a client - a sign or a symbol whose meaning is known or recognizable only to the client.

The next step in the process is to depict on the left side several of possible obstacles on the way towards the goal and on the right the strengths that empower and encourage one to proceed. When finished, the client presents her/his work to the art therapist and discussion is followed. In the following paragraph I will present three different case examples - Lina, Luka, and Mak– whose art pieces stand as a vivid portrayal of possibilities in the use of Maze Art Therapy Activity.


Case example: Lina, 21 yrs

Lina is a young woman whose weakness is dealing with stressful situations. Her appearance is good looking and she gives an impression of a gentle and mindful person. In her adolescent years, she was faced with serious health issues that affected her future life and caused periods of depression. Ever since, when a stressful situation occurs, she withdraws and has a difficult time facing the obligations that needed to be done in order to resolve the condition. We started art therapy sessions during one of those complicated periods.

After I had already seen her several times, I offered Lina Maze Art Therapy Activity. She easily found the way through the maze and spent half an hour working combining two techniques, colored pencils, and collage. Lots of various symbols were used to present the journey towards the exit of the maze. Lina’s current condition was depicted similar to being imprisoned because she felt trapped in a depressive state. Lina’s goal in the near future was to create a home, warm and secure, like the one in which she was born. The obstacles, placed on the right, showed a dark headless figure which stood for the people that were not always good, an orange figure that represented Lina when lazy, a green joint, a tiny cell phone and a TV set that are self-explanatory time consumers. Lina’s strengths were placed on the left. Looking from the lower left corner of the maze she made a beautiful landscape similar to where she lived with her family. Above the mountains are the two animals she loved and on the top: four orange figures holding hands, a symbol of her family. In the following conversation, we realized that all the colors she used, left and right side included, were present in the little dream-house she built for herself at the end. That made Lina realize, although her confidence was shaken, she has the power to design her own life and use all of the material she was given throughout the years to accomplish her future goal, a warm and pleasant home. A headless dark figure was especially enigmatic but she described it shortly, as it was pointed out earlier, and skipped to other symbols. The session ended in the nostalgic tone of Lina’s longing for her birthplace and the nature surrounding it. That is the place where she feels safe, recharges her batteries and prepares for future challenges.

On the next session she attended Lina was a bit confused and struggling as if she wanted to discuss something. That time she made a different kind of artwork which once again included the dark figure used on the right side of the maze. She explained that it is a representation of an actual person, a sex offender who was abusive towards her. Only a few people knew about that, but not her family members. Even Lina was not aware how traumatizing that event had been.

In her article about the importance of visual mapping when working with trauma, Pifalo explains that people need maps when they are lost. 'More importantly, the process of creating a personal map can bring a sense of power and control back into an individual’s life' (Pifalo, 2009). Lina’s maze is an example of a map of life which helped her in defining the priorities. Depicting the possible obstacles led to her awareness of potential problems, but at the same time gave her a clear insight that sometimes the obstacles exist in the past events we experienced as traumatic. The activity provided a subtle transition to accepting the actual event and being able to intentionally symbolically present it.


Lina's maze, photo: Private albumLina's maze, photo: Private album


Case example: Luka, 12 yrs

Luka is a highly intelligent boy. He is very talkative, even with signs of verbal and emotional incontinence. From time to time he is experiencing anxiety and depression. In the summer before I started art therapy sessions with him, his depressive state got worse and he mentioned killing himself. The main reason for his condition is school bullying he is suffering from a boy named Mak, Luka's classmate. Mak attended art therapy sessions at the same time Luka did, but they never got engaged in it together because of Luka's resistance. Mak, on the other hand, was very interested in it and thought it would have been fun.

Luka attended the first session in the company of his mother, during which they both made the kinetic family drawing. The drawing revealed the father being distanced from the family, and the mother as the parent Luka is most attached to, especially being an only child. Nevertheless, he is from a loving family. He enjoys spending time with his father and constantly seeks his attention. Luka has irrational fears of dying that are transferred from himself to his parents.

We did the Maze Art Therapy Activity near the end of the school year. Luka was given the directives but he skipped them and made his own arrangement. The initiative is one of his characteristics, even though he has low self-esteem. The stencil we used differs a bit from the one in Lina's case, and the starting and ending point are near each other. Luka understood the term 'start' as a literal beginning of his life and therefore drew himself as a fetus. His main goal is to be employed which is represented in the drawing of a briefcase. In the central point of the maze, he placed his big wish to be a worldwide famous singer, in order to gain respect from people. A tiny stick figure is lit by the stage lights and is getting a standing ovation. The performance is surrounded by both the strengths and weaknesses, but strengths are prevailing. Observed clockwise, the circle starts with a red heart that is a symbol of romantic love he is seeking for. On the right, a muscled tattooed arm symbolizes strength and health, which is followed by a scary face that presents all of Luka’s fears. In the bottom left corner Luka drew a cross, pointing out he is Catholic.

In Luka’s composition that was consisted of all the elements mentioned above, it is clearly seen he is putting himself in the center of all that is happening. Through the art therapy sessions, it appeared his vulnerability was partially caused by his experience of himself that oscillates from intellectually dominant to an uninteresting chubby boy. Luka's example is especially useful in comparison to Mak's drawing because it reveals how significantly different these conflicted boys were.


Luka's maze, photo: Private albumLuka's maze, photo: Private album


Case example: Mak, 12 yrs

Mak is the eldest of three brothers. Children live in a house with their parents and grandparents from father’s side. He is easily distracted, but very talkative and polite, often complimenting me during the sessions. He prefers talking rather than actual art activity, but towards the end of each session, he manages to make some simple artwork. In the beginning, Mak attended art therapy sessions in the company of his mother, who was quite worried about the conflict between the two boys. She was also convinced that her son was not the bully and that Luka should take on his part in the conflict. I had noticed that Mak is more honest when the mother is not around so I asked for her permission to continue the art therapy sessions without her for a while, to which she agreed.

After working with Mak for half a year, we did the Maze Art Therapy Activity at the near end of the school year, approximately same time as I offered the activity to Luka. Mak hesitated for quite a while, but at the end he made four simple drawings of hearts and stick figures. The rest of the maze activity was done verbally by his writing down the obstacles and strengths. Use of words in the child’s art work usually suggests a possibility that the child is not able to express its thoughts visually, so she/he uses words for help. Mak was, indeed, cognitively below average. This fact made me question whether he was aware of the damage he had been doing to Luka. American clinical child psychologist Ross W. Green noted that ‘kids do well if they can’ in order to redefine the famous philosophy that ‘kids do well if they want to’(Green, 2014:10). This slight change of the words was made to accent that if a child could do well, he would do well. It also puts the (art) therapist in the position to contribute to forming of the skills the child is lacking for responding to the challenges of life in an appropriate way. The surprising result of the maze activity was that Mak's present and future self were almost the same. After I had noticed that and pointed it out to him, he decided to make the second figure a bit bigger and add body hair, laughing while doing it. The maze activity revealed his opinion of the school structure involved in his conflict with Luka - Mak saw the teachers, his low grades and the psychologist as obstacles towards staying the same. At that period he was a boy without the vision of himself in the future and, unfortunately, without a strong role model in the family. The strengths he wrote were mere truisms he frequently used because he knew these were the words school staff wanted to hear: intellect, politeness, respect and kindness, all written in the lower right corner.


Three case examples were chosen to present the variety of possibilities offered when introducing the Maze Art Therapy Activity to clients. Because of its playful and challenging start, it might soothe the potential anxiety in the beginning of the session. Besides the fact that most of us like to relax playing a noncompetitive game, it creates a safe environment for spreading the real life barriers and powers in the situation one has to deal with. The activity can also be applied in the practice of art therapy for eliciting or evoking change talk, reflective listening, decisional balancing and preparation to change. One of its most intriguing future options is its application in working with different populations, an approach that will, hopefully, be used in many sessions that are yet to come.


Mak's maze, photo: Private albumMak's maze, photo: Private album 


Chevalier, J., Gheerbrant, A. (1987), “Rječnik simbola”, Nakladni zavod Matice hrvatske, Zagreb;
Green, R. W. (2014), “Lost at School”, Scribner, New York;
Pifalo, T. (2009), “Mapping the Maze: An Art Therapy Intervention Following Disclosure of Sexual Abuse“, Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 26(1) © AATA.