Target Population: Groups/ individuals age 6 and up (can use for younger clients if pre-made mask patterns are already cut or if plastic masks are provided)
• Colored paper
• White paper
• Colored Pencils
• Elastic or String
• Glitter glue
• Ephemera (glitter, small cut-outs, paper ribbon, etc.)
• Pre-made mask patterns (Can also use plastic masks)
• Introduction to activity: Superheroes wear masks to hide their identity, to protect themselves, and/or to blend in with others. In our daily lives, we sometimes put on invisible masks, in order to protect ourselves or to fit in with others. If you were a superhero, what would your mask look like? Create a mask, as if you were a superhero, keeping in mind what you might be trying to shield or display to others.
o Optional: Some people wish to create two masks: one to represent how we feel on the inside, and one to illustrate how we present ourselves on the outside. Alternatively, if you are using plastic or molded masks, the client may choose to simply paint both the inside and outside of the mask.
• Provide mask patterns and the option to create their own mask design.
• Allow at least 20-30 minutes for each individual to create his/her mask, leaving about 30 minutes for processing.
Upon completion, ask client(s) to wear the mask(s).
Potential process questions:
- Who are you?
- What superpowers would you have, and why?
- Brainstorm about the individual’s strengths
- What does your mask represent?
- Does your mask allow you to shield your identity or allow you to fit in with others?
- How does your mask allow you to do this?
- How does this relate to your real life experiences?
- How does wearing a mask make you feel? Do you feel free or more constricted?
- Do you use different masks in different situations?
- If in a group, ask clients to switch masks with one another, and discuss how it feels to wear another’s mask.
- What might it be like for you to take off this mask in different situations?
*Note: Intro and rationale for the activity-dependent on developmental level.
Rationale, Expected Results, and Troubleshooting:
In addition to being a unique means of expressing emotion, creating masks can facilitate a deeper understanding of how the client views themselves, how others view them, and their place in the world. Considering a Jungian perspective, clients will be allowed to explore their “persona archetype” and understand how they might be portraying themselves to others (Janzing, 1998). Considering Winnicott’s theory, clients will be able to explore the “false self” that they embody and the protective purposes for this. Additionally, they will be able to further explore what their true self might look like and how to appreciate and value their “true self.”
Discussions could include identity, how masking certain pieces of themselves can be protective, and imagining what it might be like to take off the mask in certain situations. Discussion might also include “the disinhibitory effect of the mask that helps people wearing it to revel themselves and to experiment new attitudes and behaviours” (Janzing, 1998, p. 154). A mask might allow clients to discuss the kind of person they would like to be when limitations are not imposed. Creating masks allows for an expression of conflicts of the self (Janzing, 1998). Moreover, making a mask can also empower and encourage clients to construct a new and healthier self-image or facilitate a greater acceptance of self. It can also assist clients that have difficulty discussing their feelings to express them in a creative way.
One expected troubleshooting issue might involve clients feeling that they are not artistic enough to create a mask. The clinician would then discuss how the objective of the project is for the client to express him/herself and not necessarily to create a masterpiece. Secondly, if conducted in a group, a client might also worry about sharing the ways in which they might hide their true selves from others, in fear of their true identities not being accepted. Clients should be reminded about that the therapeutic environment is a “safe space,” and all clients involved should be reminded to be respectful to what others share. Thirdly, assessment for any psychotic disorder should be conducted prior to this activity. Creation of masks enables regression (Saigre, 1989), thus, doing so might initiate an episode. Furthermore, masks might instigate strong emotional reactions for all clients. Transforming the mask might help alleviate these heightened emotions; however, destroying the mask might cause depersonalization, as the client might experience a destroying of the self (Petzold, 1975). Fourthly, clients may have difficulty breathing, when wearing the mask (Turner, 1981). Relaxation/Breathing techniques should be implemented if this occurs. Lastly, due to certain cultural/religious background of the client, a client might be resistant to engage in mask wearing (Raabe, 1992). In respect of the client’s beliefs, they would of course be exempt from creating the mask. They could, however, be asked if they are comfortable still discussing process questions.
Dunn-Snow, P. & Joy-Smellie, S. (2000) Teaching art therapy techniques: Mask-making, A case in point. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 17(2), 125-131. DOI: 10.1080/07421656.2000.10129512
Janzing, H. (1998). The use of the mask in psychotherapy. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 25 (3), 151-157.
Petzold, H. (1975). Masken and Märchenspiel als Verfahren der integrativen Therapie. Integrative Therapie, 1, 44-48.
Raabe, E. C. (1992). Mythos maske. Frankfurt: Museum für Völkerkunde.
Saigre, H. (1989). La mascothérapie. Une psychothérapie post-Reichienne. L’Information Psychiatrique, 10, 1017-1023.
Trepal-Wollenzier, H. C., & Wester, K. L. (2002). The use of masks in counseling: Creating reflective space. Journal of Clinical Activities, Assignments & Handouts in Psychotherapy Practice, 2(2), 123-130.
Turner, C. (1981). Body image stress in neutral mask work. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 8, 37-41.
Originally posted on the Geek Therapy Wiki, hosted on the now-defunct Wikispaces platform, as part of Dr. Patrick O’Connor’s course Geek Culture in Therapy.