Transformational Self Portrait Art Therapy Activity

transformation self portrait - chameleon

This activity is based on the idea of transformational therapy and art therapy for life changes. People tend to go through many changes and transformations in life. These changes can really run the gamut, but it’s important to reflect on our experiences and how they affect one’s self…whether it be our self-esteem or self-image, our self-confidence or self-doubt, our mental and emotional health, etc.

Coming Up With the Concept

Think of an experience or event from your past that still has a negative impact on your life today. It could be something big or small, recent or long ago. Think about what happened, how the event(s) played out, and how it affects you today. Feel free to write your thoughts down if you want. Now think about what you would like to change about yourself as a result of that negative experience. It could be a transformation related to your self-esteem, self-confidence, mental/emotional state, etc.

Getting Started

Now that you’ve thought about your past experience, how it has affected you today, and how you want to change, you can focus on putting your creative juices to work! As you may have guessed by the title, you’re going to create a self-portrait. This will be a little different than the typical self-portrait though. For this art therapy activity, you will be creating a transformational self-portrait mural. This can be a painting, drawing, collage, whatever you want. You can use any materials you’d like in any combination. Don’t feel like you have to restrict yourself…creativity is encouraged!

The First Piece of the Transformational Self Portrait

Based on the concept you devised above, the first piece of the transformational self portrait you will create will be based on the experience that negatively impacted your life and caused a negative transformation or life change to your “self.” Remember, you are creating a self portrait, so this first piece will be a self-portrait based on how you were in the past as a result of the experience. Think back to when you had your negative experience and how you felt when it happened. You can create a self-portrait based on the details of the experience/event, or you can create something based on one aspect of the experience that might be the source of the negative impact, or you can make the first piece an overall reflection of your “self” at that time.

The Second Piece

The second piece you will create will be another self-portrait, but it will more of a traditional self-portrait in the sense that your creation will reflect your “self” as you are today. The caveat of this being that it should reflect how you are today because of the negative experience mentioned above.

The Final Piece of the Transformational Self Portrait

The third, and final piece of your transformational self-portrait, as you may have figured out by now, is the piece that looks toward the future. Similar to the recent “Future Self Portrait” activity, this particular activity doesn’t have to be a reflection of the immediate future or any specific date. Step outside yourself as much as possible for this and think about how you WANT to be, about how you WANT to change your “self” because of your past negative experience. Think about how you see your “self” in the future after you’ve transformed. Create a self-portrait of this ideal future self.

Putting It All Together

Look at your 3 pieces and put them together to see your final product. Look at what you’ve created and see if you can notice elements in your creation that reflect the transformation that occurred and the transformation you want to happen. And now that you’ve created an image of your ideal future self, you can work on becoming the image you created. Certainly, this is easier said than done, but hopefully this will be a good start, and a reminder, to work on your future transformation!


  1. Jane says

    What age group is this art activity targeted for? What about younger kids? Can they grasp this “transformational” concept and be able to put it on paper? Just curious. Thanks!


    • admin says

      @Jane: I think it depends on the kids. You may have to explain the concept in a different way, but generally speaking if they are self-aware and understand the concept of time (past, present, future), then they should be able to perform the activity with the proper guidance.

  2. says

    Yeah..a simpler subject-matter such as dolls or balls may works better with younger children.
    However, the verbal explanation need to be given a careful consideration as i find the concept the transformation itself is rather a bit too abstract for children of younger age. They are responsive upon concrete examples within their environments.

  3. Joanna says

    I really love this activity and think it could be very beneficial to some of the clients I work with, I have an MSW, but only took one intensive art therapy course, do you think this activity would be effective with adolescents who were victims of sexual abuse?

  4. Joe says

    I like the way the activity flows from the past events in someones life to the future, that way a person can see what all they have gone through in their life. I work with drug & alcohol addicted adults. Do you have any more art therapy activities that would be good for them.

  5. Michele says

    I would love to use the activity in my women’s therapy group. Do you have any suggestions for question discussion after the activity? Thanks

  6. angelica says

    Hi :) i need help…where can i find new art terapy exercise for kids?? :) thank you

  7. says

    HI, I am German and got introduced to art therapy during my recent trauma therapy.
    If you care to click over to my blog I worked my way through these transformationals self portraits. I dont know how to submit all posts and paintings. However if you care to publish them, feel free to contact me.

    Never thought that art therapy would help me so much. Now I am recovering one image at atime.
    Thanks again, Paula

  8. Wizard says

    in response to:

    Joe on December 10, 2009 8:03 am

    “I like the way the activity flows from the past events in someones life to the future, that way a person can see what all they have gone through in their life. I work with drug & alcohol addicted adults. Do you have any more art therapy activities that would be good for them”

    This is a very effective and amazing project for people of all ages and situations to work with, I myself have used this concept in my own work ( being a visual artist ) one thing i have noticed with others I have seen doing this is sometimes depending on the event in their past this can be a troubling task, with any sexually abused person child or not, things can get rough when visualizing past memories. I may try to alter the first step in these cases, to avoid this.
    That being said, I believe it is really dependent on the individual. Some may find this vary helpful, my girlfriend for instance is an artist as well as survivor of sexual abuse as a child, even though those memories are a rough spot for her to go to, seeing her work i believe that it always finds its way back. And in some way it truely helps her.

    I hope this helps somewhat, I am working currently on a thesis, on different art therapy projects and I will be studying closely how each one helps different groups so I will keep these findings posted as they come.

  9. Ku Yussof Engku Ismail says

    I love to learn more about art therapy. been doing a bit of art with my clients. now training as a counselor
    Quite helpful reading materials here

  10. says

    I love this activity. I’ve added it to my arsenal of “activity cards” that I make available in an art therapy room at a spiritual healing retreat for women and men who have experienced abortion in their lives. The retreat is called Project Rachel and one of the most loving and beautiful things I’ve ever witnessed. The room is open for the participants to use as they wish and I provide cards with ideas if they’d like to use them. Since art is something most of them haven’t done since they were children, the ideas help them alot. Last time was the first time we included the art room and the art that was created was incredible. Once I walked by the room and peeked in and folks were creating, talking with each other. It was beautiful. This art activity should be great for them.
    Thanks again,

    P.S. I’d like to contact the woman who talked about mixed media crucifixes. I’d like more information about that project please. If you can contact me directly I’d appreciate it. Thanks.

    Patti M. Zordich, Ph.D.
    Licensed Psychologist
    Director/Founder Triangle Psychological Services
    Raleigh, NC 27511

  11. roxana De Peréz says

    I work with women and most of the time their problem is that they are uptight about art.
    Making a self portrait could intimidate them….

    The tranformational sel protrait sonds great for me, but would it it be intimidating?

  12. JudyE says

    I am the “art lady” at a homeless shelter for adolescents. Recently I modified this activity to fit the 2 hour time period and to fit the fact that I am not a therapist. Part of my role in the shelter is to provide, not only an activity, but also a safe place to talk. I had the kids pick three ages with which they identify. For example, a seventeen year old said that he often feels like he is 13, but sometimes he feels 6 when he is having fun or age 24 when he is having to make serious, tough decisions. Then, we took these three number and created designs on a small canvas which the client then painted. During the painting time, the clients felt free to talk about their ages and why they picked them. I felt it was very successful. No one was intimidated by having to draw people or paint well.

  13. Cathy says

    I really like this activity. I am a therapist, working with kids & adolescents in a partial hospital setting. I plan to use this as part of our “Expressive Treatment” group!


  14. Sue G LPC says

    @Judy E, I think your idea is brilliant and I can see it working with all age groups. I am eager to try it out on one of my groups this week. Keep coming up with good ideas. It is so helpful to read how others use art to move towards healing. Thank you for taking the time to record your experiences.

  15. Irene says

    Hey there!

    I am currently working on my dissertation about the influence of art therapy when working with a group of adolescents. Most of them have learning difficulties, they sometimes during highschool classes are aggresive, they find it very hard to verbally express themselves. I was wondering if you could give me some ideas of techniques that i can use with them. My goal is that at the end of these sessions the group is more united, they can better express their feelings and their needs, they learn to listen and respect any opinion.

    I would really appreciate some advices

  16. Christine says

    JudyE – I love your concept w/ the ages as well! I see it as a completely different directive, but I still might try it as well. If I did that, I’d love to encourage them to draw like that age (i.e. draw like a 5y.o. if that is the age they’re relating w/)

    I’m thinking about doing this sort of directive a bit differently, to fit my time frame w/ incarcerated youth… have them create initial artwork thinking about a past challenge, then modpodge tissue paper over areas, then do art over top. We’ll talk about how you can still see areas of the transformation underneath the tissue becuase they’re still a part of you, but you can add onto that identity to create new surface.

  17. Noor Pinna says

    I think this activity sounds wonderful. I am currently compiling a list of therapeutic activities for training manuals for the Grossman Burn Foundation. I would like to properly cited. If anyone can provide any guidance and advice, I would be really appreciative.

  18. says

    I found this insightful article browsing online for ideas for art therapy classes. This site is awesome! Thanks so much for providing such a great resource for artists, teachers, art therapists and people in general!

  19. Jon Butcher says

    HOW do you get folks in to The art therapy groups? Advertise????Case manager referral???
    and how do you keep them coming back

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