Tree of Hope

Activity generously provided by Jared Sulc

Group size:  5-10 (double the amount of supplies for every additional 10 people)

Purpose:  To visually represent the feelings, experiences, and reality of the journey of recovery through the metaphors of the roots, trunk, and branches of a tree.

Props Needed

  1. Enough tables and chairs for each participant to spread out.
  2. Tree and leaf shaped templates are provided.
  3. Art Supplies:
    1. 10 sheets of small white poster board or multi-media paper (11 x14)
    2. 1 pack of carbon paper for tracing
    3. 5 brown grocery bags
    4. 15-20 magazines
    5. 5-10 bottles of white glue
    6. 5-10 scissors
    7. 5-10 watercolor paint trays
    8. A variety of found and decorative papers
    9. 1 pack of tissue paper, assorted colors
    10. 15-20 flat paint brushes, various sizes
    11. 5-10 pencils for tracing
    12. 10 cups for water


  1. Music (optional): Ambient or instrumental music to play during the art making to enhance the creative process.


Activity Preparation

  1. Prep time needed: 15 minutes for set up.
  2. Prior prep time is needed for ordering/gathering art supplies, papers, and magazines.
  3. Using a copier, you can increase the size of the template for legal size or larger paper dimensions. Participants can work directly on the template or cut it out and trace it onto brown paper or any other color paper of their choosing.

Time needed

  • Directions: 10 minutes
  • Activity: 45 minutes
  • Debrief: 25 minutes
  • Clean up: 10 minutes

Set Up:

  • Option 1: (Recommended) Set up one table with all the art supplies—like a buffet of items from which the participants can choose what they need and return at times during their artistic process.
  • Option 2: Divide out all the supplies equally among the participants.

Activity Directions:

  1. On the poster board or multi-media paper, use the watercolor paint to make a wash of colors. This wash will be the background of the piece—the sky and the earth. It can be very loose and free. Not a lot of detail is needed.
  2. Trace tree template onto a paper bag using the carbon paper.
  3. Cut out the tree with scissors.
  4. Glue the tree onto the poster board on top of the wash.
  5. Look through the magazines and cut out images, words, symbols, shapes, and phrases to be put on the roots, trunk, and branches.
  6. Look through the decorative and found papers. Choose patterns, colors and textures that represent your tree.
  7. Start gluing the images on the tree.
  8. Use the leaf template to trace and cut out leaves to add to the branches. Tissue paper and decorative papers work well for making leaves.

Facilitator script

Hey everyone have a seat. Today we are going to do an activity designed to tap into the creative aspects of our mind.

(To explain the concepts and metaphors of the tree, read the following)

The Roots: They represent foundation, support and motivating factors for your recovery. Choose words, images, patterns, colors and shapes that represent what motivated you to begin recovery. These forms can represent events, people, experiences, consequences, or losses that caused suffering in your life. These images can also show how the problems in your life developed or took hold. Additionally, they can represent positive influences that encouraged you and showed you how to heal. The roots encompass all that it took to get you where you are today. For example, a cut out of a picture of an ambulance might represent a life-threatening event. Or a lighthouse might represent a person or group who helped you out of dangerous pattern of addiction.

The Trunk: It represents where you are right now. Choose images, words, patterns and colors that represent how you are in the present. The present can be filled with struggles and victories. The ebb and flow of life in the present can be rich with beauty and at the same time touched by pain. Represent your strengths, talents, short-term goals, accomplishments, milestones, and challenges. The number 60 may symbolize 60 days of abstinence. Or a picture of a pothole in the road may represent a recent slip that needs to be processed.

The Branches: They represent the future, your hopes, and your dreams. Choose text, pictures, colors, and shapes that represent how you want to grow in your recovery. The future remains unseen, and you outlook may be bright and hopeful. At times, a shadow can be cast on the future. Someone might have a reservation that they cannot stay sober if this or that happens. A tombstone might symbolize a fear that the death of a loved one would trigger a relapse. On the other hand, the branches are also full of long-term goals, items on your bucket list, and spiritual aspirations. What you want more of in your life will show up in the branches of the tree. The branches call to mind the words of the poet and artist Kahlil Gibran who said, “Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.”

The facilitator can re-read all or parts of this script once or twice while the participants are working on the collage to inspire the group and help keep them focused. Parts can also be re-read to an individual who is in a stuck place.


  • As much as you are comfortable, please share about your roots, trunk and branches.
  • What image or word in your collage is the most meaningful to you? Please explain.
  • What image or word in your collage was difficult for you to include in your collage?
  • What felt difficult about this activity?
  • What did you discover about yourself by making this collage?
  • What is a next step or take-away you learned from this activity? How likely are you to take that next step? Please explain.

Recovery Metaphor: The tree is a metaphor for a growing and changing life in recovery. Vincent Van Gogh once said, “What lives in art and is eternally living, is first of all the painter and then the painting.” Allow yourself to be revealed through the art.

Wellness Metaphor: The image of a tree represents robust health, vitality, and the healing energy of nature.

Role of Facilitator:  To encourage and motivate participants while they are working with the materials. Assist them with refills on glue and water so that they can focus on making the collage. Also, allow participants to move freely as they look through magazine and decorative papers to find what is needed for their collage. Help clients move through creative blocks when they ask for help. If you see a participant struggling, ask them if they would like your help. Create a safe space for talking about the artwork as you debrief. Set parameters for commenting on other people’s art work. You may want to restrict the group to only talk about their own work. If you do open it up for the group to talk about each other’s work, then be sure to set boundaries around criticizing, judging, or placing value on the art work. Remember, this exercise is not an art critique or an exhibit at an art gallery; it is a therapeutic group activity. A meaningful connection or insight gained from creating or looking at the collage is much more valuable to the group than a comment about how good or bad something looks in the collage. Encourage the group to share about how they can relate to the art or what associations they can make between themselves and the images.


  • Choose a specific behavior or belief that you want to change. Use the roots, trunk, and branches to show how this belief developed in the roots, how it is manifesting right now in the trunk, and in the branches how you see it shifting and transforming in the future.
  • For time constraints, work directly on the template paper, but glue the template to the poster board first. The collage needs the support of the poster board or multi-media paper.

Where to Find It/How to Make it: See Templates.