I’m a tattooed therapist. I have six total, four of which are easily visible if I wear a short sleeved shirt. I love my tattoos and put a lot of thought and energy into their creation. For the longest time I covered them up when I was in session. This was partly due to the policies and procedures of where I was working and partly due to my own insecurities. Since then I have overcome my own self doubts and now I proudly display them in session and openly discuss them. Here’s why.

Humans have been tattooing themselves since we were cavemen. Otzi, the 5000 year old Iceman has tattoos. Why he has them is still up for debate among archeologists: were they to fit in with his tribe, stand out in his tribe, were they part of some magical thinking believing they had curative powers, were they to give him strength or abilities? We may never know, but the fact remains that tattoos are symbols and therefore have meaning and power.

In our western society we may not be tattooing ourselves believing they will cause healing or grant abilities, but the tattoos we have continue to hold power and meaning. They tell a story. Each one holds a snippet of our past and gives a glimpse into our thoughts, hopes, dreams, emotions, and experiences. They give the world a snapshot of who we are or at least who were when we got them, or perhaps  who we strive to be. They send the world a message and sometimes let other’s know we wear our hearts on our sleeves.

Tattoos can represent mistakes of our past (an ex-lover’s name over the heart or past gang affiliation). They can express our culture or beliefs (a cross on the arm or passage of scripture). They show the world our interests and passions (a half sleeve of doughnuts and pastries, or an entire back piece of Nintendo characters). They can remind us of love and loss (a memorial for a past loved one). They can give us strength and courage to carry on (a simple semicolon on the wrist). Tattoos can quite literally be our life story written on our skin for the world to see.

At its core therapy is relationship building. A client and therapist get together and over time build a deep and profound relationship. It’s unavoidable when you talk to someone about your deepest wounds, darkest secrets, and greatest fears. It is this relationship that creates the healing aspect of therapy. Knowing this is what happens in therapy doesn’t it make sense to be talking about meaning and purpose of your tattoos?

Here’s the challenge: if you have tattoos look at each one (for some this may take a while) and ask yourself these questions.

-How old where you when you got it?

-What was going on in your life at the time? Were things stressful or peaceful?

-What did the tattoo mean to you then? What does it mean to you now?

-What would it be like to not have that tattoo?

-Would you still want get the tattoo today?

-What does this tattoo say about you as a person?

Afterwards, notice what that experience was like And talked about it with your therapist (if you have one).

Note: If you do not have tattoos you can do this same exercise with a tattoo you would like to get or any body modification (piercings, gauges, scars, etc.). If you have zero body modifications, chances are you know someone who does, you can ask them these questions. Notice what it does to your relationship. Do you feel closer to them?

Disclaimer: This blog is designed for educational, informational, and entertainment purposes. It not meant to be a substitute for any mental health or medical treatment. If you need a doctor or therapist please find one near you. Please do not attempt to do anything without your doctor and therapist or other professional’s go ahead, and remember to use common sense.