Thursday, May 10, 2012

Secrets and Art Therapy

My new Art Therapy Assistant

 We all have secrets. Most of us have struggled with not knowing if we should share our secrets; hold onto secrets that others tell us privately, when to tell a secret or who to share a secret with. We have secrets about our fears, things of shame, and things that are too big and too scary to say out loud. Telling family secrets can be explosive or healing depending on who was told, how it was handled, and the subsequent fall out. Secrets often oppress and hurt the person that they were meant to protect.
In my therapy practice I witness children holding on to family secrets, their own secrets and their friends secrets. When therapists and parents violate privacy by reading dairies, or personal journals, and tell people in power secrets that a child has confided to only them, children stop talking. Therapy is confidential. Adults tell me their secrets all the time, they understand that it is confidential and that it can be a healing, releasing experience to speak out loud a secret that they have carried. Children, especially the children that I work with in the foster care system do not have that trust because they have had secrets that they have revealed to people they trusted result in them being removed from the only home they knew, being denied access to parents and/or siblings or having a family member incarcerated. Secrets are sometimes kept for complex reasons.
I have witnessed adults and children panic just before revealing a secret. I have also seen the relief and calmness that spreads over their face and body once the secret is safely out. Secrets can be destructive when we carry them alone. But that doesn’t mean that secrets should be told before a person feels safe, or at a wrong time or in the wrong way. As a therapist, I am a secret-keeper. I hold secrets in reverence in our shared therapy space. I also guide my clients about when and how to tell a secret. I have seen too many participants in groups tell secrets to the other group members before they are really emotionally or psychology ready to open up and reveal something that they have been carrying with them in silence for years. Making the journey from secrecy to openness can be liberating, expanding and full of terror.
Secrets are the most destructive when they are kept silently at home. They turn our families into prisons instead of support systems; they make us doubt our identity and right to have close relationships and ability to trust. Secrets can divide family members, stop us from developing in healthy ways and set us up to feel shame and guilt. The secret itself can scar the secret teller and the secret holder. When a family operates in secret, children feel that the world also operates and communicates in the same confused, untrusting way.  
Of course, not all secrets are destructive. Many are essential to establishing bonds between two people and some secrets are important and healthy. When siblings and friends keep secrets from others it can deepen their friendship.
I have a new secret-keeper in my Art Therapy Studio. His job, besides looking elegant, is to hold on to secrets that children and adults are not yet ready to tell, but don’t want to carry alone. He also has notes in his pocket that help people feel a bit safer, more hopeful or happy. It all began with a child telling me that she wanted to tell someone a secret but not a human, because humans tell.
So, I needed a creative solution to help her. Diane Jordens is a friend from the days when I ran an art gallery on Pender Island with a mutual friend of ours, Lally Stonebridge. Diane creates beautiful, exotic creatures. We sold them in our gallery and I own three precious ones that already live in my Art Therapy Studio. 

I emailed Diane and asked her if she could make me a life sized Mr. Toad to be an assistant in my art therapy work. She was thrilled to help. Diane understood how important Mr. Toad’s work would be so she added many special and elegant features. She and her husband were traveling in Thailand where she picked up some amazing elephant embroidered material to make pants, she found a wonderful pink sari for his vest and spent hours sewing beads to represent his warts, decorate his neck and feet. He has jewels on his arms, velvet slippers, pink and green ruffles on his delicate wrists. He is magical beyond words. He adds a regal air to the studio.
Children and adults love him and enjoy his gifts. Mr. Toad has a relative in Saskatchewan. Diane’s Grandfather moved here from England and setup a post office in the Valley. Now, letters especially in his day, hold many secrets. When white settlers were moving into Saskatchewan I could imagine the secrets that the letters held traveling back to England, France, Germany and many other places. So, it is in the family lineage to be a secret-holder and a seeker of adventure. Diane, in her creative work was and continues to be inspired by the famous story, “The Wind in the Willows.” Mr. Toad lived an adventurous and risk taking life in the book, similar to Diane’s Grandfather who would have taken many risks moving from England to Saskatchewan. 

So how does he work you ask? Children and adults slip secrets in his right hand pocket. He holds them for them. I tell the children that he might later talk to them in their dreams, I am not sure. In his right hand pocket he has notes of encouragement, and hope that he encourages people to take. He loves hugs, but is also content to sit quietly and just “be”.
Thank you Diane for creating such an amazing entity for my clients.


Anonymous said...

I am breathing a sigh of relief,

knowing that somewhere there is a Mr Toad who can keep secrets.

What wonderful assistants you have,

Karen Wallace said...

Yes it is a happy group. Mr. Toad and Tiny Blessed are best of friends. Hugs Karen


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