Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Podcast with Ricë Freeman-Zachery talking about Creativity

 Ricë from interviewed me about the workshop I did at Valley Ridge Art Studio to help artists become be aware of their inner process by using focusing and expressive art therapy. We talk about creativity, time, blocking our process and how to move ahead in our creative lives. Hope you enjoy listening. It is in the right hand corner of my blog.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Creative Process and Getting Derailed

I just completed a pod-cast interview with Ricë, the wonderful author from We talked about things that sometimes sabotage or block us in the creative journey. After the interview, on my own blog I posted about a workshop I had given on clutter and our relationship with “things’ in our lives. Ricë then posted about having an experience of feeling a burst of new creative ideas and then found herself at the mall. Ricë wrote about finding herself shopping or wanting to shop as a way to derail herself from her new creative ideas and/or impulses. Read her very thoughtful post and all the interesting comments from her readers.

When we get new sparks of energy and the creative juices are flowing we feel energized, awake and alive.  We can feel change in the air. Change, positive or negative, does funny things to us. It brings up fear, insecurity, a sense of inadequacy, excitement, passion, and curiosity.

At this stage we need someone to say yes to our ideas, feelings and urges. This creative energy wants to go somewhere, which is why we may find ourselves at the mall. The energy needs to move. Perhaps, if it moved in the direction of being deeply listened to by a friend or partner we would really get the outward movement that we are inwardly wanting. These new creative urges and ideas need to be heard, and said yes to.

In the hero’s journey (Joseph Campbell), the first step is the call to the adventure. For artists, this can be the bubbling up of new creative ideas for projects. The next step is when Old Man or Old Woman at the edge of the forest warns not to go, but says yes to journey and kisses the adventurer on the forehead or gives her a magic charm to protect herself when she enters the unknown.
Am I being too poetic in thinking that when we go wandering at the mall we are looking unconsciously, for this yes?
When our ideas are fresh, shy and not ready to be fully looked at, who in your life is safe enough, trustworthy enough to share them with? Is this what we are really looking for?
What do you think? 

Who says yes to your creative ideas?

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Art of Uncluttering Your Inner and Outer Life

Last weekend I gave a workshop on using Art Therapy and Focusing to look at clutter in our lives.

Creating a collage about  things that she likes in her life.
What is Clutter?
Even when we want to unclutter our lives, almost all of us have a hard time parting with something that has sentimental value. Almost every object in our homes will conjure some sort of memory. However, even if that memory is connected with a special person or is a part of an overall happy moment in life, that doesn't mean that the object is worthy of keeping.

What is appropriate for you today to have in your daily life?
a)     What possessions hold you in the past?
b)    What possessions reflect you in the ‘here and now’?
c)     What possessions help you move forward into your new vision of yourself?

Collage of what becomes clutter.
 Letting go of possessions can be liberating and challenging. It makes room for something new and also creates a void. Who am I if I am not the caretaker of the family antique dishes? Who am I if I am not the one with the beautiful garden? Does that mean I am disconnected from my past or family? Our individual identities, which are made up of many different parts, are connected with our possessions and when we change, those objects that surround us can become anchors to a past or part of a new present. For some of us, or for some aspects of us, letting go of the past by letting go of the things we have that are associated with it, allows us to be more comfortable with who we are now. However, anyone who has ever parted with something that signifies an important relationship with a person or a time of life knows that there's a feeling of freedom and of insecurity. Feeling all parts of ourselves is what we need to get comfortable with in order to navigate life with less stress and anxiety.
Often times, when you deal with the core issues in your life, your material possessions get cleaned up. Once you've got a peaceful space to live in, you'll enjoy a more peaceful mood. Clutter can be standing in your way of a better life. We can live with and make room for both, the cluttered parts of us that don’t know where we are going or what we want and the uncluttered parts of us that have a clear vision of next forward movement. We need to find a way to stand in the complexity of life and still be able to move ahead with clarity.  
A Collage showing colors and textures that she likes in her life.
 “Possessions insulate us from the outside world, building a wall of junk which we can hide behind. Our clutter becomes an insular mechanism for shielding ourselves from pain. We all do to some degree, but few ever make the correlation. The sheer act of acquiring stuff, too, can be a self-medication. How many of us shop in order to feel better? But it’s a temporary fix that, in the end, only adds to our depression.”
– Christy Best

Practicing Focusing to get Clear: Uncluttering 

Holding onto Yourself while trying to change a Pattern : 
1. Maintaining a clear sense of who you are when you interact with others. Knowing what you value and believe, and not defending a false or inaccurate self-picture. 
2. Maintaining a sense of perspective about your anxieties and limitations so that they neither drive nor immobilize you. 
3. Practicing the willingness to engage in self-dialogue which is necessary for your growth. This includes being with your fears and anxieties.
4. Acknowledging the parts of you that engage in projections and distortions.
5. Tolerating the pain involved in growing; mobilizing yourself toward the growth you value and aspire to; soothing your own hurts when necessary, supporting rather than berating yourself. 

How does Focusing help heal the relationship you have with yourself:
 By helping you:
- honor and listen to your emotions, sensations and knowing how to release them
- be a kind guardian to yourself, know how to calm and sooth yourself 
- be present with yourself 
- give yourself the opportunity to have an inner dialogue that supports you 
- hold an open, non-judging attention to your inner sensing 
- feel safe and secure in your own being
- have patience with yourself and your growth
- take time to find the right fit for yourself in different environments, relationships, and situations
The more time we spend in Presence or Expanded Awareness the easier it is to is to develop a relationship with your self. When we are present we can watch ourselves and notice when we need calming, support, clarification, and help. It helps slow things down and allows the self time, room and space to get what really fits for it. 

Here is one of the art exercise that the group did:

Start by getting yourself settled and relaxed. Do some deep breathing.
Imagine that you are moving and you can only bring with you 1 article from each room. In your mind visit the kitchen, living room, bedroom and study/office (any three rooms that you want) and  visualize one item that you know you want to keep. Take a few minutes to write why, then one item that you may be ready to let go and write down why and one item that you feel ambivalent about and write down why. Now, look at your list and from the kept pile write a description of what those items say about you. From the discard pile write a description of what you think you are ready to let go of and of the maybe pile write what issue you think you may be working on right now in your life.
Now we are going to use the keep pile and make a collage of your new expression of self.

The possessions in my life reflect who I am:
- whatever catches my attention is trying to tell me something.
The possessions in my life reflect aspects of myself:
- some reflect my highest aspirations, other reflect my deepest fears.
My possessions are full of signs and symbols:
- I will look for patterns in my life.
At any given moment, my outer expression of self (possessions) is giving me the best results possible:
- I will focus on what is working instead and listen and be with what isn’t.

Creating clarity.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Reflecting onTherapy Groups: Valley Ridge Art Studio

  • Porch at the Farm House at Valley Ridge
What makes a great group experience?

I taught a Focusing Group at Valley Ridge Art Studio a couple of weeks ago and it was one of those amazing, group experiences. As a facilitator, I always want to be able to understand why that happens and be able to recreate the conditions again. I have taught many groups, many places and had many different experiences. Usually, the experience is good, very good. Yes, sometimes there are people who attend therapy groups who disrupt it for others, are too needy, and/or take up too much space. Sometimes participants struggle with other participants and me or the way I am delivering the material we are studying. During groups many feelings, behaviors and patterns get played out as they do whenever a group of people gather. In a therapy group or a group where people gather to do deep personal growth, many obstacles and issues emerge for individuals and the whole group. I love facilitating groups and deeply enjoy working with the complex, confusing, exhilarating, inspiring and sometimes magical energy that emerges.

So, after all these years with facilitating art, art therapy, Archetype, Mindfulness, body image, mothering, addiction recovery, and many other groups what have I learned?

For me, it is always a fresh, new, and an unpredictable experience.  As an artist, that is why I love it. I love the art experience of taking all the confusion, rawness, excitement, wanting, and not wanting; and making it into a positive, personal and collective experience where everyone feels seen, heard, acknowledged, valued and that they find in the comfort and safety of that group what they need personally from it.
Process Art: expressing a part of her that hides in a leaf covered cave

 So why was the group experience at Valley Ridge so successful?

It's safe and contained. I wanted the group members to be able to go as deeply into their own process as they needed to and we created a safe container for that to happen. That happened because the other members and I were Present for each person when they talked, did art, processed and rested. There was a consistent attitude of genuine respect, care, and allowing for others to be just as they were without having to change or justify themselves. That created an atmosphere where we could relax, and simply be.
It was nourishing. Kathy provides food, atmosphere, and love for her guests. Taking a workshop at Valley Ridge feeds the soul and the body. When we gather to do deep personal work, we want to be held in a place of care and comfort.
It was the right mix of being challenging and safe. Every therapist perceives that tension of participants wanting to move forward in their lives and embrace change and when they need to back away from it. The first night during the introduction some people felt that they may not be able to learn Focusing, but they stayed, worked in a safe supportive atmosphere and every one of them did connect with their bodies, inner process and was able to feel some change because of it.
A large part of it was the dynamics of the women who attended. That cannot be planned, but is a blessing when it occurs. The women connected, respected and listened to each other. The group atmosphere was charged with creative energy. There was one woman who did not find Focusing to fit for her and she never really entered the circle that we had created around us and the work that we were doing. That too, was part of the magic and learning for the group and I: how to be with someone who is not ready to do deep personal work or at least the kind that we were doing. We chose to see her experience as a gift not an obstacle.
Process Art: drawing the part of her that was barely visible

We were present. I think this may be the most important ingredient. We were authentic, awake, Present, in the here and now and available to the moment.  When 14 women are Present with themselves and each other in a room, how can magic not happen?
People took risks. This allowed us to be able to embrace the unknown and step away from our habitual way of being in the world.
 If you are reading this and you are a therapist, what are your ingredients for a great group experience? If you are reading this and you take part in art therapy or other kinds of growth groups, what are your ingredients for a good group experience?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Resourced, Resilient, and Reattached

In my therapy work, I use resourcing, resiliency building and re-attachment techniques to help build the inner and outer safe containment that my clients need in order to move ahead in their lives. Resourcing is sensing into the body to find a positive memory, image and or sensation of a person, place or thing that helps us feel stronger, safer and more attached to others and ourselves. It is body based and helps the nervous system regain its balance. You feel calm, centered and present as a result. When you experience trauma, the sense of self can be shattered Often it feels like you are disconnected from yourself, others and the world. The autonomic nervous system is no longer in a relaxed state and you may be living in a state of high alert, or dissociation. Resourcing helps people situate or settle back into a way of belonging to their bodies and their life experience that is safe.
Resource Card
On a day-to-day basis we collect, store and remember certain images that create specific psychological and emotional states. We all have a storehouse of images that help define who we think ourselves to be. They are stored in the body as sensations, in the emotions as states, and in the mind as memories and narratives. If I want to feel 'at home' in any situation, I will recall images of Pender Island where my partner and I first built our home together. My sense of belonging there is personal, cultural and spiritual. 

Resource Card

Diane Poole Heller in Crash Course has created a system to help review personal resources.
1.      Internal resources are qualities, such as your intelligence, perseverance, ingenuity, confidence, competence, creativity, flexibility, and sense of value or spirituality.
2.      External resources are supports, such as friends and family members, favourite places, enjoyable sports, and positive memories.
3.      Missing resources are those that currently feel unavailable or unused, such as lack of confidence, or lack of connection to friends. 

Exercises for Resourcing; Resource Cards
These cards can be collages, photos or small drawings and/or paintings of people, places, or things that resource you. They can be the size of a business card to fit in your wallet, playing cards or any size that appeals.

A Resource Card

 Looking at your resource cards can interrupt the internal patterned responses that are triggered if we are nervous, stressed or upset. The nervous system responds instantly to what we're reading or looking at and it's most noticeable in our body's sensations. Muscles contract or relax, heart rate changes, breath speeds up or slows down, etc. Looking at images, especially colorful and engaging ones, takes us out of rote procedure. It interrupts the patterned response and moves us into a resource.

A Resource Card

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reflecting on Art Therapy Exercises and Sandtray

Exploring body image

A Sandtray in therapy, is multidimensional experiential therapeutic tool. In a tray of dry and/or wet sand clients build worlds. Using miniature objects, natural objects, dolls, cars, shells, dishes, and others things that represent all the bits and pieces of things that make up our everyday world, they create scenes and pictures in the sand.  These scenes made by adults and children may reflect what home, work, the playground, the bedroom, a friends house or many other places may look and feel like. There is the unmistakable feeling of playing as a young child in beach sand, but also of being a giant in a world of miniatures.  We can shape new images, recreate old memories, express feelings and if we need to destroy what we just made. We can connect and reconnect with imagery through the diverse ways of playing within it. From this new perspective we can plan new futures and revisit past experiences.
Historically, it was Margaret Lowenfeld, a child psychoanalyst in London, U.K. who pioneered Sandplay in her therapeutic work with children during the 1920s. 
The therapist has an collection of miniatures for clients to work with. These maybe bridges, ships, people, twigs, rocks, flowers, cars, food, fantasy creatures, spiritual figures and many other things. They then make a scene with their collection in the sand maybe after a visualization, talking, doing a focusing session or a painting. A whole family could recreate the conflict that they had last night, a female client may express her confusion when her boyfriend cheats on her and a child may show what his new blended family looks and feels like.   
My new family
 Sometimes client may re-experience pre-verbal states, sometimes they can use the sand to make cognitive decisions and or to reconnect with a felt sense.
This is a very open ended, free, nonjudgmental way of working with figurines, objects, ideas and feelings. The therapist may be the witness to what happens for the client by holding space and being quiet, may ask questions and guide or be part of the creative process by also building. Client by communicate with the figures, write a story, poems, explain to the therapist what is happening or remain silent. Sometimes the client talks about her life issues. Clients may want to interpret what they have created or keep it in process and not talk about meaning. As with working in other mediums and with other techniques in art therapy, what happens is what needs to happen for each individual client.
My village
 Sandtray image: A child's village where an accident happened and a friend was killed.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Reflecting on Depression

Working with the sorrows of the psyche is similar to working with sorrows of the flesh. If you have a cut you don't immediately want to change it, make it into something else, you meet it where it is. You want to hear its story, find out what it needs to heal and tenderly give it what it needs. The cut starts to heal itself with your support. Depression is something that needs listening, gentle caring and holding. Childhood depression is a relatively new diagnosis.
 There is no longer room for darkness in childhood. Where do things that we as a society push away, gloss over, fix up? Instead of medication, we need to accept whatever is present. Acceptance of depression, shame, and or fear stops the mental or emotional resistance in the body and creates a space for re-alignment or resolution. Acceptance of feelings, behaviors, and /or thoughts frees the body to move to new feelings, behaviors, and thoughts. Non-acceptance sets up resistance or locks the body into rigidity. Art Therapy can be used to accept and work with what is, in a creative way. We can't push away the darkness without also losing the light. Rilke said"no feeling is final."


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Reflecting on working with addictions

As art therapists, we bring our own paradigms to the work. When working with clients who struggle with addiction, I combine A.A., Harm Reduction, The Transtheoretical Model of Change, Mindfulness Practice, Somatic Experiencing and Focusing. The creative process itself is healing and when combined with other paradigms, it comes a powerful tool to help heal addictions. Making art can be a way to relax, change focus and mood. Clients can make art when they are feeling urges or feeling restless. Clients can review the art that they have made to see how far they have come in their recovery process.  Making art in therapy sessions can lead to a hobby as candle making, painting, or working with clay. It means that there is always something to pick up and focus on which helps the client move into a new lifestyle.  The client can feel a creative high instead of a chemical one. 

The appeal of using art therapy in recovery work is that art can bypass conscious defenses and enliven treatment. Creativity is open-ended and dynamic.  It is in direct contrast to a rigid, self-perpetuating addictive activity.  Creating also helps integrate right and left hemispheres of the brain, increases self-awareness and allows access to nonverbal communication.
Creating helps clients focus on their islands of competence. Getting into art can help people become more resilient.  Working on an art project can help provide physical and psychological stabilization.  There is no right or wrong way to create art, each person has their own individual expression, it is something that everyone can do and creating moves people towards health. Creating a piece of art gives people a feeling of accomplishment and pride. It can also give clients a sense of optimism, ownership and personal control to create something they feel good about.  Connecting with their innate creative process helps people reconnect with themselves and it enhances self-esteem.  Creating art can help foster hope. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Reflecting on Making Mistakes

 We all make mistakes. We sometimes say the wrong thing, sometimes overreact, and sometimes move to fast into situations that are wrong for us. What we don’t remember is that everything is impermanent and temporary. Things are always changing and we can change with them. Often if I make a mistake, my mind fights hard to stay with that memory and go over and over it until I feel full of guilt. If I can forgive myself and let go then I can move away from the build up of aggression, anger, and feeling bad about myself. This can keep me in a habitual habit of blaming others, blaming myself, or seeing the world as unfair.
What I want to practice is seeing the impermanence of situations more and understanding how blaming others, is really discomfort with myself. What I want to practice is self-forgiveness when I make a mistake.  This is the way to creating peace within myself.
I make mistakes in creating art, talking to others, writing, and in my professional work. I am going to try to see future mistakes making as a way to practice compassion and forgiveness.
How do you feel about making mistakes?


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