Saturday, December 31, 2011

Being Kind with our Critical Thoughts

Snowshoeing in the fresh morning snow. 

Cyrus our dog making a snowman.
What can we do about repetitive, harmful thoughts that we have a hard time not repeating to ourselves when we feel down, tired, discouraged and/or depressed? We have all tried cognitive therapy techniques for reframing negative thinking, thought stopping processes and other methods, but some thoughts are difficult to change. Perhaps there is something useful about some of our negative thoughts and maybe it is not the thought that needs to change, but how we convey it to ourselves. Maybe they carry a buried message or reminder that is important to us, but because we say it to ourselves in such a demeaning negative or hurtful ways, we can’t hear the positive intent. For example, if I find that I am wasting time online, not exercising regularly or not using time productively, I may begin telling myself that I am lazy, wasting time, etc. What I may really be wanting is to remind myself that I want to find time to finish a book I started writing and instead of surfing online I could be spending 20 minutes revising and editing. The problem is that the voice in my head is demeaning so I won’t listen. All I hear is that I am lazy or ill guided.  I don’t hear the underlying concern or desire. However, if I bring a nonjudgmental attitude to listening to my negative self-messages I can see that if I soften the language of the messages, then I can hear that they hold desires that I have to live better or in a more productive way. Just as I need to bring a loving compassionate attitude to other parts of me, I need to do the same for my negative thoughts. Instead of pushing them away and seeing them as the enemy I can view them as being desperate and demanding, but also concerned with my well being and growth. I can soften the language that these voices use so that I won’t react against them, but be able to listen to them. Just as a child can’t hear what is expected of them when a parent is yelling at them, I can’t hear what my negative voice is saying when it is yelling at me. If I can be kinder, softer with these fearful parts of myself, then I can hear the gift of their concerns. 

Try this Art Therapy Exercise:
Take a repetitive thought that you have which you may label as negative or hurtful.  Take a few minutes to reflect where this voice came from (a parent, former partner, etc.), locate where in your body you sense this part of you and see if there is an image of this voice or part of you. Draw this part of you when it is talking to you in a critical way.
Now relax and get centered. Take a few deep breaths, and from a place of presence, see if you can re-imagine this part of you as it tells you in a softer, kinder way what its real intent for you is. See if you can understand from its point of view what it is wanting for you. Draw this part of you when it is talking to you in a more yearning or kinder way.
Is there some value is this criticizing part when it is seen in a different light?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Crazy Artist Stereotype and Myth

Check out my new post at createmixedmedia. I talk about why we should not reinforce the stereotype of the crazy artist and that mentally healthy people are as creative as those who struggle with their mental health. Enjoy the holidays!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Surviving the Holidays

Collage showing memories of Christmas.

For some of my clients this is the hardest time of the year. At this time we often remember childhood trauma, loss, and disappointment. For some, it is a time of overwhelm, depression, stress, and loneliness. Sometimes, complicated family dynamics and unfinished family business get reopened at what was ‘supposed to’ be a pleasant outing or family dinner. Mothers make the same painful remarks to their adult children, Dads behaviour still creates the same painful reactions and siblings can stir up repressed or what we thought were resolved feelings.
What can we do when old wounds are reopened during the holidays? It is no fun going to a family gathering in your late 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s… and leave feeling like you are still five years old, unappreciated, unsuccessful, and/or unnoticed. Even if we have done work healing childhood wounds, they can still resurface. First, know your wounds. Read Emotional Alchemy and identify your core wounding. It is yours to understand, nurture, befriend, and heal. Working with old wounds can be a path to healing and a way to gain strength and insight. Find a good therapist to help you. Focusing is a good method to use to do this work.
Be proactive. Know your fantasies. Are they to be finally accepted by your sister, listened to by your father and complimented by your mother? Before you leave for a family gathering do a Focusing session, meditation or art exercise with this part of you and let this part of you tell you what it needs. Do not judge or label it, listen to what it is wanting. Be Present for yourself and allow the part of you is be just as it is without asking it to change, grow up or be more realistic. Give it time and space to express itself through art, writing or verbally. This way, this part of you will not arrive at the dinner or party needy or popping out surprising you because you have already spent quality time listening and being with it. You will arrive calmer and less reactive.
Holidays can open up old wounds, fantasies and desires. When you are present for yourself, and give yourself time and space to express how these wounds, fantasies, and desires are alive in you today, you can safely contain, release and let go of the painful reactions and emotions that accompany them.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Foster Children

I work with many children who are removed from their homes and placed in foster care. For most of them this is a traumatic experience. I know how difficult it is for most of us to make transitions, move to new homes or countries. Building new connections takes time, love and energy.  From attachment theory studies we know that if a child can connect to one person, then that child can grow and have connections with other important people in his or her life.

But how do we help with transitions and creating new healthy attachments? I have a new helper in my Art Therapy Studio. I had fallen in love with Denise’s work and I wanted one of her creations to live with me and help me with my therapy work. But how could I help Tiny Blessed make to transition from Australia to Canada?
Tiny Blessed arriving in the mail.

First, it was good that her maker and I already had a connection. We are blogging friends.  To know that Denise already liked and trusted me helped Tiny Blessed trust me. She had to travel a long distance, so, when she arrived I made sure she was comfortable and settled her into a soft warm place with the objects that Denise had packed with her. I knew that Tiny Blessed would need those objects to help her make the transition to her new surroundings. Tiny Blessed would need time to become accustomed to the new odours, sights, noises and voices in my Art Therapy Studio. I was hoping that she would want to help with children that I work with like some of my other stuffed creatures and dolls do, but first she needed time to settle in.
Tiny Blessed and her transitional objects.

All children in transition need to have freedom to look around and find their place. Tiny Blessed tried the dollhouse, several chairs, and the doll shelf. Of course I showed her all the rooms. I slowly and gently talked about the other toys, where they came from and watched her body language to see when and if she was getting overwhelmed or excited. 

Routine helps my children feel safe and grounded in my Art Therapy Studio and it also helped Tiny Blessed. She slowly started making appearances in the Art Therapy Studio. The separation and reunion process is usually highly individual. Tiny Blessed likes to sleep in the hug chair and she likes to be in the art studio when the children start arriving. She has already been held by a few of the children, and I think she likes them. Because she doesn’t use words to talk, I have to read her energy and body language to notice when she feels relaxed, comfortable or needs something. She has already connected with a few of my nonverbal clients and I think she is excited that she has a job here.
Tiny Blessed experiencing snow.
She was fascinated with Canadian snow and has had a few visits outside. I think she is transitioning well. I feel she likes the idea of being a co-therapist, she already has made some close friends and she likes her new home. Thanks Denise. I will probably be writing you about one of her sisters coming here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fun With Crayons

First hot glue crayons on a canvas.

Then use a hair dryer and have fun!!!!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Teenage Archetype Deck

The Teenage Archetype Deck by Jennifer Hereth

The Teenage Archetype deck created by Jennifer Hereth is an invaluable therapy tool. The eighty-eight cards for working with teenagers were created by over fifty different artists, but I have been using them in my therapy practice for teens and adults. The images are powerful and moving. I have used them as a check-in and checkout tool. Clients pick a card that resonates for them to fit how they are feeling when they walk in and then another when the session is over. On the weekend I taught a Level One Focusing and Art Therapy group and the group picked a card at the beginning of the day and then later after they had their Focusing practice session to represent the part of them that they were focusing with. They are great cards to do self-inquiry and self-discovery work. They can be used to do Family Systems work, relationship work, and in many more ways. They are a good starting point for clients to understand and explore archetypal work. Jennifer has created a wonderful therapy tool. I have taught archetype groups for years and I know how powerful archetypal work can be.

The Teenage Archetype Deck by Jennifer Hereth
The Teenage Archetype Deck by Jennifer Hereth
Jennifer is not a therapist; she is an art teacher, and a painter. To quote Jennifer, “The unique visuals are not illustrations of a term but meant to evoke dialogue. Also the deck is gender, sexually, and racially sensitive to help as many teens as possible identify with the images. All artists donated their artwork and funds from the deck will be donated to charities for teens in this ultimate gift of love.”

I encourage you to buy this amazing deck. My clients love it. Jennifer and her art students have created something unique and very special. They can be purchased at cost $20.00 as a professional courtesy, tax deductible from or online through for $50.00 tax deductible thru Paypal. 100% of the profits go to teem projects. Shipping is free.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Why go to Conferences?

I just attended the Canadian Art Therapy Conference in Naigara Falls. It was a wonderful and well organized weekend filled with rich insights and offerings. It reminded me of why it is so important to attend conferences. First of all we work alone. We need to talk to other Art Therapists about what we do and why. Secondly we need new ideas and inspiration. I read many, many books and articles but being in the same room with someone and listening and asking questions about their research and passion is a much better way for me to learn. Thirdly, we need to make art with other Art Therapists, network, make new connections and have fun.

Cathy Malchiodi was the keynote speaker and she was brilliant. Being an Art Therapist, I am visual and I loved her visuals, especially because she included some of the artwork (prayer flags) that clients of mine had made in her workshop presentation on Gratitude. We made our own Gratitude scrolls in the workshop which was very satisfying. 
My Gratitude Scroll

Studies show that keeping gratitude journals or doing gratitude meditations or prayers helps reduce stress, increase happiness and motivation. Check here and here .

If you are an Art Therapist I hope to see you at a conference some day! 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Using Art Therapy to Release Anger

Expressing feelings of anger.

            Anger is a painful, powerful and complex emotion.  When it overwhelms us, we often want to push it away, stuff it down, ignore it or forget it.  Not dealing effectively with our anger only increases its potential to be destructive.
1.  Our emotions are interconnected, so you suppress anger you also suppress your passion, and joy.
2. Traits in others that anger us are often those that we reject in ourselves. 
3.  When you hold on to resentment you freeze yourself in a victim’s role. 
4.  Anger is a signal that your rights have been violated, your needs are not being met, or that you are compromising yourself in some way.  Let anger be a catalyst for you to learn more about yourself. 
5.  Turn the pain of your anger into energy for change with five steps: acknowledge your anger, identify its cause, determine what you can do, express your feelings, and let it go.
6.  Accept your anger as an emotional fact and a tool you can use for personal transformation.
7.  In the process of identifying what’s causing your anger, you determine what is and is not acceptable to you.  This is vital self knowledge.  Use it to guide your choices and shape your life.
8.  You cannot change others.  People are not responsible for your anger.  No one else can “make” you angry and no one else can take your anger away.
9.  Pleasing others at your own expense can lead to feeling angry.
10.  Anger can open a door to the past, a door through which you can enter and bring healing to old, unresolved issues.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dealing with Stress through Nutrition

When we are stressed our bodies have a hard time:
  1. Digesting
  2. Detoxing
  Digesting: Sometimes our bodies will hold weight when stressed so eating slowly and really chewing our food helps with digestion. Also our bodies do not absorb minerals and vitamins from our food as well when we are stressed because so much of the energy of the body is in flight or fight. Eating small amounts of protein throughout the day is good (hand full of almonds). Also liquid supplements are useful as smoothies with fruits and yogurt.
 Digestive Enzyme:
Helps digestion, bowel problems
Probiotics: Udo Super 8, healthy bacteria.
 Throne DigestionKit is also a good product.

  1. Any physical activity.
  2. Change the diet. Try supplementing with Omega 3 fatty acids, zinc, magnesium, possibly vitamin B6 and a few others.
  3. Massage.
  4. Walking at least 20 minutes a day. White blood cells make up your body's defense against illnesses and diseases. When your immune system works at its peak, foreign germs are instantly killed by the white blood cells before they infect the rest of the body. Certain diseases, stress, a poor diet and hereditary issues can lead to a low white blood cell count. Drink green tea. Green tea helps stimulate the production of white blood cells. Decaffeinated green tea is better for your body, and 1 or 2 cups a day should do the trick.
  5. Infrared saunas
Infrared Sauna:
    * Helps with weight loss
    * Improves your immune system
    * Improves your strength and vitality
    * Helps cure several skin diseases like eczema, psoriasis and acne
    * Strengthens the cardio-vascular system
    * Helps control your blood pressure
    * Detoxifies your body
    * Gives you more energy and relieves stress
    * Helps treat burns and scars
    * Relieves pain (joint pain, sore muscles, arthritis)
    * Helps control your cholesterol level
    * Helps treat bronchitis

Best foods for de-toxing:
All fresh vegetables. Vegetables thought to be particularly good detox foods include broccoli, cauliflower, broccoli sprouts, onions, garlic, artichokes, beets, red and green vegetables.
All forms of rice, including rice cakes, rice crackers and rice pasta. Brown rice is typically preferred.
Other Grains: Quinoa, amaranth, millet, and buckwheat can be used instead of rice. They can be purchased at a health food store or in some grocery stores.
Split yellow and green peas and lentils are easiest to digest and require the least soaking time. Other good options include kidney beans, pinto beans, mung beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas) and adzuki beans.
Unsalted nuts or seeds can be sprinkled over salads or eaten as a snack. Good options include flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, cashews and walnuts. Nut butters  cashew, almond. Extra-virgin olive oil is a preferred oil. Herbal teas, green tea.
Start each day with a warm glass of water with a slice of lemon.
Drink a minimum of 8 glasses of water per day, warm or room temperature.
Fish Oil: Udo’s (good brand) , essential fatty acid, omega 3,6,9
Helps change mood, calming effect, helps with focus
Avoid: Dairy Products: Milk, butter, cream cheese, sour cream, and other dairy products.
Wheat and products containing wheat, such as pasta and bread. 
All gluten-containing grains: wheat (including spelt, triticale, and kamut), rye, and barley. Food additives and preservatives and high-fat food.

Vitamins for Stress
 One effective method of stress relief management involves the use of vitamins. Taking in extra nutrients helps to ensure that the body will have adequate amounts in store to combat stress. Among the most important stress vitamins are the B-complex vitamins and the antioxidant vitamins.
B-complex vitamins are important in stress relief management because one of their primary roles in the body is to keep the nervous system functioning well.
Deficiencies of B-vitamins are associated with nerve problems and an increase in stress-related symptoms such as depression, anxiety and irritability. The B-complex vitamins work as a team, and supplements should include a balanced formula containing all of them.
 Antioxidant vitamins are important vitamins for stress. Vitamins E and C, both antioxidants, protect the body against free radical damage. When the body is under stress, more free radicals are produced, so extra antioxidants can be of great value in stress relief management. Antioxidants also help to strengthen the immune system, which can be compromised during stressful times.
 Nutritional supplements for stress relief management should contain more than vitamins. Several minerals and herbs are of value in combating the effects of stress as well. For example, the minerals magnesium and zinc are often depleted when a person is under stress, and supplements may help to replenish stores and alleviate stress-related symptoms. In addition, herbs can be used to treat a variety of stress-related conditions.
 Vitamin D is an andro-steriod and it affects serotonin levels, which means when we are not getting it we experience more anxiety, depression, irritability, and insomnia. It can also cause muscle fatigue.
 Along with a vitamin D deficiency, an iodine deficiency can cause depression, tiredness. low energy and headaches. I recommend IOSOL.

Eat Smaller, More Frequent Meal:
This will provide your body with a consistent supply of energy throughout the day and help you avoid feeling tired or overly hungry.

General Information:

We spent the last weekend in Montreal de-stressing and eating great food. Happy fall!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Focusing Level One and Expressive Art Therapy

A few weeks ago I traveled to Winnipeg to work with a fabulous group of women who took my Level One Focusing and Expressive Therapy course. They created lots of amazing expressions of their  feelings, thoughts and body sensations.
 Art Therapy and Focusing is a natural way to work with deepening our inner relationships. Even when people are just beginning this work, they travel deeply into their process.
 It was a beautiful weekend working in pairs Focusing, painting, and sharing our lives. If you want to join us for Level Two Focusing and Expressive Therapy, please email me. We have room for a few more explorers. Level Two is Jan. 14, 15 in Winnipeg.

So, what is Focusing?
It is a method of awareness… 
Focusing is a simple matter of holding a kind of open, non-judging attention to a something, which is directly experienced but is not yet in words. Out of this simplicity, many things arise. It is listening deeply within you.

How does it help you make changes?
Focusing is a technique that helps us slow down, go inside and hear all of our inner voices or parts. We can get a whole sense of what we are struggling with. This is called a felt sense. This is a body sense. When we make contact we feel release, fresh energy and forward movement. Sometimes change happens by just making time to pause and listen deeply to ourselves and sometimes change happens by spending time to listen to all the parts of us that may be conflicted over an issue and need time to express and work out what is really needed.

So, here are some things it helped me discover:
-       A greater sense of trust in myself and my own feelings
Through Focusing I learned to slow down, and really listen to myself in a compassionate, nonjudgmental way. Due to creating a safe inner space for myself I could bear witness or increase my capacity, really hear all the different parts of myself.
           -       It has brought clarity to my life
The process has helped me get in touch with my inner rightness or next forward movement of what I want in my life. I am clearer about what makes me passionate, and how to move towards it and what triggers or upsets me and what I need to do about that.
-       It has increased my ability to be Present for myself and others
Present means aware, grounded, expanded, heightened awareness. This has also deepened my mediation practice.
-       It has been the most affective way that I have found to work with all the parts in me to achieve inner peace and compassion towards myself
Because the language we use is so respectful and the way we work with our different selves, or parts is so open and unconditionally receptive, I feel that I have really made peace with the warring parts of me. I no longer view my inner critic as a destructive part of me because I now can listen to it and understand how it is only trying to protect me from getting hurt. Focusing allows me to sit patiently with all my overwhelming emotions and slow down to really understand what is needed.
-       It has helped me become free of what used to limit me
I can work with the parts of me that are afraid to move ahead and the parts that are excited and want movement. It helps me negotiate, create a clear path where as before there was only confusion. It has helped me develop my inner sense of rightness.
-       It has helped me heal emotional pain
Focusing is a process of sensing, a process of awareness. This process has helped me understand and bring movement to emotional blockages.

Friday, October 7, 2011

How Does Change Happen?

There is a visualization that I do with clients which involves having them visualize who in their life stands in front of them, behind them and on each side. They decide who surrounds them.

I was at a team meeting for one of my clients, which included me (her Art Therapist), her psychologist, her school counselor, her parents and her high school principal. We were all gathered at a table for the meeting. We are all good caring people who are invested in my client’s well being. However, because of our different roles, we all stand with her differently. I watched her slowly start to react and become activated by the conversation which of course was centered around how she could change.  This is often how these meetings go, focusing on deficits. My primary concern is not her outer behaviour but on how to support and help her regulate her inner behaviour. What I am good at as a therapist is helping clients self regulate, slow down, stand in their place of power and safety and stay out of reaction. I do this by truly seeing, hearing and valuing them. I am helping her autonomic nervous system function in such a way that she will not be overwhelmed by those around her. That is where I stand.

Someone did that for me once a long time ago when I was in grade six. I was a very disconnected and dissociated child until a teacher saw me and encouraged me to write. I can’t remember much about her, but I do remember that she gave me permission to be. Someone thought that I was okay, just as I was. I felt free. She had helped my resistant, fearful body thaw. For the first time I felt valued. Because of that, I was free to change. With that encouragement I could stand my ground, be still, breathe and write.

I strive to give my clients that freedom. I know what it is like to be a child at meetings where the whole conversation is how I need to change when no one there is standing with me in a place where change can actually happen. Change takes trust, risk and energy. These things cannot build from focusing on what is wrong or lacking. Inner strength grows from feelings of self-esteem, self-worth and self-acceptance. When I, as a therapist give clients permission to “just be exactly as they are,” that opens the invitation to allow the body to make room for change as a natural forward movement not a forced agenda.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Empathy and Creating


Empathy is the capacity to recognize and, to some extent, share feelings (such as sadness or happiness) that are being experienced by another sapient or semi-sapient being. Someone may need to have a certain amount of empathy before they are able to feel compassion.

 Many of the children I work with do not appear to have empathy. Due to their own needs and suffering, they find it difficult to relate to the suffering of others. I do believe that art-making helps create an empathy connection between people.

Going to poetry readings, creating visual art projects together, doing communal art projects does help create a sense of community, connection and empathy. When we realize that we are all connected, then we do become creative and empathic in new ways. We know that by going to art workshops, joining art groups and spending an afternoon playing with a friend in our studio, helps us feel freshly creative in new and different ways. Deep empathy is a knowledge that we are not that different. There is something about working together to create something new that joins us at a heart level. There is a nakedness when we are creating something due to our usual barriers and defenses being lowered, we are more present, and emotionally unguarded. In my Art Therapy practice I have watched many tough boys soften and tear up when they are making something with me.
A lot of the children I work with do not have loving caring parents who help them feel safe, cared for, and understood. Their parents are in crisis and they cannot be there for their children. When I help these children create what they envision in my Art Therapy studio it gives them that deep need for connection. Creating together tells them that they are heard, seen and cared for by an adult. It helps them develop empathy on a somatic level.

Daniel Pink has written a book called A Whole New Mind.  He writes about how important creativity, empathy and right brain thinking are. To survive, we need to work hard helping children develop empathy and keep working on ways for us to deepen our own empathic response.

Mark Brady writes that we come pre-wired for empathy, but that children who have suffered trauma and abuse can have that wiring reorganized.

There is a male teenager that I have worked with for two years now. When he first came, due to his early years of neglect he was very dissociated, not trusting, or able to connect. We worked along side each other for months making things. Our sessions mostly looked like him going through his “thinking drawer” a drawer that I have in the studio filled with stuff. I added new things to it each week as I got to know what he liked. He was not interested in doing conventional art projects he wanted to make his own stuff. 
Thinking Drawer

He has a very creative, inventive mind. Each week I would sit beside him, finding him things and talking a bit. Slowly he started to relate more to me and slowly we started to have more of a connection. I know he loves coming here, but what I am working on is attachment repair and empathy building and it is slow careful work. As his therapist I am not trying to be the mother he didn’t have, but I am trying to help him open up to experience some of the feelings that most children have in their childhood experience with a caring parent; trust, safety, care and empathy. He is changing. Before he often acted like I wasn’t there and he had a strong ability to dissociate or tune out. Now when he makes himself a smoothie he asks if I want some. This is a large step. Small changes mean big shifts in the work that I do. When he comes in the door, instead of looking at the art table to see what goodies I have, he looks for me. His eyes light when he sees me and he talks to me. This never happened in the first six months.
We now have a real connection. He knows that I accept and care for him just as he is. Most of the people in his life are working hard to help him change and that may be important; however, it is also important to have someone in his life to accept him as he is with all his strengths and flaws, and it is me. In this way, I am helping him develop empathy.

Read my latest post at  Createmixedmedia on the Emotional Intelligence of Artists.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Process Art Making Workshop

I just taught a workshop to child educators on Process Art Making. Process art is making art with focusing on the process not the product. It is important because it encourages children to find their own unique expression in a relaxed, playful atmosphere. Children are encouraged to be experimental, curious, playful, open, and adventurous in their exploration of art materials, techniques, instruments and methods of working. This way of creating is body and emotion centered where children are welcome to use their whole body and emotional response in their creative work.  The group I worked with did the art activities that I often do with children so they could experience the process. 

            Central to this way of working, is to provide children with interesting materials and enough instructions that they feel confident to create but not so much that they feel that there is ‘one way or a way’ to create. The teacher is not the director or authority in this process, they are there to assist or help the child’s emerging process. The teacher needs to be playful, open and free of their own judgments or ideas of how the art or creative process should unfold. The creative work does not have to be anything, it may have been an experiment with the tools, or a hour of interest in mixing paint or an interest in how one thing leads to another thing when working with art materials. To be asking children what something is, limits the creative process of discovery, which takes time and is necessary before a child arrives at a finished something. To work in this way, it is helpful to have uninterrupted time in order to experiment with materials, come back to the work and rework. The environment should be inviting and free of restrictive materials that don’t allow the child to move around and create freely.  Children may want to communicate to each other while they create, dance, sing, move and or use other means of communicating to get deeper into their process. There is no ‘right way’ to create. 
 In process art making children may be faced with what they think is a problem, ie. the materials not working they way they thought, and they should be allowed the space and time to problem solve on their own. This is important life learning that later becomes applied to problem solving in other areas in their lives.
When children are creating, they are forming their own sense of identity, They are figuring out how their externalize their feelings and thoughts. They try on different persona, roles, and they copy others. This is important to allow for identity formation through the creative process. They learn agency, autonomy, and empowerment through taking ownership of their creative process and ability to freely explore and grow.

 I did a activity that I call “Creativity Musical Chairs.” I set up 40 different art activities that they could move around the tables and experience. I played different kinds of music and after each song (about 5 minutes) they move to the next activity. After awhile people become playful, open and in the flow. They found that different music inspired them to create differently, as did the materials, and the people that they are working beside. Once in awhile I would interrupt the process and have them close their eyes and image a favorite place and then return to their art making, get them to use their non-dominate hand, or hop on one foot, etc. People find that having a variety of materials to explore, different music to inspire them and no rules opens up their creative abilities in amazing ways. 

If you are interested in Arts in Education this is an interesting story "10 Salient Studies on the Arts in Education."

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Relationship Repair

A client doing Art Therapy and relationship work.

In the trauma work that I do with children, teens and adults, I work with relationship repairs.  Broken relationships with parents, siblings, partners and friends need repair in order for the adult or child to move on.  The repair does not have to be face to face nor does the other person have to be alive.  The repair is for the adult or child who is still traumatized, stuck or hurt by the rupture to feel free in their lives.

The issues that emerge in one relationship will emerge again if not faced, expressed and resolved. That is why I do repair work, so the person does not blindly keep living through the same relationship nightmare or trauma.

For example, an abuse cycle needs to be broken so that every man in an abused woman’s life does not become a repeat of the original abusive husband.  Patterns can be reframed, and changed.

I need to work with how the client has internalized the problemic pattern (how they expect the pattern to be replayed and how they unconsciously keep reacting to their part of the pattern) and work with the external pattern with other people in their lives.

Mark Brady writes, “The relationship we repair with others, we simultaneously repair with ourselves.” Some of the children I see in my practice have disorganized brains due to brain injuries, FAS, ADHD, PTSD, Autism, etc.  This work can be done and needs to be done with all children that have had trauma with their birth parents or foster parents if they are still stuck in the re-actionment of the trauma.

I work with an amazing girl in her twenties who has complex health and mental problems due to serious abuse and neglect as a foster child.  She has very limited verbal skills but she repeats her abuse story over and over to anyone who will listen. When we talk about what happened to her as a child, I tell her that her foster mom is sorry for what she did. Her foster mom will never be here to tell her that to her face nor would she be able to apologize to her. But for my client, actually hearing the words from her foster mother is not as important as her needing to hear those words from me or anyone who she believes can talk for her foster mother.  In order to help my client move out of her trauma memory, I need to tell her what she needed to hear as a child. In a different situation relationship repair can happen by a parent telling a child years after an abusive situation how sorry and wrong they were for causing that child to suffer. Husbands can apologize to wives and wives can apologize to husbands.  Repairs happen when the child or adult can let go of a past hurt or pain and move forward.  There are many ways that this can happen. Sometimes hearing for the first time from a father that you were loved can be a powerful repair.

Knowing how your body holds the pattern from the original wounding is also important.  The client I talked about lashes out violently towards women whom remind her of her foster mother and is constantly looking for the signs that keep her tied to the past. I hope with her, even though she suffers from brain damage and serve trauma that she will hear my words of forgiveness from her foster mother deeply enough that we can reframe it and she can live in the present not her past.  This is part of the complex healing work that needs to be done.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Designing an Art Therapy Studio

 During the summer my Art Therapy Studio looked like this:
under construction

Now it looks like this:

When redisigning a space for therapy work, I feel it is important to create a space that feels open, warm, creative and soothing. People come into the space to do their therapeutic work and I want them to feel welcome, grounded, excited, and to be able to be expressive in the space. I want them to feel that they belong and that they can open up and do the internal searching that they need to in a protective, and beautiful environment.

I chose a light blue (for the sky) and chocolate brown (for the earth) for the colours of the Art Studio to help induce a creative atmosphere. The reading area is comfortable and inviting for tea drinking, reading together, playing games and talking.

The talk process room is composed of rich warm colors deep reds, pumpkin orange, and green.

The sandtray area is small and very organized. I needed to fit a lot of tiny objects into a small space so people could easily access and find objects quickly when they work with the sandtrays.

The paint studio is an open area that allows for messy, expressive work to happen. I have large sheets of white paper on the walls that invite paint to be sprayed, splashed, and perhaps even thrown. There is also room here for movement and dance.

The craft room has bright colours and is very organized so I can find supplies easily and quickly. 


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