Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Art Therapy and Seasonal Crafts

Doing crafts is a wonderful de-stressing activity. It is well known that stress is one of the major factors that negatively affect our society today. Stress can be ramped up during holiday periods. To counter stressful thoughts slowing down and crafting with your hands helps to reverse the habit of getting into the stress mode. Here are some things that we are doing in the Art Therapy Studio to release some of that stress and anxiety:

Beaded Wreaths

Beaded Candy Canes

Making candy canes and wreaths from interlocking beads. This exercise is simple, fun and creates a great product.

Working with pre-made forms.
Collaged Stars

Painting pre-made stars, trees and other forms. This exercise lets the client focus on the fun part of decorating and painting a pre-made form.

Felt story.

Felt stories.
This is a felt story of the 12 Days of Christmas. Creating felt stories is a sensory rich art activity, which involves creativity, story and play.

Glue gun snow flake.

Making snowflakes. Snowflakes are always a fun, quick exercise that results in surprising and beautiful designs.

What Christmas crafts have you been enjoying?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Your Relationship With Anger

Over the years my relationship with anger has drastically changed. As a young child, I had to deny or hide any signs of anger. Only our father was allowed to display anger openly. By watching my mother, I learned how to express anger in a passive aggressive way, which was safer, if no one caught on. As a teenager, I would often dissociate from my anger and then it would erupt as rage. In my twenties, I started to own and act on it. I found ways to direct it and release it. I was still confused and frightened by anger, but at least I was not denying it. Throughout my 30s it was something that could still feel foreign, scary and uncomfortable. At that time, I believed that I needed to grow past it, and no longer experience angry feelings.
Finally in my 40s and 50s I have become comfortable with accepting that when I become angry I need to listen and respect this valuable part of me, which is trying to communicate something to me that shouldn’t be ignored. It could be that someone is violating my boundaries, being rude or aggressive to me or that I am witnessing something that is unjust. The problem is not in feeling anger rather it is learning how to work with it. Anger can be a powerful ally and guide to knowing when things are not right in our inner and outer world. How do we hold the tension of feeling overwhelming anger and not do anything with it that we will regret? The key is to hold it and not act on it. We have to build the capacity to be with it, stand beside it and know that while it is pulsing through our veins this is not the time to act on it. Action comes later with reflection. I am not talking about life threatening events when we need to defend ourselves to survive, the feelings there are often not anger alone. I am talking about times when anger sneaks up on us or grips us by the throat when we are interacting with others, reading something in the news or whatever situation you find it in.
I think that as we age and grow our relationship with all of our feelings shift and evolve. I experience joy, happiness, sadness and many other emotions and feelings differently now than I did when I was younger. It can be an interesting life review to isolate one feeling or emotion and take an overview.

Moshe Feldenkrais said, “It is our resilience, the shock that we can withstand and still recover our stability that determines our health”.

Art Therapy Exercise to Explore Our Relationship With Anger

Take some time to gather some art supplies, crayons, coloured pencils, paints and get comfortable. Take a few deep breaths to bring yourself into presence.
Now start with your childhood and review in your mind what your relationship was with anger. How did your mother and father handle it? What about your siblings? What were the early messages that you received?
Now take some time to write and or paint or draw your response.
Return to sitting and breathing. Take three or more deep breaths to bring yourself to presence. Now get a snapshot of how you lived with anger as a teenager. How did you express it or did you? What were your views about anger at that age? What situations triggered your feelings of anger?
Now take some time to write and or paint or draw your response.
Return to sitting and breathing. Take three or more deep breaths to bring yourself to presence. Fast forward to your 20s. What memory stands out here that emulates your relationship with anger? Was it something foreign, forbidden, destructive, always lurking or delightful?
Now take some time to write and or paint or draw your response.
Return to sitting and breathing. Take three or more deep breaths to bring yourself to presence.
Next turn to your 30s. Take some time to really note in what ways your relationship changed. Look to see if there was a deeper understanding or respect for what your anger was communicating. Did you have more skill in knowing how to live with anger? Could you anticipate the triggers? Did or do you feel more in control of this feeling?
Now take some time to write and or paint or draw your response.
Return to sitting and breathing. Take three or more deep breaths to bring yourself to presence.
Now review the relationship you have to anger in your 40s. Were there any events that really stand out for you that shifted your relationship and understanding of the role that anger plays or played in your life? What do you see?
Now take some time to write and or paint or draw your response.
Return to sitting and breathing. Take three or more deep breaths to bring yourself to presence.
Next move to your 50s. What defines or defined your relationship in these years? Has your anger mellowed, intensified, changed course or do you express it differently? Does it fuel your art, your sense of justice or ability to stand up for yourself or others?
Now take some time to write and or paint or draw your response.
Return to sitting and breathing. Take three or more deep breaths to bring yourself to presence.
Continue this exercise until you reach the age that you are now. After, if you wish, it is helpful to repeat this with looking at happiness, sadness, and any other feeling or emotion with which you have a deep long relationship.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Art Therapy and Habitual Patterns

From time to time events happen and we may overact. Someone makes a mean or hurtful remark and we experience emotional overwhelm or emotional flooding causing adrenaline and cortisol to flood our system. Often if we have experienced traumatic events in the past, our minds register the event as an attack, threat, or challenge and we go into high alert. It feels like someone has declared war on us. Our sympathetic nervous system puts our brain and body on high alert in a few fast minutes.

The therapy I do with children and adults is trying to figure out how we can slow down this experience so we have control over our habitual pattern of overreacting. To stop the right side of the brain’s limbic system from going into emergency mode and activating the amygdala or emotional brain, we have to practice and strengthen the parts of the brain and body that can bring conscious control to all this. All the somatic, cognitive, emotional and mindful techniques and exercises that I know and teach to my clients are geared to help stop or slow down this process, which cause flight or fight responses.

So, how do we reverse this from happening? There are four things you can do.
First, it helps the body and if the mind can remember and practice other ways of being. By waking up memories of happiness, joy and trust in others helps broaden your world and reminds you of other ways of being and responding in the world. Experiencing joy and remembering past joyful experiences helps regulate and reset the bodies autonomic nervous system. It gives the body a fuller range or more choices of responding so we are not constantly travelling over the same response pathways that are in our brains. Helping establish peaceful, happy or open ways of thinking, and being helps reverse the fight or flight as your “go to” behaviour state.

Second, by learning how to be present means that you can literally pull yourself out of emotional states and observe them but not “become” them. You learn to be present or awake and aware instead of being diminished or reduced to becoming part of an automatic response. You can stay larger than the situation that you find yourself in and avoid being highjacked by emotional responses.

Third, by learning to be reflective, mindful and curious about yourself and the world helps take you out of a frozen response where fear rules. By learning from your trauma, redefining yourself, gaining trust and curiosity in the world again helps you pause or reflect when someone is bothering you so you really can step back and reflect on the appropriate response. You can train your brain to stay curious and engaged in the event without becoming fearful and reactive.

Fourth, the way to change the body’s physical position from a frozen stance to a fluid stance is by being healthier. The healthier your body is through letting it move, eat right, and do exercise the smarter it becomes in knowing what movement or body position is appropriate to stay empowered and not overreact. 

Try this art therapy exercise to gently play with reframing the mind and body.

Gather some art supplies. Take some time to get comfortable and centered in your chair. Do a body scan so you feel present in your body. Take a minute to notice if your feet are tired, energized or relaxed. Take some time to relax your feet and let them make contact with the floor. Imagine your feet in the most comfortable and nurturing place. Where would they want to be? What does the environment look like? What are the smells, sounds and images? If it is outside in nature, what is the time of day? What is the temperature? Now shift your attention to the chair under your legs and buttocks and adjust yourself to get even more comfortable in your chair. Take a deep breath into your stomach. Bring awareness to your back. What are you noticing here? Is your back tense or feeling relaxed? Now move to your chest. Can you breathe freely? Is your chest open or closed? Now move your awareness to your hands and arms. Notice if there is any tension and gently release it. Take time to sense into your hands, stretching the fingers. If your hands could be anywhere in nature, where would they want to be? What would they be touching? Now, bring awareness to your neck, head. Release any tension in your jaw and neck area. Now gently turn inward, sensing into your inner throat, chest and then resting in the belly area.

As you stay Present and aware of yourself sitting in the chair, give yourself a gentle invitation to focus on an issue or fear. Then notice if your body has shifted or changed position as you sense into this fear or issue. Next, while staying present, notice if any thoughts or feelings arise around this memory or image. You are not getting pulled into this experience, you are staying present and you are observing your body and mind’s responses.

Now, on your sheet or paper draw or write the emotion that you are experiencing as you stay with this issue or fear and then write or draw what you would rather be feeling. Notice where in your body you feel this reframed emotion. Now listen to your thoughts and again write or draw your response. Notice where in your body these thoughts resonate and then write or draw what you would be rather thinking. Now notice where in your body you feel your reframed thoughts.
Now notice the stance your body took when you think about your issue. Take some time to physically change your bodies posture.
Bring this self -Focusing exercise to a close by making some closing mark or image on your paper.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Art Therapy and Magic Wands

Last week several of my younger clients made wands. Their wands had many purposes; some had powers to make everyone nice, some gave secret powers of strength and endless candy, and some wands changed bullies into snakes. Throughout history wands have been made from wood, sometimes stone, or metal. Their ceremonial use is well documented. They are often associated with magic, but are also used for many other purposes. In formal government ceremony, special officials may carry a wand of office or staff of office representing their power. Wands throughout history have been used for channeling energy, healing, spell casting and to represent power.

I explained to the children with whom I work, that we need to have a belief that we can be powerful agents of positive change and that belief can be carried inside us like one of the jewels that they used to emblazon their wands. We talked about how change begins inside us and then flows out into the world and touches others, just like when they stood in the therapy room and pretended to touch their friends with the wand. We talked about how people change, how magic happens and what is power. I never know where an idea for an art project will take my clients and I. But, sometimes it’s magic.


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