Sunday, November 30, 2014

Is All Art Therapeutic?

Is all art therapeutic?

This is another question that people continually ask me. If creating art is not an activity that slows down your mind, causes you joy, allows you to lose track of time, or makes you feel settled and grounded, then no it’s not therapeutic for you. Art making is only therapeutic if it brings you into a more aware awakened state, calming down your nervous system and making you feel positive emotions. Any activity that activates positive neurons and allows you to relax is therapeutic. That could be fishing, cooking, gardening, writing, or making art.
I have worked with clients who feel stress when they try to do art. It is not a fun, relaxing, centering activity for them at all. So, it is not therapeutic at all.
But, for some people using their hands has a calming effect. Women and men throughout time have knitted, sewed, painted, practiced pottery and have found that it benefited their overall health and well being.
Kelly Lambert, author of Lifting Depression writes that:
“… when you knit a sweater or plant a garden, when you prepare a meal or simply repair a lamp, you are bathing your brain in feel-good chemicals and creating a kind of mental vitamin.”
Creating helps you feel productive and achieve mastery. By focusing your cognitive and emotional energies on accomplishing making something by hand it becomes a wonderful use for our neural networks as research has repeatedly proven.
Learning new crafts and art processes results in improvements in cognitive functioning and enhances brain plasticity. Because the brain is designed to actively respond to novelty and external enriched environments, it is forced to grow new cells and those cells are forced to make new connections. In making art, we use all our sensory organs.

This month in the studio we have been playing with knitting.

French Knitting.

Circle looms provide easy way for children to create toques.

 Knitting with thick bamboo needles. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

FAQ About Art Therapy

How do you stay healthy when you are dealing with trauma and heart breaking stories all day?

I am asked this question frequently. The short answer: I am doing what I am passionate about and what I think matters. However, the long answer is that I work at it. Ken Wilber wrote a book called Integral Life Practice: A 21st-Century Blueprint for Physical Health, Emotional Balance, Mental Clarity, and Spiritual Awakening that suggested the need for having a spiritual, emotional, physical and cognitive practice to maintain balance and growth. I have been doing that for years. I am a regular runner, which helps with releasing stress, frustration and keeps me physically and mentally fit. I meditate which is important to help me grow spiritually and keeps me from over identifying with my small self. I am constantly taking courses and reading which keeps me mentally sharp and I practice Focusing weekly to help me stay healthy emotionally. When I am overwhelmed by the system, the world, or my clients I have a partner who is willing to listen to me and I have a wonderful two year old Granddaughter to play with when I want to feel better about humanity.
I have to be diligent to not hold on to the sadness and pain that is involved in my work. I struggle with feeling that things are not getting better in the world for women and children so I watch what I listen to outside of work hours.  I can’t listen to the news, watch discouraging movies and/or go out with people to complain about the state of the world. This is not putting my head in the sand, I just need to be careful to balance what I see, hear and read so that I don’t become discouraged.
What do you do to keep healthy?

One of the art activities that we have been doing in the studio lately is mask making. Children learn about identity and self expression when they engage in making a mask. They express feelings through their art, develop critical-thinking skills, and learn that there is more then one right answer or way of creating something. Art making builds confidence and helps children feel happy. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

FAQ About Art Therapy

I am starting a new series of blogs answering questions that I get asked about Art Therapy and counseling. The first in the series is about education. I hope you enjoy the series.

Hello. I am wondering if it is enough to have an Art Therapy diploma or degree or do I need to add more to be a good Art Therapist?

I believe that in this area of work, one should always be exploring new ways of practicing. This could mean going back to university for more degrees, taking weekend workshops, or doing online courses.

There are two important areas to be updating oneself in. One is in the world of counseling where there are always new methods and ways of working and the other is in the world of expressive arts. I often take online and weekend art workshops to keep myself updated and inspired. Some clients enjoy dance, puppetry, drama, music and other visual art. It is impossible to be good at all the arts, but it is important to keep exposing and challenging oneself to learn.

In order to keep learning and improve my therapy practice I have taken Somatic Experiencing which provides an excellent education for working with and understanding trauma, EMDR and Brain Spotting which have proven to be invaluable tools to use with clients for trauma resolution and reframing. I studied with and continue to study with Russell Delman. I completed his three year mentorship program “The Embodied Life” which focused on Zen meditation, Feldenkrais Method, and Focusing. I am a Focusing teacher and worked with Ann Cornell to learn Focusing. All these courses and ways of working have augmented and enriched my Art Therapy practice. I also returned to university a few years back to get a Masters. I think it is important to be a lifelong learner and read as much as possible.

As an Art Therapist, I find that I am constantly drawing on tools, information, techniques and ideas from a variety of different kinds of therapies and disciplines. Each client I see has a different set of needs and I find it helpful to have lots of ideas and ways of working at my disposal.

Having said this, I am first and foremost an Art Therapist. Most of what I learn, I adapt into the framework of Art Therapy. It is fun and creative to draw on many sources and beliefs to keep my practice alive and vital.

One of the art activities that we have been doing in the studio lately is string art. Children learn how to problem solve, think creatively, observe, and analyze when they are engaged in creating art. They express feelings through their art, develop critical-thinking skills, and learn that there is more then one right answer or way of creating something. Art making builds confidence and helps children feel happy.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mermaids and Art Therapy

Being an Art Therapist means that I need to have many art ideas. On average I see seven clients a day and each client wants and needs something different. Some clients engage with a lot of art making, others none. Consequently, I am always searching and researching art ideas that can be used therapeutically.

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon Jane Davenport and Teesha Moore’s online workshop called Mermaid Circus. Find out more about it by going here They are both amazing teachers and artists. I wasn’t sure if I could turn what I was learning into therapy, but I did and with great results. The main concept of the class was to create handmade journals from drawings and collage images to explore the circus and mermaid themes.

I created my own journal in the shape of a mermaid and left it in the studio where several teenagers saw it and then wanted to create their own. I explained that I was making eight different mermaids that expressed different parts or qualities of myself. I illustrated my reflective side, joyful side; I named three mermaids to show my curiosity, desire, to pause, and forward movement. I created one to represent chaos, another for openness.

I was thrilled that several people wanted to do the same project to represent different parts of themselves. Other clients chose to create a single mermaid to which we added a self-portrait and then decorated. The project has been fun, illuminating and insightful for the clients and myself.

 I love using the mermaid form for symbolic reasons. For me it speaks of going into the depths of our unconscious, swimming in silence, and moving through currents. As women many of us have experienced losing our voice, being silenced, disconnecting, dissociating, and being misunderstood. Mermaids symbolize the different ways women have bound by society, lost their ability to move and be seen. Mermaids are mystical beings that are desired and feared. The mermaid started out as a fishtailed Aphrodite and was called “Virgin of the Sea” carrying all the symbolism attributed to Aphrodite.


While working on my images I was reminded of Clarissa Pinkola Estés story, “Sealskin” in Women Who Run With the Wolves. Estés writes that in Jungian psychology, “the ego is often described as a small island of consciousness that floats in a sea of unconsciousness.” The story talks about how women lose and then reclaim their own voice, own values, imagination, clairvoyance, stories and memories. It talks about how we can practice intentional solitude opposed to being dissociated or lost in fogginess.

Working with these mermaids has been a joy for my clients and myself. I am always thrilled when I discover such a rich, deep image to explore as therapeutic art. Thank you Jane and Teesha for the inspirational class.  

Friday, February 15, 2013

How Do I Support or Diminish a Child’s Self-Esteem?

Playing with gel beads which help children feel calm.

Those of us who work in the helping professions have a profound affect on the self-esteem of the children with whom we interact. 
We help build a child’s self-esteem and sense of worth by doing the following:
1.    We need to accept the children we work with unconditionally. I am not talking about accepting all behaviour; I am referring to always accepting the child. We need to separate the child from their behaviour and realize that their behaviour is not their character. The children I work with know that I care deeply for them and that I unconditionally support them.
2.    We need to learn to overlook small behaviours. Knowing what behaviours to ignore and what behaviours to focus on are important in helping children develop and learn.
3.    We need to have realistic expectations. We can hope for more, want better, but we need to be realistic in the moment. I always have positive expectations for the children that I work with, but I know that growth will happen when it happens.
4.    We need to recognize effort and improvement. We need to remember the changes that the child has gone through and celebrate any movement forward.
5.    We need to appreciate the child’s uniqueness and respect their decisions.
As parents or people working in the helping professions with children, we can diminish children’s self-esteem and self-worth in the following ways:
1.    When we have conditional acceptance or rejection, we diminish children with whom we interact.
2.    When we overact to small problem behaviours.
3.    When we have unrealistic expectations.
4.    When we accept only perfection.
5.    When we hold grudges against the child.
6.    When we evaluate the child as good or bad based on their behaviour.
7.    When we expect the worst from them.
8.    When we constantly compare them to others that we see as better.
9.    When we neglect them.
10.When we get into power struggles with them.


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