Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What is Expressive Arts Therapy Anyways?

Who am I, and why do I facilitate Expressive Arts Therapy?

I am a member of humanity. I am a woman. A mother, daughter, sister, auntie, cousin, and niece. I am a late-discovery adoptee. I am a spiritual and creative being. I am empathic and intuitive. I have come through many proverbial "fires" and like the Aspen tree, I continue to grow and thrive.
In many ways, expressive arts saved me. Writing, drawing, painting, acting, dancing, playing, sculpting and pottery provided a safe outlet to workout my "stuff".

As a counsellor, I strive to provide a sacred creative space to others. I believe our bodies are amazing at healing when we take the time to honor ourselves. Time to re-connect with our inner voice and our personal truths. As I stand as witness to the creation and release of the people I am privileged to work with, I feel amazement and gratitude. I provide empathic and gentle reflection.

This can be a powerful process for adults, to let-go of the idea of perfection. To let-go of the tendency to judge what they've produced as "good" or "bad". Participating in process-focused arts can support a person in re-connecting with their "child-self", the authentic being within.

For youths, this can be an ideal modality as it allows them to rise above the need for "words". Depending on the age of a young one, they may not have access to words or conscious awareness of what it is they are working through. Art provides a means of tuning into themselves, communicating, and working through life's challenges.

I have witnessed process focused art and narratives take clients (and myself) through many a transformative journey.

What is Expressive Arts Therapy?

 Playful          Spiritual
         Role Playing      Connection
Drawing                               Sculpting

                            Looking within

Sacred space           Process focused 

Flexible              Deep

Non-directive                 Love-oriented


What Expressive Arts Therapy is not...

High pressure
Behavior focused
Fear based
Looking outside

Would you like some examples of things I may do with a client, and some explanation as to why?

Art therapy works on a deep level, it taps into the roots of our being, sometimes allowing to come to the surface that which we have been hiding from, pushing away, denying, resisting, or self-condemning. Some of the activities I do with clients may not appear to have an obvious, or linear purpose, however there is a purpose behind the projects we create together. Sometimes, I am helping a client to express, release, or correct an issue. Other times, I may be trying to build awareness, or introduce a new thought pattern.

Here are some examples:

Creating feeling rocks: Clients paint rocks that represent a variety of emotions, and label the emotions as well. This is to increase a Clients awareness of the scope of emotions, to tap into what they mean to them, how feeling the emotion feels on a body-level, and to increase the vocabulary of feeling words. Additionally, these rocks provide a processing and communication tool that can be used in everyday life as well as in-session.

Mapping emotions: Clients create a full size poster or cutout of themselves and color in where they physically feel emotions in the body. For example, butterflies drawn in the stomach area for nervousness, or sparkles to represent the tingling legs of a fear response.
This supports Clients in building mind-body-spirit awareness.

Writing or co-writing a story: Often we have parts of ourselves we hide, deny, push away, or have even lost touch with. For example, perhaps we fear our anger, or the depth of our sadness. Writing can allow an outlet. What is anger put on paper? Who is anger? If anger was a character, what would he look like? What is his story? If you were to write a letter to Anger, what would it say?
My belief is that our feelings exist to communicate a message to us, what is that message? Sometimes writing can allow us to externalize the emotion in a way that feels safe, and we can "hear" it's message. We can begin to see, hear, and re-connect with lost parts of ourselves.
Rather than asking "why do I feel this way?" we can ask "what is the message my mind-body-spirit is trying to send me?"

Creating meditation: Meditation is a powerful tool in a world that bombards us with input. To meditate is to quiet our mind, it is to give it a reflective purpose, it is to observe our thought patterns and increase our personal awareness. Meditation is to create space- for calm, peace, reflection, intuition, emotion, and awareness. For anyone, this can feel like a huge and challenging concept! One of the ways I work with this is to guide Clients in creating their own mediation. An example might be writing a mediation where one imagines becoming an animal of their choosing... perhaps someone looking to connect with their inner power may choose a dragon, or someone looking to connect with peace and slow-down might choose a snail. Whatever animal speaks to them or represents the quality or state they are wishing to tap into. With repetition this can offer a thought pattern that calms and supports a person in creating more of what they want in their life and themselves.

Bubble or Scribble art: Creating art from blowing colored bubbles or scribbling are fantastic examples of process-focused art! Here a person is not concerned about the appearance of the final product. The process is messy, uncontrollable (although I've seen people try to control it...), and freeing. It is a metaphor for life.
Once finished, a client looks at the abstract images from many angles with a spirit of curiosity to pick out shapes, and see what images emerge. Intuitively naming the picture, and tapping into whatever work, healing, or awareness lay within.
This project allows an outlet for the unconscious material that we sometimes self-deny, or hide from. Also and outlet to let-go of perfection, judgement, and expectations.
The process of making the bubbles for the bubble art can also serve as a lesson in breathing.

Wheel work: Working with a lump of clay on a pottery wheel is a messy business; a balance of controlling and letting-go. Requiring physical strength and the ability to respond to feedback from the clay. Clients choose to work with the goal of playing and "masterpiece" (mess) making or with the goal of producing a piece they wish to continue working with to completion.
Clients learn to let-go, to breath, to ground, to focus, to channel their energies and frustration. They gain practice calming their mind, and adjusting the speed and power of their movements and responses. Once, "in the zone" it can be a form of meditation.

Who influences my work?

My work is heavily influenced by John Holt, John Taylor Gatto, and Brent Cameron whose trust in people's innate abilities to learn influenced their work. I have faith in people of all ages that we can heal and grow when we look inside and tap into our inner-voice as it speaks our personal truth. Deep down, we know what we need, we just need to be reminded to re-connect and trust it.

I approach my work with youths from a perspective of deep trust. I believe it is their natural inclination to learn what they live, and to imitate the behaviors that they are surrounded by and come to believe are acceptable; be that at home, school, or what they absorb from the media and surrounding culture.

I believe all people are trying their best to get what they need with varying skills at their disposal depending on their stage of development and experiences.

I strive to create a sacred, safe space where our youth can have their feelings witnessed, and needs heard and respected. As Horton (Horton Hears a Who) says: "A person's a person, no matter how small." When we honor the feelings of our youth they learn that they are loved, that their feelings are valid, and that they are "good enough" to be trusted as possessing self-knowledge. I have seen them rise to the occasion again and again. Perhaps, they can grow into adults who remain in-touch with their inner-child-self and do not need help re-connecting later on.

Some parents have wondered if this means I believe children don't need guidance? Or that parents are to bow to the needs and feelings of their children?

The short answer is: No.
But it is important to understand that I work from a paradigm that encourages a "shift" in thinking.
A shift from looking outside to looking within.
A shift from mis-trust and fear to that of deep trust and love.
A shift from focusing on behaviors and outcomes to focusing  on strengths, process and growth.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Practical Lesson in Self-Care

     Some life lessons, I learn again and again. The importance of consistent self-care is one of them. If I let it slide I find my self feeling stressed, short with people, and less than well. I notice my time and energy feels like it is all going OUT from me. My focus becomes EXTERNAL. When I take time daily to care for myself, time slows. I have more energy. My focus becomes more balanced, both internally and externally. My boundaries become present and deliberate. I begin to "water my own lawn" as it were.

     Sadly, our culture is not rooted in self-care habits. Seeped in materialism, and appearance focused. Saturated in demands of work, socializing has been marginalized to texting and social media networks.

I recently heard read (on social media) a friend say "Be bold, phone them." And he was right. It has become "bold" to phone. Quite a testament to the disconnection present in this period of history.

     Originally, I made this list for me but if any of this speaks to you, this list is for you too! Just recognizing that this speaks to you may be enough.

For me, being ALONE and having a clear intention of recharging is the most important part of the equation.


     Change happens slowly and unconsciously for some, while for others change can happen quickly and deliberately. These are not "shoulds" they are "coulds"... so with that in mind I present my list of self-care suggestions:

1. Go for a walk
2. Carve out 5 minutes to be alone
3. Start a journal
4. Start an art journal
5. Visit the library and find a physical book to get lost in

6. Actually get lost in said book
7. Lay on the lawn and gaze at the clouds
8. Visit a lake, river, or ocean spot you've never been to
9. Listen to music you like
10. Listen to it loud

11. Declare a pajama day
12. Hug a friend
13. Cuddle an animal
14. Create something: music, poetry, photo, jewelry...
15. Shower

16. Daydream
17. Write down your worries and negative thoughts... burn them (optional)
18. Pray
19. Meditate
20. Doodle words that have meaning for you

21. Color
22. Spend time in a forest
23. Hoola hoop
24. Say "no" when you mean no
25. Say "yes" when you mean yes

26. Notice when something doesn't feel "right" and listen to that feeling
27. Start to feel, name, and be curious about your emotions, without judgement
28. Realize that our emotions are there to tell us something
29. BREATHE. Really BREATHE. Seriously, look into all the ways to breathe and start practicing
30. Think about the people who really care about you

31. Think about the people you really care about too
32. Think about how someone makes your life better and let them know you appreciate them
33. Ask for help
34. Cry
35. Take a hot bath. (bubbles, wine, music, candles optional)

36. Identify your tribe... and spend some time with them or let them know they matter
37. Make a bucket list
38. Make a thoughtful and realistic to-do list for the week, then try to use it as a guide
39. Drink a hot bevy of your choosing
40. Declare it a "screen-free" day

41. Declare it a "screen-day" and indulge
42. Identify goals you have set in the past and met
43. Learn techniques to be "in your body"... then spend some time there (even just 5 minutes)
44. Identify what is most important to you in your life
45. Choose foods that taste good and nourish your body and spirit

46. Pick just one of these and deliberately make it a habit
47. Dance
48. Stretch
49. Drink a glass of water
50. Take a guilt-free nap

51. Help someone
52. Cultivate compassion for yourself when you fall short or make mistakes
53. Learn from your mistakes
54. Go get a massage, acupuncture, or pedicure
55. Eat some chocolate

56. Bake cookies... your house will smell delightful
57. Phone someone who matters to you
58. Plant a garden
59. Write a letter on paper to anyone living or dead (then do whatever you like with it...)
60. Pay attention to your finances... budget in something for yourself or for charity

61. Cultivate awareness of negative self-talk
62. Cultivate awareness of negative beliefs
63. Learn about ways to change thought patterns
64. Cultivate spirituality
65. Watch your favorite movie

67. Tell someone you love them
68. Forgive yourself
69. Forgive others
70. Plant seeds of a peaceful joyous life everyday!

71. Start a gratitude journal
72. Start to notice when judgemental thoughts creep in
73. Realize that the only person you control is you (and be thankful for that because it really is a load off!)
74. Listen to the rain, or lay in the sun
75. Learn healthy ways of communicating about your feelings and needs

76. Write your own self-care list!