Saturday, November 26, 2016
Monday, March 30, 2015
In my work as a Licensed Professional Counselor andArt Therapist for HopeWest, I encounter families daily that are touched by illness or loss due to cancer.
The subjects that capture my interest are often nature-based and symbolic of my personal insights and discoveries! Nature – based images connect us to itspowerful healing qualities. The mandala (circular form) is containing and healing; its shape conveys wholeness and facilitates our ability to be centered. I am deeply interested in the healing aspects of art making and its inherent communicative and transformational qualities.
I am dedicating this work to my mom, Bonnie, who died with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia in 2007. She encouraged my path with art and inspired me with her gratitude throughout treatment.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Listening to the river that day, I looked to my left to see a Great Blue Heron standing tall and confident by the river's edge. She turned her head and looked at me- a direct, assured acknowledgement of my loss. In one look there was a serene confidence expressed before she lifted off in magnificent flight, soaring down- river. It was unmistakable- she knew and told me so.
I think of that moment- of clarity as deep knowing conveyed without words from another creature. I'm reminded of it on days like these when bike rides along the riverfront trail and walks at Connected Lakes serve up more heron encounters than I have known before. And then on my last day of school at the community college, one flew right over my car as I turned left toward the college, meeting at the corner. Yes, one could say its a boon year for herons, but, I always know its a sign from her- a small note of knowing, a reminder of presence.
Herons represent diversity just by their ability to move through elements. A kind of liminal quality is assigned to them as they move from earth to land to water. Herons have the ability make these transitions and maintain stability. They speak of transition...and what is death if it isn't the great transition.
According to Native Traditions, herons represent self- determination, self- reliance. They have the ability to progress and evolve. They symbolize standing on their own They may sit while the rest of us lose patience. Individuals who have the characteristics of Blue Heron need to follow their heart rather than the prompting of others.
If that doesn't describe me, I don't know what does.
Thursday, September 4, 2014
Each year I am amazed by the courage and creativity of the teens that participate in Camp Good Grief Teen Retreat. This year all seven of them came ready to work, tell their story and support others. The comfortable and intimate setting on the Mesa allowed the teens to appreciate the beauty of nature and provided a retreat from every-day concerns and pressures.
Teens have particular challenges when they are grieving. They need their grief to be acknowledged by the larger community, by the adults around them. They need to be able to communicate in their own unique voice. Since peer relationships are very important to teens, working in a supportive group with a common goal is very helpful. Older adolescents struggle with needing support and not wanting it; this ambivalence sometimes complicates the grief process.
Many of their experiences in loss are beyond words; they are difficult to describe or express verbally. Art–making and music give teens a different kind of voice, putting teens in greater control of their communication. Non-verbal communication is often more comfortable than putting ambivalent feelings of grief to words.The teens attending retreat are usually open to working in a unique and creative way to cope with and commemorate their losses. With a little encouragement, they used drumming, art-making, writing and working with horses to learn about grief, coping and to explore compassion and empathy.
Participants were invited to represent aspects of self by altering or redesigning an everyday object – a matchbox. Through the creative process, they explored symbols and words that transformed their box into a pocket shrine. One theme, “Keep the Change”, included coins decorated to represent a change in them since the loss which they wanted to keep. The process of altering the box allowed the teens to explore ideas and feelings on a concrete and tangible level. Working with a variety of materials allowed them to access the sensory level where we store traumatic experiences. They used their boxes to share about experiences with grief and empathy as well as support and compassion.
Often teens can use the experience of a creating art to learn larger life lessons. Each teen used writing to express a tribute to their special person or to list five words that describe them. The rushing water of the creek and the tall aspens overhead provided an inspiring backdrop as several shared a poem or letter as they lit a candle in a simple memorial the teens designed for closing.
When we give teens the opportunity to approach and work through their grief expressively, we allow them to work on a level that makes sense to them. We acknowledge and support their grief in a way that can be understood on many levels and can be witnessed by others.
Riley, S. (1999). Contemporary Art Therapy with Adolescents. London, Jessica KingsleyPublishers.
For more information on art therapy visit:
American Art Therapy Association at http://www.arttherapy.org,
Art Therapy association of Colorado at http://www.arttherapy-co.org/ataco
ArtLight Therapy & Studios at http://www.artlighttherapyandstudios.com
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
“A meeting of the world inside and the world outside” is how art therapy pioneer Eleanor Ulman described her profession. Art therapy is a way of looking to and through experiences using imagery and the creative process to find healing. It brings our internal experiences into the light.
Art therapists complete a master’s level training and education in psychology, human development and visual arts. They use art in assessment and treatment in many settings including private practice and open studios. Many formal elements of drawings provide developmental, emotional and cognitive information to the trained therapist. The creative process can access places in our brain that verbal processing alone may not be able to reach.
Art making has always been a part of my life. In early childhood, I loved to draw, often focusing on pictures of animals or nature scenes. My mom once sent me to a day workshop for artists at the Denver Zoo. I was the youngest “student” that memorable day of sketching giraffes, monkeys and bears!
This early pleasure in art lead to many hours of drawing, painting and looking at other artist’s work. The process of illustrating and creating provided comfort and ‘companionship’ through both normal life transitions and the difficult experiences of moving, changing friendships, the divorce of my parents, illness and loss. At high school graduation, I was awarded two small scholarships to study commercial art at West Texas A & M. I added undergraduate psychology courses that piqued my interest in that profession as well. Ultimately, I decided to complete my bachelor’s degree in Social Work. This led to a part-time position at a state psycho-social rehabilitation center for chronically mentally ill adults where I offered drawing and painting classes as well as life skills training. About this time, my interest in art therapy developed; I remember sending off a request for more information to the American Art Therapy Association. The profession seemed like a beautiful partnering of my interests in psychology and art and my desire to help others- to somehow address the suffering I could see among this exquisitely beautiful world. So, in the fall of 2004 I began my graduate work in art therapy, traveling to Indiana three times a year to complete graduate residencies. In January 2008, I graduated from St. Mary-of-the-Woods College with a Master of Arts in Art Therapy and obtained my license as a professional counselor in 2012.
Art making is the central focus of my counseling work. Our images are forms of communication; they are meaningful responses to the world around us. They are expressions that go beyond words and often show us things about our circumstances and ourselves that words are not able to articulate. Making art enhances perceptual acuity, increases cognitive functioning, allows integration of the senses and activates our creative center. All of these aspects are therapeutic.
Colored pencils are a wonderful media to use in therapy. They are portable, anyone can use them and sometimes they are needed as an expressive tool that allows colorful, emotional response that is easily controlled. In terms of the Media Properties Continuum, colored pencil is in the resistive media range, compared to a fluid media like watercolor, which is on the other end of the spectrum. It requires varied levels of pressure to make marks on the page. Pencil tends to facilitate more cognitive processing rather than emotional or affective therapeutic work. Using pencil can assist a client with problem solving, organizing thoughts, focusing on detail and containing emotion.
I currently see children, adolescents and women in my private practice, ArtLight Therapy & Studios. My work at the studio also includes free-lance illustration and fine art. My part-time counseling position with Hospice & Palliative Care of Western Colorado, where I have worked for twelve years, provides many opportunities for working with kids and teens using art directives like draw your family doing something together.
Drawing still provides a necessary creative outlet for me as I respond to the inspiring and challenging work that I do. Making art provides a way for me to know myself better. It can be a meditative activity that illuminates a path to healing- a window to the inside world.
Monday, February 17, 2014
Clay-work is the sensual process of manipulating, forming and sculpting clay as well as the products or creative objects composed by the process. Clay has been used throughout history by may cultures as containing tools and as an expression of the religious or even spiritual dimensions of life. As we have, over time, "attributed significance to the earth as the source of all things" (p.66) the use of clay to connect with reactions to a loss seems to link us to the essential life force and ending, or resting place of our loved ones. Sholt and Gavron (2006) identify the "link between symbolic clay products and the mental-spiritual realm of humankind early in human history (p.66)."
Using Jungle Journey (Traverse Publishing Co.) by my friend and fellow art therapist, Barbara McIntyre, has been an amazing way to work with kids who are learning coping skills after a loss. In this poignant story about a community of jungle animals, Eleanor the elephant dies leaving her friends to figure out how to move forward without her and how to make meaning out of their loss. Each animal responds to the news of her death in a unique way showing a variety of coping reactions. The story goes on to illustrate how each animal offers a contribution to the community in Eleanor's absence and memory.
After reading the story each member of the group is asked to sculpt the animal they most identify with in the story or the animal who has the most appeal to them. We then take time to observe the sculptures and share the characteristics of the animal chosen and why. As the small sculptures are formed each child relates in clay their ideas about how to cope or what aspect of the animal they admire. Creating the character 'in hand' integrates the ideas in a way that is sensory based and therefore memorable.
Gavron, T. & Sholt, M. (2006). Therapeutic Qualities of Clay-work in Art Therapy and Psychotherapy: A Review. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 23(2) pp. 66-72.
Image source: artforsmallhands.com
Thursday, January 9, 2014
I love working with teens. One of my co-workers describes reeling in adolescents for support as " herding cats". She should know as she has several at home- cats, that is. Sometimes we are so 'lucky' to get to work with teens for any period of time, so short-term or solution-focused therapies are of the essence. Using art in my practice is a sure way to build rapport and relationship. Art therapy has many aspects that are in harmony with short-term treatment according to Shirley Riley who wrote Contemporary Art Therapy with Adolescents (1999). Art therapy is action oriented and shared by the client and clinician. So many sessions with teens are enhanced by working together or alongside one another creating. This activity adds a whole dimension to our work together. Art making is a pleasurable activity and often teens can approach a problem in a process that suggests new solutions. We are often able to extract a limited issue from the larger picture, literally and figuratively. The problem is naturally externalized and viewing the problem from the distance of the artwork, acknowledges that our self is separate than the problem. As teens create art over multiple sessions, they can begin to see their progress illustrated in their work. Having a visual record of their progress helps the teen and therapist focus on goals that are such an integral and necessary aspect of short-term therapy. Teens are challenging to engage and to keep in a sustained therapeutic environment, so they benefit from a solution-focused, goal oriented, creative approach- bring on the art!