“Today was the best day ever!” Happy New Year!

This will probably be a relatively short post, but it feels important as it is my “new year’s” post, the last post for the year 2011 and the post to usher in the new year of 2012. I dedicate this post to C., an old friend whom I had not seen in about 8 years, who died this week. A terrible tragedy. The world has lost a really wonderful and great person. And way too early in his life. So the rest of this post will be about life…

Yesterday towards the end of the day, my four year old said, “This is the best day of my life!” If only I could bottle her enthusiasm for a perfectly normal day and give it out to everyone on their worst day.

Here are a few important arguments for choosing life over death even at your most difficult moments. And here I confess, I decided, since I’ve already gotten a bit personal for a therapy blog, and shared my daughter’s statement, I might as well get some help from her again in writing this post as I consider her to be a great expert on the joys of living. My four year old daughter. So here goes.

Some of the most coolest reasons about being alive include the following: “Having to pick flowers.” “Bubbles!” “Dresses and fancy dresses”.  “When you have a really good day what do you think your favorite thing about it is?” I ask. “Having to be with Mommy.” (I swear it’s what she said, and if my day has already been great hanging out with her from this morning non stop until now, about 6:15 in the last day of this year, of course it’s just gotten even greater. Some more help from my daughter about what makes life great: “Playing in the pretend play center. It’s a kitchen. It’s lots of cool things it has phones and cups and dressing up stuff. You can cook food. Have my own restaurant. Next when I go to school I’m going to have everyone be the customer, and I want to be the waiter. One is the waiter and one is the chef and the other two people get to be the customers.” (Only four people in the pretend play center at a time…) In fact she has been counting the days to when she gets to go back to Pre-K and talked about missing her teacher. I have seen the pretend play center and it is awesome. Partly because there just isn’t that much stuff in it, but the kids just love it because they get to make up whatever they want with a few kitchen utensil items, some play food and a couple of things to dress up in, and not very fancy stuff at that. But how cool is it to have a restaurant of your own for fifteen minutes, or be the waiter or cook there. Or get married a few times a week and only have it be about the wedding. (There have been more than a few weddings in the pretend play center. And mostly two girls marrying each other.) I think those are a few great things about life, enough to keep us going for a while, I would hope.

Back to the new year’s eve holiday, finally, the end of the long holiday season, which unfortunately too many people are very relieved about, and some are sad about. But there is still tonight, New Year’s Eve, the one holiday you can choose to completely ignore, be with your family or not, dress up and party the night away, or not. Drink festive drinks, with or without alcohol. Stay up late and be there in that magical moment when it changes from this year to next year, or sleep through it and ignore it completely. Do whatever you want or don’t, tomorrow will be the first day of the new year no matter what you end up doing. My daughter will not be sleeping through it. She was awake for it a year ago at age 3, and today, she keeps asking if it’s new year’s eve yet. As she normally doesn’t get tired until late at night, I’m betting she’ll be awake pretty late this year, the one day of the year when there should be no bedtime, at least in my family. I will confess here that I’ve always loved New Year’s Eve. I love that I can get too dressed up and hang out being fancy with other people who might be wearing jeans. As a New Yorker, I’ve always loved being in this city for new year’s. As I’ve gotten older, the night has become less about party hopping and more about getting really as dressed up as I feel like it, and then miraculously not have to go outside, therefore being able to wear sleeveless dresses which are the most fun to wear anyway… because – we now simply have to go up two flights of stairs to the neighbor’s apartment for their awesomely fun, very casual and low key, kid friendly annual New Year’s Eve party of our wonderful penthouse neighbors! (That means friendly for my kid who is the only young child at the party but who loves to hang out with the neighbors’ now 20ish year old daughters and their friends who are very nice to her.)

So I’ll end on a high note and a few more gems of wisdom from my child. “Are you excited about New Year’s Eve,” I ask. “Yeah!” “Why?” Cause I’m going to the H’s house party! and I can play with L. and M. and their friends! There won’t be any kids there cause there weren’t last year.”. “You think you’ll have fun even if there arent’ any kids?” “Yes. I like playing with grownups. I mean W. and M.”

Ok.  I have to ask her one more time, ” Tell me some of your favorite things.” “Barbies.” “Dinosaurs and ‘How I Met Your Mother’ more than cartoons.” Yes she likes that show. Thinking of you, C.

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The Other Face of Facebook: Facebook in the Therapy Session

A day or two ago, I witnessed the miracle of Facebook. One of my college friends, in fact, one of the first people I met in my new dorm my first day at college over 20 years ago, had a baby girl. The announcement of this great birth appeared in her Facebook status within the first day of this baby’s life, with the amount of hours of labor and her name and weight. 115 “Likes” and 110 comments within six hours of this status posting! But for Facebook, I would have no idea where my former classmate lived, much less, have been able to participate in witnessing her marvelous pregnancy and the birth of her first very healthy child. This is the wonderful power of Facebook, and a big reason for why I confess I check in almost daily to see the “News Feed”. Many other wonderful pregnancies and births are going on, not to mention little children growing up before our eyes through Facebook photos…

So, the wonderful world of Facebook is truly a great way for people to see each other’s kids, and for aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents to participate in the lives of these children, no matter where they live.

There is also grade school, high school, college and graduate school classmates to keep in touch with so easily! In fact it turns out the most friends group people have is from high school…

The other great reason I like Facebook is to be able to casually post a photo of my latest art work, whether just a weekly scribble drawing or a more serious work in progress and get instant positive support! For us therapists, once we’ve navigated the issue of making sure we’ve looked carefully at our “privacy settings”, Facebook represents a place we can “let our hair down” and be people, as goofy and weird as we want to be…   Or you can figure out how to live comfortably with a professional and personal presence on Facebook by joining professional groups, starting your own Artist page or Therapist page or starting your own Professional group…

Of course there are many pitfalls and huge complicated issues that arise from Facebook. Sometimes the whole six degrees of separation thing means one has to block a friend’s friend because they are or were a patient. Or my patient comes in and says she saw my happy birthday post to my old supervisee who happened to be her supervisor recently. Not too big a deal, as it was a week where my profile picture was an artwork and not a private photo. The world of art therapy is small…

Far more difficult than privacy issues we therapists face, are the issues our patients are bringing in to therapy that often involve Facebook in some major way. First of all there are parents. Many parents are young enough that they want to be on Facebook for their own social reasons and secondarily to keep an eye out on their young adult children and get to “peek” into their lives. Some parents are on Facebook purely to peek into their young adult or even older adult children’s lives. Sometimes this isn’t too complicated and only requires the child “educating” their parent about Facebook parental etiquette. That means telling your parent, don’t make a comment on every one of my posts. In fact, try not to make your presence known at all on my posts and I won’t “block” you from seeing them. Simple instructions, followed well. Done.

Not so easy if Mom is using Facebook to spy on you. “What were you doing out so late partying when you called me earlier freaking out about your English paper due tomorrow?” and, “I thought you quit smoking (or insert “drinking”, “gambling”, etc? What’s up with that photo of you from last night? Woops. Forgot to set blocking Mom from that particular revealing photo…

“It’s Complicated” is actually a relationship status you can post to your profile and put the name of the complicated person you are in this mess with up next to it. Not a good idea if you’ve met each other’s parents and are on Facebook with all of them. Most difficult scenario with a parent is the following one. The said “child” over age 20 is going through messy breakup or even messy divorce. Suddenly that 2 am drunken weepy phone call to Mom late at night right after she dumped you by email is seeming like a really impulsive move now that it’s 6 weeks later (an eon in modern relationship breakups and makeups) and she has posted pictures of you together after you and your mom agreed she was the scum of the earth and had been mistreating you the whole time you were dating. Oops. So you go into therapy and talk to your therapist about how you decided to block your mom completely and defriend her and then she called you hysterically crying upset that you would treat her that way. Which one is more high maintenance now, the girl who took you for granted and dumped you and then realized she couldn’t live without you, putting you through torture, moodswings, extra therapy sessions and bad phone calls to your parents, or the mother who now is too thorouhly involved in your love life, such that you have to figure out in therapy how to manage her Facebook presence in your life without her knowing you are keeping her out of the loop so she doesnt call you again crying? And in between all that you had to confess in therapy that after your girlfiend dumped you, you checked her Facebook wall about twenty times a day to see if she was hanging out with other guys/girls or what she was doing. (There is a whole different post I need to write about cyber confessions in therapy — “I knew his password, so I broke into his emails and read them for a week to see what the hell was going on in his head after the breakup…”, “After that asshole blocked me from his Facebook and defriended me, I signed in to his page to spy on his Facebook wall and chats…” etc.)

With some patients, we have had to talk about Facebook addiction and treatment which involves “breaks” — take a day off where you aren’t allowed to go on Facebook at all. Take a week off going onto your partner’s or soon to be ex’s or ex’s page. No peeking at all.

Re-set the boundaries with mom and dad. Translates as, keep him or her as your Facebook friend but block him or her from all photos of your wonderful reuniting with the girl or guy that your parents never want you to mention much less see again. Yes you can manage each post and each photo separately, thus blocking mom from only the ones you don’t want her to see. The challenge in therapy now is beyond Facebook pages. How do you “delete” the 5 am crazy phone calls you made to mom or dad when you were ready to jump out the window from finding all the terrible things this “awful” relationship was putting you through while you secretly start over with the same person who has gone from awful to adorable love of your life again within the last month or two, or worse, you moved out and back in all within about 4 months time and can’t bear telling your parents because of their obvious and predictably bad reactions? And now you have to go home for the holidays and pretend to be still sad about it or deal with everyone in your family (yes, I forgot about grandpa and the siblings who know all about it and who have seen those new photos on Facebook of you back together.) Damage control first, arrange with all of them to keep it quiet and do not mention any of it to mom or dad during the holiday visit. Second, what do you do when you are baking with your mom and she starts casually asking if you’re meeting any new people, or if she found out, how do you steer her away from the topic of how you are throwing your life away in this relationship, how disappointed she is in your terrible choices, and worried sick as well. “And how could you even think of defriending me on Facebook!” she will definitely bring up, still hurt about it.

This is not dramatization. It happens all the time. As does the addiction to checking up on your too attractive boyfriend who gets too many likes on all his photos and comments… Jealousy redifined, or jealousy obsessions now have a new Face, and plenty of new places to find fuel for the jealousy.

The other Facebook therapy topic is just plain old addiction. Complaints of spending way too much time playing “Farmville” or some other Facebook game, or even worse, just spending countless hours on Facebook and not too sure what you were even doing. This one goes with other internet addictions, porn being a typical one. Almost worse than porn which at least involves some kind of “goal”, is the hours on the internet people spend and cannot account for and have no idea what they were doing, but one minute the computer was on and suddenly four or five hours of time has gone by and nothing to account for it. This usually happens when someone has a paper or thesis or work related activity due.

Which brings me to Facebook at the workplace. At a party recently, someone told me about a new form of work interview “prejudice”. That some people are complaining that at a job interview they were asked why they do not “do” Facebook, that there must be something wrong with them. I was astonished, but she had actually heard this from several people. This one goes with the big question, do you friend people you work with or your boss? Do you friend the babysitter? Are you Facebooking while at your workplace and do you do this on the sly or in full view of everyone?

Blocking, unfriending and defriending…Do you really want to stay friends with some ex from years ago? What about the friend you have stopped speaking to or the cousin you suddenly regret friending. Turns out according to a recent article in Huffington post,

“Offensive comments” and a lack of knowledge about a person are the top two reasons people unfriend on Facebook, according to NM Incite’s research. People were also more likely to be disturbed by the nature of the content friends shared, rather than the frequency of it: 23 percent said they unfriended people over “depressing comments” and 14 percent unfriended over “political comments,” while just 6 percent unfriended because someone had posted too frequently.

Wow. I was quite surprised, actually shocked. Nobody said they unfriended because they got in a fight with someone or broke up with someone, the two top reasons I would have guessed for unfriending. And what about obvious reason number 3, “Woops, I am so regretful that I friended Mom and Dad…” Why do people have such a low tolerance from a single depressing sentence in a Facebook status, when, last I checked, most close friends include long depressing phone calls, coffee, dinner or drink sessions, as a major part of friendship, that they know this Friend has been there when they were in tears, so of course they will be there for this Friend through countless depressing but worthwhile hours.

Another interesting topic is the content of status posts. Everyone on Facebook has at least one friend who posts just to say what s/he made, had for dinner or even put a photo in of the meal. In one case my gourmet friend posted several photos of the many courses of an elaborate meal and the menu; it went from the mundane to a work of art in progress to see this gourmet meal unfold. But there are those posts that sound like the person needs to let everyone know s/he just sneezed. What is involved in the psychology of the everyday ordinary aspects of life being “glorified” or at least expressed on the “news feed” of Facebook? Just raising the question…

There is also the Facebook “love/hate” relationship. One week you’re on and reading it daily and posting. Then suddenly something happens and you get a bout of  what I like to call “Faceebook overexposure”. “Suddenly I felt really weird and decided I hated Facebook and did not want to be on it, so I am leaving Facebook.” This is often accompanied by a goodbye post, which often sparks a lot of comments from friends suggesting/begging the person not to leave Facebook. Sometimes this is enough to get you hooked again. Or a week later, the soame person reports that s/he returned to Facebook, so easy to get back on with the sames profile and friends all saved and waiting for your re-conversion to Facebook. Some people treat Facebook like a messy on again off again relationship and then finally call it quits with it. There are other people who actually are totally internet savvy and may even have great websites and/or blogs or other internet presences who might even work in publishing or publicity or television other internet related fields who never go near Facebook. What kind of personality is completely immune to the Facebook bug. I have a few friends and relatives whose spouses are on Facebook but who themselves are not going to go near it.  And I cannot figure out any one characteristic that these people who share the Facebook allergy have in common. Someone’s got to do a survey on that topic: what makes a person immune to the magnetic pull of Facebook?

Yes, Facebook has become a therapy “topic” and is here to stay. Now it’s time for me to edit this post and then, of course, post the link to it first to Facebook and only after that, on LinkedIn…

Art Therapy as Food

The holiday season is here and that means trouble for people with any kind of eating or food issues. Holiday dinners and tons of holiday parties which seems so cheerful and fun for some, for others can be big triggers. If you’re in some recovery process of relearning healthy eating and trying to follow a good schedule of meal times and eat nutritionally well, this is a time of many challenges. It’s a good idea to try to be flexible with yourself and allow yourself to eat more and eat things you don’t normally consider healthy rather than fall into the trap of self-punishment or get caught up in obsessing about food and body. It’s also a great time to focus on the non-eating activities of the holidays. Make your own wrapping paper or make your own cards. Make a holiday card to send out to family and friends. Make a fun photo or art calendar for 2012. If you like singing focus on the songs and sing a longs at the parties you go to. Enjoy dressing up if you like doing that…If you go to O.A. meetings talk about this season and your struggles with it tripping you up and any worries you have about getting into old bad habits/and/or destructive behaviors… Just a few suggestions for this time of year that itself is a big trigger for many.

I mentioned some art activities in the above paragraph but this post is meant to try to focus on art therapy and the question, Why is art therapy so effective at helping people with eating disorders as well as body image issues, food and exercise addictions, obsessive thinking about food, weight, body, etc.? Unlike other types of “obsessions” and “addictions”, such as alcoholism and drug addiction, when a person has issues around food and eating, s/he cannot simply avoid food, grocery stores and restaurants for obvious reasons. Triggers are everywhere and food and meal planning are necessities for becoming healthy. One has to change one’s relationship to food altogether and then rigorously watch out for and identify triggers and then have a plan for how to deal with them. For re-learning how to eat, how much to eat, what it feels like to be full, etc., cognitive behavioral therapy techniques can work very effectively to help a person manage their day to day life and find the difficult balance between being observant and watchful of one’s behaviors and familiar feelings or lack of feelings that trigger self-destructive behaviors around food and exercise. Just being able to call your therapist or some other helpful person when you feel challenged and scared you’re going to “relapse” is of course very useful. I have had many patients who reported that calling me when something difficult came up was very helpful or even knowing that s/he could call was also helpful. Speaking up when you’re feeling vulnerable is always helpful and can really get you through some bad moments if you know whom to talk to and can get in touch with him/her.

So where does art therapy fit in? To battle an eating disorder like bulimia or binge eating or anorexia and other related issues, one needs to learn more than ways to avoid unhealthy behavior. Besides becoming armed with ways to identify triggers for unhealthy behaviors and learning to identify one’s feelings rather than using food to literally stuff one’s feelings or cut off from them, you have to learn ways to notice when you feel a self-destructive impulse coming in, what was going on in you and what can you substitute the unhealthy behavior with, ie. learning about self-soothing. Any disorder or issue involving dissociating, getting out of one’s body, etc. can be very much helped by activities that bring you back into your body. A major part of the art therapy process in working with trauma of any kind involves using art making to learn or relearn self soothing.

Art making in the presence of a therapist or in a group with an art therapist can be healing in many different ways. There are many different forms of art making that are soothing to most people. Being given a blank piece of paper or a canvas has been shown to actually increase anxiety and trigger self-criticism in many people. So one must pick particular art making activities that are able to decrease anxiety levels and can even help a person get back in his/her body. Making a mandala with oil pastels or watercolors, which involves tracing a circle or filling in a circle that the therapist has already pre-made for the session is a very popular and tremendously healing activity. Not only are mandalas soothing, as a symbol for the self, the mandala can give one information about one’s feelings about oneself. How you treat the boundary of the circle is of course important. I have found that having people do the mandala with their non-dominant hand can release a lot of worry about how it will look and decrease perfectionistic tendencies. For some, the lack of control of the non-dominant hand becomes too frustrating to be therapeutic, but this seems to be in a minority of cases. Making the mandala on black or colored paper is also a useful way to reduce anxiety and increase excitement about the task, just by being stimulated by the color of the paper or soothed by its darkness. Mandalas are very useful for identifying one’s body energy in the here and now. For example, I have done workshops involving doing a quick mandala at the beginning of the session, followed by some form of meditation exercise, and then a much longer time to make and complete a second mandala. People are always pleasantly surprised to see that their energy at the beginning (often more chaotic or too controlled or else a minimal effort to complete the picture without much satisfaction), has completely changed from the meditation and the art making at the end of the session. The two mandalas can be compared and give a person an actual blueprint or “emotional x ray” of what was going on in their bodies at the beginning of the session, and how changed their energy feels by the end of the session, usually descriptions include “more grounded”, or that the picture feels “more whole”. At some points in treatment or recovery or self-care, it can be useful to do daily or weekly mandalas and then write a few words about one’s feelings and thoughts. put it away and look at your mandalas later as a group to see what changes may have occurred.

Other soothing art making activities involve collage, beading, and decorating boxes as well as making dolls or decorating and covering/painting pre-made dolls. For some people painting is incredibly soothing. The metaphors of art therapy in direct relationship to food are interesting in themselves. The materials and the media are a different form of food which can literally be used for symbolic filling up. If the art therapy session is highly structured with some form of directive and structured around time to make art and time to process, this structure can help a person feel more regulated and grounded. Most impulsive unhealthy behaviors are performed when one is not grounded in one’s body and in some kind of anxious or compulsive state or fughe state. Meals in themselves are what structures the day for many people, and when there is no structure to when one eats, one can get easily caught up in feeling out of control. There are many art directives that are helpful for all sorts of aspects of recovery and regaining a healthy lifestyle as well as a healthy relationship with one’s body. Identifying and making pictures of different forms of hunger: emotional hunger, mental hunger, physical hunger and even spiritual hunger. Just describing and identifying these states is helpful. However as in most cases with art therapy, having an image to play with, observe and help organize oneself is highly useful. It is a great tool for measuring progress in therapy; to have something tangible like a body of work over time — what better way to actually see self transformation/

Of course there are all kinds of directives and activities (the art therapy “menu”) specifically geared around confronting and dealing with eating issues. I have named only a few above. Positive self image collages are another great art activity that is fun, non-threatening and promotes thinking good thoughts about oneself. Making affirmation boxes, a great transitional object for you to bring home and add to on your own. For some people that I have worked with, doing a body tracing by lying on the paper and having the therapist trace around your body and then filling it in in any way with whatever materials there are at hand is very useful in working on these difficult body image issues. Again, this is even better if you are in long term therapy and do one every couple of months or so to be able to compare the different images and notice what has changed for you. This is one of those activities that is best done when you have come to trust your art therapist and are ready to grapple with difficult feelings, even trauma memories, that can surface while filling in the body tracing. This is a prime example of why our training in working with trauma is so important. It is also a great activity to do with pregnant women in a group or individual session.

Besides the structure and the helpfulness of particular directives, non-directive forms of art therapy also work well. I have had patients with eating disorders who enjoyed having choices of what to do and figuring out on their own what they liked, being able to explore my art studio and feed themselves. What can replace walking into a deli or grocery store hell bent on buying certain foods to fill an empty hole inside that one is barely aware of?  Walking into the art studio/office and taking in the visual stimulation. The atmosphere may be overwhelming at first, but the excitement of just picking out a material and playing with it is hard to describe in words and hard to pinpoint in terms of feelings. I get the same feeling in art supply stores, but there is a big difference between an art supply store and an inviting healing creative space. (I knew I was on the right track with my studio when  a father who had no interest in art making suddenly picked up a piece of cardboard and started painting! freely with all sorts of colors; his kids who had been focused on their own projects of course rushed over and asked for cardboard so they could imitate him!) As an art therapist, I can say that there is nothing like the satisfaction of having a patient who has been talking to you for months suddenly out of the blue pick out some art materials with no encouragement, suggestions, or pushing from me. It is delightful to witness!

Certainly the art materials and art making can just function as a good distraction from obsessive thinking about food and body. Havi ng an hour of respite from one’s own intrusive thinking is not only worth while but provides hope that this experience can be repeated, both in the studio and at home. So there is a lot to be said for allowing for discovery and choice of media, especially with people who are very aware of how “in control” they feel from moment to moment. In some cases, consuming the therapist’s materials can replace bingeing. There is a delicate balance between feeding oneself emotionally and spiritually in a session and working on mindfulness, versus mindless consuming and using of art materials that can be perseverative and imitate unhealthy behaviors outside of the studio. I try to stay mindful that any substance or activity has healing properties when used in a mindful prescribed manner versus when the material, activity or person is abused or addictively consumed to fill an empty hole. As therapists, we can sense sometimes during, sometimes after a session, whether the session has been a healing one or a “filler”; it is not so bad to have some sessions be fillers once in a while anyway.

This is only a mere blog post, not meant to be an exhaustive discussion of the merits of art therapy for  people with eating disorders and related challenges. Please feel free to share your experiences as a therapist or patient…

As a side comment, I was thinking tonight about the challenges of being a therapist and eating healthy meals. A lot of us work through the dinner hour and come home exhausted and starved with no energy to cook a proper meal. It can become a major family issue; how to have meals with partner and/or child/children all together and at regular meal times. I try to have extremely moderate goals, such as, let’s try to have a family meal at least once a week, not too great I admit, but I get home late several evenings a week and then there are other schedules besides my own to accommodate. This is going into a new related topic, probably good for next week’s post…

The Therapeutic Role of the Lawyer and Related Topics

Ok. This post sounds weird already. Strangely, I was drafting a super long post about Guilt and a bit about a topic that goes with it, Shame. Certainly lawyers have to deal with all kinds of guilt, but I was writing about personal feelings of guilt. It got to be a very intense topic, and then I was talking today to a friend about lawyers and what we have been consulting them for, etc., and thought this would be a more “fun” post, and certainly a bit more original.

From a personal point of view, I know a lot of lawyers. Many of my closest family members are lawyers or law students. So I grew up around lawyers. When I turned 7, I was told by one of my lawyer parents, I forget which one, that I was now old enough to be a witness in a court case. I was very excited to hear it and wondered why no one was asking me to come to court and be a witness… It has been comforting at times to even say, “I will consult my lawyer about that” or “You will be hearing from my lawyer soon.” So I know that even having a family member I can consider as my lawyer is quite comforting. I think one of the first time I actually used a lawyer, and it was a close family member, was for a patient, involving the patient’s insurance company. The patient signed a consent form so “my lawyer” could write to the insurance company and get them to pay for the therapy they were trying to get out of paying. The patient saw the lawyer’s letter and of course through the name realized it was one of my family members. This was one time when it only helped my patient feel more protected to know that I was closely related to a lawyer, and the only time it has come up in a relationship with a patient.

Anyway, for this post I was thinking more about personal experiences and how lawyers sometimes serve a very therapeutic purpose for people, even though they certainly are not therapists… Right now I know several people, actually I could even say, many people, using lawyers for various help in their lives. In several cases, the person knows that the lawyer will not be able to solve their problem, but they pay them anyway for various reasons and feel they are getting their money’s worth. In other cases, especially ones involving sponsorship at a job or obtaining an “artist’s visa” to stay in the U.S., the lawyer has successfully effected change for the better and real relief in the person’s life. No longer do they have to worry that any day they may have to leave their home and their whole life they have built here. Relief and protection are two valuable “states of mind” that I associate with having lawyers help one with something. In very personal matters, lawyers can act as a buffer zone. One no longer has to deal with a person or entity directly with whom one is often angry, frustrated, enraged, even feeling betrayed and wronged by. The lawyer is on the front lines for you, and you can sit in the back seat and relax from the strains of emotional battle.

While lawyers and therapists seem to have and require very different personality types, both deal with the issues of confidentiality and trust with  their client or patient. There is even a lot of similarity in the kinds of things one consults a lawyer or therapist for. Issues around relationships and career…Many more therapists seem to have lawyers than lawyers do therapists. I also know of several married or domestic partner couples where one partner is a lawyer and the other is a therapist, and it seems to be a good match, albeit one of those matches where opposite types of personalities attract…I can say I have worked with young and old, and a great variety of populations, even children of lawyers, but I admit I have yet to have a lawyer walk into my office requesting therapy for him or herself. I have colleagues and therapist friends who have worked with lawyers and law students, so I know from time to time they seek out therapists. So it seems quite ironic to me that I have had no lawyer patients. I am certainly open to the idea of it, as I really am grateful for the help I have and continue to receive from lawyers, both friends, family members and referrals from family members.

Here is a direct example of what I would call the therapeutic value or function of a lawyer. In one case, a lawyer is helping me with a very personal matter that is not likely to get resolved, and I am unlikely to get the result I would like from the matter. Nonetheless, a few weeks ago, after talking with this lawyer at length on the phone, I felt my anxiety level about this vexing, enraging topic swing from extremely high almost panic to feeling protected and relaxed about it, though still completely frustrated with the opposing party. And very grateful to the lawyer for taking the time to talk to me about the latest issue that had so vexed me. This was one of those times when talking to a therapist rather than a lawyer would not have served me therapeutically in the odd way that talking to my lawyer did. This story is not unique. And it isn’t the first time I’ve had that feeling of relief and knowledge that this good person was out their on the front lines for me, serving my interests, and staying so calm and rational about something that made me feel completely irrational. Not that different from what some people report feeling after a therapy session. “Nothing changed about my situation, yet somehow I felt better afterwards.” This sentence comes out of people’s mouths sometimes post therapy and sometimes after talking to a lawyer. (Just to emphasize, in saying this, I do not mean to minimize the times after therapy or consultation with a lawyer or experience at court has effected a great deal of change in a person’s life.)Food for thought…

The Artist and The Art Therapist: Can they both live within you?

This post is for all you art therapists and artist out there, and art therapy students, as well as people curious about art therapy, art vs. therapy, and artists.

I will mainly pose questions rather than give any answers as this topic is meant to start a discussion or dialogue  about what it means to be an art therapist, and what it means to be an art therapist and an artist.

When you are out socializing and someone asks what you do for a living, do you say, “I’m an art therapist.” or do you say, “I’m an artist” or do you say, “I’m an artist and art therapist.” If you say both which one tends to come out of your mouth first?

Personally I’ve always, as long as I’ve been an art therapist, as I was an artist for years before that, tended to view myself as an artist who is also an art therapist, although that does not show up on art therapy profiles on insurance and other psychology, find a therapist, types of websites. More importantly even than what you tend to say to identify yourself is what you spend your time doing, what you value doing, and other questions. For example, do you make money as an art therapist, an artist or both? While I am often in exhibitions and sell my work and participate in the open studio tour in my neighborhood once a year, and even have my art therapy and psychotherapy private practice in my art studio, my consistent form of income comes from my private practice. However in terms of my identity, I think of myself first as an artist, maybe because that was the first vocation I ever felt called to do. Also making art is a necessity for me to stay stable and focused, not an option, so I manage to make time for it and value every minute spent making art even if I spend much more time with my patients than making art.

In graduate school for art therapy, I kept my studio and used it while being a full-time grad student. I noticed a pattern in my classmates that they for the most part seemed to put their artist identity to the side to focus on art therapy. Some of them even objected to making art in classes. During class I would doodle and draw in my notebook in order to pay attention to the discussion. It helped me focus. This was many years ago, and things seem to have changed. I come across many recent graduates as well as students who are actively making art and continue to participate in their profession as a professional artist,; they have websites of their artwork and exhibit and sell it.

I have colleagues who even plan and stage exhibitions of artwork in their studio/office, ArtSpa, so they have successfully integrated their practice and supporting artists with their shows. Over the years they have had many themed group invitational exhibitions, “Little Pieces”, “Trees”, “Home” and the last one which is up now until the end of the year: “Connections.” Their website is:

http://nycreativetherapists.com/

The link to their exhibition announcements is:

http://nycreativetherapists.com/connections

I’ll end this post by saying that as indicated by the last paragraphs are an indicator of where the field of art therapy is going in terms of supporting the identity of the artist within the art therapist. It looks like a very different landscape to me now than it was years ago when I began my work in the field, which is very heartening. Are you thinking of becoming an art therapist? Are you also an artist? What is your view of this topic? I would also add that I don’t want to neglect another category of art therapists, those who came to the field not as artists and who still make art with their patients but are not pursuing an art career. There is certainly room for all sorts of art therapists. Another related topic is: do you make art with your patients? If so, is this the only artwork you make, or does it inspire your personal artwork in any way? Is the art you make in any way related to  your work as an art therapist or completely separate?

 

Post from 11/23 about Family and Holidays

With Thanksgiving coming tomorrow and the 2011 holiday season beginning, many people are confronted with dealing with their family issues, past traumas, and other related struggles. This post will address some of the challenges that arise for some adults especially during this season… This post could have also been entitled: Is it OK to take a break from your “family or origin” or even choose to cut off all forms of contact with specific family members or limit forms of contact with them?

There are many adults living in the New York area who are faced with a more complicated family situation, the question being, “Do I accept my family’s invitation to go home for the holidays?” Many people only see there families around holiday time. For some, this is their favorite time of year. A lot of people love cooking their favorite dishes, going to their parents’ o difficult r other relatives’ homes to visit, seeing family members they don’t see often, etc. For some, holidays bring up positive memories. however, unfortunately for many other people that we therapists work with or know personally, this time of year is extremely stressful, and can trigger unpleasant, even traumatic memories.

For many people, this time of year brings on the onset of seasonal depression or what I would term “holiday depression”. For some people who are in the hospital due to mental or other medical illnesses, the depression is around missing the holidays with their families. Then there are the folks whose families live far away. For some of the latter group, the question arises: do I go home for the holidays or skip it this year and find an alternate way to celebrate in New York, perhaps with other friends who have made the same choice, or even ignore the holidays altogether? Sometimes, people need to be able to pose this question to themselves and contemplate their options without feeling guilty or like a bad son or daughter. It can be liberating to simply pose the question and realize that you have choices and that going home to see your parents/relatives is indeed a choice and not a mandate…

For some, for many reasons, their relationships with one and/or both parents or parental figures, is a complex, difficult, emotionally challenging and conflictual one. In this post I will be addressing and discussing the challenges this group of young adults and adults face. Whether you are 20 or 40 or in your fifties, you may be facing this challenge. There may arise a question such as, “Do I want/need to deal with x person(s),with whom I still harbor a lot of anger and pain, right now?” Other relevant more extreme types of questions may include, “Do I have to even remain in contact with this person? Can I limit contact with him/her? Can I cut off contact altogether with this person for an unspecified amount of time?”

First of all, feelings of guilt and shame need to be put aside for the questions to arise and be addressed. You may need a kind of permission from a therapist or friend to even allow yourself to ask these emotionally laden questions, and then ultimately, you will need to give yourself permission to pose these questions to yourself. Journalling about the feelings that come up can be helpful. For those who may simply want to take a time out from their family member(s), it is important to know that this is a choice for you and an option to consider. Check in with yourself as to what comes up for you when you imagine going home for the holidays. If you are noticing feelings of dread, anger, sadness, guilt, wanting to avoid thinking about it, it may be a good idea to try out visualize yourself choosing alternate ways to spend the holidays, such as going to visit someone with whom you have a good relationship, visiting a partners’ or friends’ family, or even just staying here… It is almost another complex topic to discuss the questions around limiting or cutting off contact from family members, especially parental figures, however, I have noticed that the holiday time affords the opportunity to face and deeply with this very complex emotional issue.

Since this post has become longer than expected, I have decided to address this question in the next post. Please feel free to comment on these topics, either personally or if you are a therapist, from you personal or professional experiences…

Most Recent Post about Black Friday from last week

It is Black Friday in more ways than one. If you tend to get depressed during this season and it hasn’t hit you yet, this is usually a day when it hits after you wake up from the Thanksgiving food coma to all the holiday decorations and frenzied gift shopping going on. There’s no avoiding the holiday marketing blitz. Anyway this post is for all the people out there who suffer from seasonal depression or holiday depression. If you’re wondering why you’re feeling so blue, here it is, the holidays and family issues; past traumas for many traumatized people often involve something about their family of origin and the holidays. The weather in NYC has definitely been weird and unseasonal which helps some people and all the weather changes can make others more depressed. One minute it’s light out, then it’s barely 5 pm and dark night.

Anyway, for those of you who are therapists, you’re probably noticing that your patients at your job or in your practice are often more depressed than usual. Some people really forget what’s going on and are bewildered at the sudden onset of a deep heavy blackness, a sense of sadness or inability to be interested in much, or just feeling sleepy all the time. It definitely helps to remind people that this time of year is a real challenge for many people. For many, just knowing why they are feeling this way helps a lot, at least in terms of giving themselves a break and not heeding any blaming voices they are hearing in their head, such as “Get over this now. You have no reason to be so down in the dumps…” It’s a time to be nicer and more forgiving to yourself if you are feeling depressed in any way. It’s OK to spend more time on the couch watching whatever DVDs, movies, TV shows etc. to get out of your mindset. Wasting time is OK. Sleeping more is OK too.

Some people who really know they suffer from seasonal mood swings actually choose to take medications during this time and find it helps a lot. Many anti-depressants can really work well if you take them for a few months just to give yourself a boost at the onset of holidays and winter. For others, medication is not an option for whatever reason. If so, try other kinds of anti-depressants like light to moderate exercise, which is shown to help the depressed brain. Or restorative yoga and meditation. Some people just can’t get themselves motivated to do these things either. All the heavy foods at holiday parties does not help either for those sensitive to foods effect on mood.

I mentioned in another post that this is a time of year for family, good and bad. For those who have a lot of trauma from family issues in the past or present, and who notice they feel worse after being with or talking to family members, taking a break from them is a good idea. You can limit or cut off contact without having an exact plan of how long to do it. In extreme cases, some people need to give themselves permission or get permission from their therapist or friends, to do this. Some people can be triggered by even a short text or email or something on Facebook. If you know this is a trigger for you, you can find out how to block email addresses and phone numbers. If you can’t block a phone number and don’t want to change your phone number, it can be helpful to put down as the contact, “Do not answer” or other such labels that show you right away who is calling but serve as a gentle reminder that you can choose to ignore the call. Somehow seeing a word or sentence instead of a name can really help you to stop yourself from getting into a conversation you know will most likely end in tears or shouting or feeling completely cut off, depressed, angry or any other types of feelings that you don’t need to put yourself through right now when you have enough stress just getting through the day…

There’s a lot more to be said about this topic; anyway I hope this post helps people with holiday depression or seasonal depression to take better care of themselves, be less hard on themselves and work on more soothing self talk, which is a whole topic in itself. Try to notice when the negative voices rush into your head and put a big red stop sign to them…

What about you? How are you? How are your patients doing???

Old Post from Last Week: Being Thankful

So I’ve venture into the dark shadow side of the holidays, and thought I’d interrupt that topic with a more positive uplifting topic:

Make a list of what you are thankful for! Write it down, or make a drawing/collage/painting to go with it. Share or make the list with your significant other, child or children or a good friend, or even with your therapist…

When I worked at a Day Treatment Center for people with chronic mental illness, my favorite day was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving when we gathered as a big group for food and then the best part, when clients voluntarily stood up and announced to everyone gathered, clients and therapists, what they were thankful for. It was amazing to see people who normally had trouble saying anything in individual meetings or small groups stand and say what they were thankful for. Most memorable of the little speeches was the following:

(and I might add, I am remembering these statements from when I was an intern there in 1997 and when I worked there many years ago…)

“I am thankful to finally have a home after being homeless…”

“I am thankful for this program that helps me a lot…”

“I am thankful for my family…”

So I will add my own list:

I am thankful for everyone in my family.

I am thankful for having really really wonderful thoughtful and compassionate friends, old and new.

I am thankful for having a roof over my head, heat and electricity!

I am thankful for all the small things that make life worth living.

I am thankful for the opportunity to use my creativity in so many ways.

I am thankful I found art making as a way to express myself.

I am thankful to have started this blog, and I hope to find people who are interested in reading it and contributing to it.

Those are just a few…

Post from 11/23 about Family and Holidays

With Thanksgiving coming tomorrow and the 2011 holiday season beginning, many people are confronted with dealing with their family issues, past traumas, and other related struggles. This post will address some of the challenges that arise for some adults especially during this season… This post could have also been entitled: Is it OK to take a break from your “family or origin” or even choose to cut off all forms of contact with specific family members or limit forms of contact with them?

There are many adults living in the New York area who are faced with a more complicated family situation, the question being, “Do I accept my family’s invitation to go home for the holidays?” Many people only see there families around holiday time. For some, this is their favorite time of year. A lot of people love cooking their favorite dishes, going to their parents’ o difficult r other relatives’ homes to visit, seeing family members they don’t see often, etc. For some, holidays bring up positive memories. however, unfortunately for many other people that we therapists work with or know personally, this time of year is extremely stressful, and can trigger unpleasant, even traumatic memories.

For many people, this time of year brings on the onset of seasonal depression or what I would term “holiday depression”. For some people who are in the hospital due to mental or other medical illnesses, the depression is around missing the holidays with their families. Then there are the folks whose families live far away. For some of the latter group, the question arises: do I go home for the holidays or skip it this year and find an alternate way to celebrate in New York, perhaps with other friends who have made the same choice, or even ignore the holidays altogether? Sometimes, people need to be able to pose this question to themselves and contemplate their options without feeling guilty or like a bad son or daughter. It can be liberating to simply pose the question and realize that you have choices and that going home to see your parents/relatives is indeed a choice and not a mandate…

For some, for many reasons, their relationships with one and/or both parents or parental figures, is a complex, difficult, emotionally challenging and conflictual one. In this post I will be addressing and discussing the challenges this group of young adults and adults face. Whether you are 20 or 40 or in your fifties, you may be facing this challenge. There may arise a question such as, “Do I want/need to deal with x person(s),with whom I still harbor a lot of anger and pain, right now?” Other relevant more extreme types of questions may include, “Do I have to even remain in contact with this person? Can I limit contact with him/her? Can I cut off contact altogether with this person for an unspecified amount of time?” First of all, feelings of guilt and shame need to be put aside for the questions to arise and be addressed. You may need a kind of permission from a therapist or friend to even allow yourself to ask these emotionally laden questions, and then ultimately, you will need to give yourself permission to pose these questions to yourself. Journalling about the feelings that come up can be helpful. For those who may simply want to take a time out from their family member(s), it is important to know that this is a choice for you and an option to consider. Check in with yourself as to what comes up for you when you imagine going home for the holidays. If you are noticing feelings of dread, anger, sadness, guilt, wanting to avoid thinking about it, it may be a good idea to try out visualize yourself choosing alternate ways to spend the holidays, such as going to visit someone with whom you have a good relationship, visiting a partners’ or friends’ family, or even just staying here…

It is almost another complex topic to discuss the questions around limiting or cutting off contact from family members, especially parental figures, however, I have noticed that the holiday time affords the opportunity to face and deeply with this very complex emotional issue. Since this post has become longer than expected, I have decided to address this question in the next post. Please feel free to comment on these topics, either personally or if you are a therapist, from you personal or professional experiences…

Copy of First Post on Last Blog: New Art Therapy Group Forming

Announcement: New Art Therapy Group Forming

 I am starting a new art therapy group for people dealing with eating disorders and related issues, such as body image issues, food and exercise addictions, emotional eating, binge eating and overeating, as well as the accompanying mood swings, depression, and anxiety that often follow from these types of struggles.
You do not have to be diagnosed with a serious eating disorder to join the group. Anyone who wants to explore these issues is welcome in the group. If you are in an outpatient program or just finished any kind of program for eating disorders and liked art therapy and found it helpful, this would be a suitable group for you.The group, called “Make Art Now!” (for Eating Disorders and Related Issues), will meet weekly on Fridays at 1 pm. It will be an hour or a 1.5 hour group depending on the needs and schedules of group members. It will meet in my art studio/office in downtown New York City near Canal Street.We will be using a variety of art materials to process issues and themes that arise in the group. We will make individual and group art projects.For more info, contact me through this blog. Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments section…
Or, simply email me at: natashart@yahoo.com