Monthly Post From My Journal Sketchbook

This month I thought I would focus on the theme of things being incomplete, and how journals and sketchbooks can reflect that concept, drawings begun that don’t get “finished”, like some of the ones below, versus drawings begun that I intend to finish and do go back to./home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/da0/30033911/files/2014/12/img_3195.jpg

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This is the cover of my current journal that I am almost finished with and will try to time it so the new year brings new journal. The cover is a work in progress in that I carry the journal around and things glued to the cover come off, then I glue them back or glue more things on or change the cover in some way, so, often the cover does not look the same at the beginning as at the end. Also all the carrying around causes the cover and back cover to get worn and sometimes dirty./home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/da0/30033911/files/2014/12/img_3193.jpg

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This below is an unfinished collage./home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/da0/30033911/files/2014/12/img_3211.jpg

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The drawing below was begun and put aside, not really inviting me to do anything to it. Who knows…/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/da0/30033911/files/2014/12/img_3212.jpg

This is part of a page I didn’t like lying on top of another drawing I wasn’t that into…./home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/da0/30033911/files/2014/12/img_3213.jpg

This is the drawing under that page that I engaged in and then felt displeased with. I don’t really care about making things I don’t like, as the process was enjoyable anyway…/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/da0/30033911/files/2014/12/img_3214.jpg

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When Writing Turns to the Dark Side: My New Year’s Resolution

I love this post and the images from science fiction. I boldly propose you read it! I love grammar, but the saying “Rules are made to be broken!” is a great one…

Doorway Between Worlds

There is no such thing as bad writing.

There is no such thing as bad writing.

I’ve decided this is my mantra for the New Year. And I hope you will join in with me.

I can hear what you’re thinking…what about that paragraph I wrote with all those horrible mistakes? Or the slogan I read the other day with the misplaced apostrophe? Or that sentence that violates everything my elementary school English teacher held dear? I want to pull out my hair, it’s so terrible!

It’s time to channel Obi-Wan Kenobi. Look at yourself in the mirror, wave your hand in the air, and tell your inner critic:

There is no such thing as bad writing. This just isn’t the writing you’re looking for.

jedimindcontrol If Obi-Wan can do it, so can you.

Encountering the Empire

I went through school at a time when learning grammar was not fashionable. I…

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Great Idea for Art Therapy New Year Activity!

Thanks to Pam Kirst for posting about the new year. This quote was in the conversation she posted. You can read her whole post at this link: http://pamkirstblog.wordpress.com/2014/12/27/how-to-have-a-truly-loolie-new-year/

The idea involves letting go of the old and making room for the new. Here is the direct description that you can modify lifted from her blog post:

Well, it takes just a little bit of preparation. I go through the Christmas boxes and find one about shoe box size, and I paint it black, so it looks kind of like a coffin. It’s the box where all the bad stuff goes to die! Then, during the party, at about 11:15, I pass around paper and pens. I tell everyone to find a quiet spot where no one can peer over their shoulders, and to write down anything and everything from the past year they’d like to forget or get rid of or just flat out wish had never happened. They fold those up tight, and we put them in the black box. I always save some kind of pretty, flammable ribbon–some years, I’ll tie it up with a bright red ribbon and bow–or maybe silver, if I’ve gotten lots of glitzy wrapping. Then, no matter what the weather, I drag everyone outside to the driveway, and I make a little speech about letting go of all the things we regret or are sad or angry about from the last year. Then we ceremoniously douse the black box with lighter fluid and throw a match on it,and we stand around and watch the bad parts from the old year burn to ashes.

So this is a great idea for a New Year’s Party to both let go of the old year and ring in the new year with positive affirmations. To modify it for a group or individual art therapy directive, I might have the patient(S) make both boxes. I would invite the person or people to write down anything from 2014 that they have been carrying around and feels heavy and that they want to let go of and clean out their house for new things, to borrow from Rumi’s poem The Guesthouse. I might even read the poem to them. Then to write down their affirmations or dreams for the new year and make some kind of container for it.

Well there is nothing like Carpe Diem. I interrupt this post to say that I just tried out a version of this idea and it was transformative. Both I and my patient wrote down things to let go of and read them and put them in a box I already have. She picked a box for her Affirmations/Goals/Dreams. We both wrote down things for the new year and shared and inspired each other. Then she started painting her box. After the first part, she felt a relief and letting go and after the second part, she felt “good”. I did too.

I will collect people’s old stuff in my black box and burn it all somewhere, not the box! And people who want to can make a box for their dreams for the new year, or do a Vision Board instead and actually make a collage with their dreams for new year in the collage.

There are all sorts of ways to be creative and ring out the old and ring in the new; I really love this one so thank you to Pam and Loolie!!! I will post photos of my black box soon…

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Opinion Post for Writing 201: Ongoing Group Therapy Versus Time Limited Focused Therapy

This post is an “Opinion Piece” that I am trying out in my online Blogging Class, Writing 201, which is about writing long blog posts. In my opinion, a new approach to therapy groups, involving a very specific focus and a time frame with a beginning, middle and end, is more effective that the traditional “ongoing” therapy group. This is one of those times I would agree with health insurance companies. They typically pay for group therapy, but if they limit sessions, the patient can still attend a group from beginning to end when the therapist is using this new approach.

What is an ongoing traditional therapy group? I found a terrific description of the basis of almost every group of this kind, with the basic formula of what you gain from going to a group on a long-term basis, years rather than months:

Here is the perfect description of any basic ongoing open-ended non-limited therapy group for adults, found on the website of Psychologytoday:

“Interpersonal Psychotherapy: Insight oriented, ongoing group for individuals looking to increase self-awareness and ability to navigate interpersonal relationships.
Group Details, Issues: Peer Relationships, Relationship Issues, And Self Esteem.”

The issues described are really the basic issues that you can gain from any group that is effective, even a peer led 12 Step free anonymous peer group.

So the question is: which kind of group is better, i.e., more effective, and useful for both therapist(s) group facilitators and patients? An ongoing “traditional” therapy group or a time limited specific, structured and focused therapy group?

The ongoing group has a more general focus, such as an ongoing women’s group for adults with depression and anxiety issues, which has no limit of number of sessions, but may have a limit of amount of group members. An example of a time limited specific therapy group would be an Art Therapy group for people with eating disorders and body image issues, that involves a commitment to 12 weekly sessions, with a structure that includes meditation and art making as coping skills, and may even have a syllabus for each week culminating with the last session in Week 12.

In this post, I will find real therapy groups on different Internet sites, like the one quoted above, but I will not have any statistics as to where the group therapy modality is headed, and whether the time limited group is the kind of group that will be in the majority for therapy groups run by therapists in private practice for the future, and what the current trend is, though I am assuming there is a trend of this new kind of group growing. This post will not address any group therapy in hospitals, agencies, non-profit organizations, etc., but only groups held in private practice.

Historically, psychotherapists in private practice who facilitate therapy groups have had “ongoing” therapy groups, which involve patients coming to a therapy group for an unlimited amount of weekly sessions. In addition, if the group was started as a group with a limit of, say 8 people, when patients leave, the therapist would try to fill the spot, so the nature of a therapy group traditionally involves new people joining at any time and people leaving at any time as well. While the therapist and location as well as kind of group is the foundation of the group, over time there is usually a core group of members who come consistently, creating the true stability of the group. This is the kind of group you have probably seen portrayed in movies. I can remember scenes in films of group therapy, but I couldn’t find anything by googling it, and I can’t remember which films I’ve seen group therapy in! I am not talking about One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest or Girl Interrupted and other films where the group therapy is set in a treatment facility. I know I have seen a movie where a character followed another character to their group therapy in NYC, set in a therapist’s office, but I’ve forgotten what happened. These scenes always show people sitting in chairs in a circle in a therapist’s office. Even 12 Step Meetings are now routinely portrayed in movies, and even satirized in children’s movies, such as in the movie “Wreck It Ralph”. A great realistic portrayal of the 12 Step Sex Addicts Anonymous Group is the main focus of the movie, “Thanks For Sharing”.

Many art therapists, as well as other kinds of therapists, still run therapy groups that are ongoing and don’t have a specific end date. In fact, I have been running two of those kinds of groups for a number of years: a women’s art therapy group for depression and anxiety and an ongoing Art Therapy Supervision group for professionals. With ongoing groups like these, the group is considered like an individual in therapy. Typically, such therapy groups don’t have a specific start and end date and no limit to amount of sessions. You can join a group like that at any time, and you will be the new person for a while, then eventually if you stay, you will become absorbed into the group and just continue to attend on a weekly basis and perhaps see someone else join and be the new person on the block.

Other newer kinds of group therapy involve a set amount of time, like a ten or more week group with specific goals or focus, such as a 12 week art therapy group for Adults with eating disorders and body image issues, with structured 1.5 hour sessions involving at least five minutes of meditation prior to the art making portion of the group. With this kind of group, there might even by a kind of syllabus as to what the weekly art project would be, and the art therapy would be described as a tool for learning alternate coping skills to combat the specific issues addressed. This kind of group is appealing to a person who wants to have clearly defined therapeutic goals, to know in advance how much money s/he would be spending, what they would be doing in the group every week, as well as knowing that goals would be presented in week 1 and hopefully met by Week 12. In addition, a prospective member would know that the same people would be attending weekly. All group members would be committed to weekly attendance for this 12 week Unit and the group would be defined as “closed” from the first week, meaning no new members can join within the time of the 12 weeks. The climate of psychotherapy in the American public these days, in my opinion, involves a trend toward choosing therapy groups with very specific goals, objectives and time limits.
I have a great example of this newer type of group, a 7 month program a colleague of mine is starting. Here is the title: Sacred Centers:
A Creative Approach to Working with the Chakras
The Art of Yoga Therapy 7 month program.

She has a detailed list of what the program will entail and it is group focused but has a specific syllabus and a structure mentioned in the title, based on the 7 chakras.

People new to therapy, whether individual or group, tend to want more clear ideas of what it entails, what they are responsible for, and what they would get as a concrete measurable result in their life, either from attending a group or trying out individual therapy. As a therapist, I find the idea of specifying what the therapy process entails to be a good challenge. In my experience of groups, I have found the ongoing framework to be more challenging and frustrating than I had imagined before trying out my first private practice group. (As a student in training, we run a lot of art therapy and other kinds of groups, and at a typical job at an agency or facility of some kind, there are also lots of groups to run, but the private practice group, in my experience, is a whole different ball game, so to speak.)

Right out of graduate school, I started an ongoing group, entitled Nurturing Your Artist Self, that met weekly to begin with, and involved members making ongoing art projects of their choosing. I did this group in my private art studio while working at a hospital and then at an agency where I did all sorts of groups. This group was for myself as well because I wanted to have time to make art with others in a non therapy group, so it was a peer-led group, which is another kind of group that can be useful, as it is usually free or very low fee, like a monthly materials fee. It was defined as an Open Studio group, which means in art therapy speak that it is non-directive and members can come and go with the only limit being the amount of members in the group.

Art Therapy groups with directives involve the art therapist presenting the group with a specific art project to do, and thus, all members are usually making the same thing, such as an Affirmation Box, with clear instructions on the art making process: pick a box, decorate it with the materials presented, choose Affirmations from cards provided or make up your own, write them down, make each one decorative, and use it at home in some way of your own choosing.

So a non-directive group functions like an Open Studio where each member just works on whatever they want to work on with any materials they choose, and typically takes several sessions to finish what they are making. Different group members finish their pieces at different times, so the challenge is how to share your art with the other group members in such a group. As my first group described above was a peer-led group of mostly old grad school classmates, the artists were familiar with making art with other art therapists and also knew each other already, so people spontaneously shared their artwork and looked at what people were doing without a formal sharing of art work, which is typical component of any art therapy group done anywhere.

This “Nurturing Your Artist Self” group, begun in the year 2000, turned out to be very challenging for me for the specific reason that there was not adequate consistent attendance, which I found out was important for keeping the group going on an ongoing basis. The group turned out to attract other art therapists new to the field who wanted to make art on a regular basis and found my group to help them stay motivated and get the benefit of doing art with others in a group atmosphere, which has many benefits. Everybody loved the group and people made some very creative art, but people cancelled a lot, and I had to turn it into a monthly group pretty quickly, as it was unreasonable to expect attendance on a weekly basis. This group, which came from my graduate thesis article about artist blocks, was actually the seed for my current Art Therapy Supervision group. Another ongoing group, but with a very specific focus, a specific structure to each weekly 1.5 hours and a member number limit, as well as my being a Supervisor, so the current group is not peer led.

For many therapists and patients, this kind of ongoing open structured group works well. Their own therapist often refers many people who join a therapy group. Some even attend their individual therapist’s therapy group while seeing the same therapist in individual therapy; thus, if they are in individual therapy that has no time limit, the idea of an ongoing group makes sense, even if the group has some specific goals in it. Most patients, if they do not move to another area, tend to stay in a group like this for a long time. Most people who leave groups like this leave early after a few sessions if they decide the group is not a good fit for them. The advantage for a therapist in private practice of an ongoing group is that there will be a core amount of people in the group getting to know each other over time, as well as having the occasional new person joining the group to inject some new energy to the group, as these types of groups over time can become stale.

My current weekly Art Therapy Supervision group is my first successful attempt at an ongoing group, as I did not consider the Nurturing Your Artist self group to be really successful to survive over a period of years with a core number of members, which is one of the properties of most ongoing therapy groups. I started two of these Supervision Groups in 2008, and I continue to run the one Tuesday evening ongoing Supervision Group, which has had as many as 6 members/supervisees and as few as two members, (the 2 member amount of time was short enough that the group survived and grew new branches so to speak), so I have seen an ebb and flow in this group over about 6 and a half years. I did not have to stop this group from running during that time and continue it to the present. This Art Therapy Supervision group has had the same two-part structure over the years. The first 45 minutes are spent working on ongoing art projects and the second 45 minutes involve one member doing a Case Presentation with options for group members to make “Reaction Art Pieces”. In my experience with supervision groups, the format of limiting to one person presenting a specific case per week works the best in terms of the group process and the therapist members learning from each other.

From a therapist’s point of view, the ongoing group is often a good idea because the group continually evolves, and, as people become “regulars”, the exploration and group process deepens and the group goes from the beginning phases to other phases of group therapy. The longer group members stay, the more opportunity for growth and practice in asserting oneself, being seen, learning to listen to others and respond honestly to others. Many therapists and group members find this kind of group very rewarding, as the group process is fascinating, and group members really “take over”, meaning the therapist intervenes less in a very developed longstanding group. Participating in group therapy as a patient typically involves the goals of learning about your styles of communication and attachment styles and learning about your effect on others directly through the group process in the here and now and through observations of other members of your behaviors in the group as well, as your reports of your issues and patterns of behavior outside the group. In such groups therapists tend to agree that the group members learn the most from other group members. The group typically goes from an early phase of people getting to know each other and getting used to the group process, to more intense work, which may involve direct confrontations and conflict resolutions in the group itself. Such a group develops in terms of members becoming attached to the group and the person or people running it, so ending an ongoing group involves a time limited termination process. Many traditional psychotherapy ongoing groups can last for years, and there is often an unspoken assumption that the group will continue as long as the therapist is in private practice.

In my experience in private practice, facilitating an art therapy group on an ongoing basis can be rewarding, fascinating, and challenging,but also frustrating in certain ways. Actually, the inspiration for this post is my current experience during this holiday time of questioning how long I want this group to continue, as well as wondering if the group is the right fit for me as an art therapist and my focus and skills, as well as being inspired and curious about the very unique group program my yoga art therapist colleague is doing, described above.

The current art therapy group I have been leading weekly in my studio has followed the typical path of a traditional ongoing interpersonal focused group therapy, with the group agreeing on things and asking for their needs to be met, independently from my “controlling” the group or group process. Despite the group being an art therapy group in a studio setting, the core group members are more focused on the group discussion than the art work made in the group. The group members started with little understanding of what the art therapy element of the group was about and what the art making was going to accomplish for them, so they began the group with an understanding of the value of the group discussion and their own ideas about how the discussion should be structured. The art making was the “psycho educational” component of the group, and began with the group having a basic trust in the art making process as healing and a willingness to make art during the group. I also make the same art projects in the group working with the materials alongside them, both to model the art making and to participate actively and help members feel comfortable. The group from the beginning expressed the need for an art directive, so the art projects have been very specific. At this point, my end of year reflections about my life and even my purpose for being on this earth, and trying to maximize my use of myself and be open to new experiences, which is of course a much larger spiritual question but includes everything I am doing in my work life, both as an artist and art therapist.

Not everyone is a good fit for a therapy group, just as each therapy group has something specific to offer group members. And, SSI am discovering, this is a kind of process and journey, and it is possible for the group to “outgrow” itself, for the group to reach a stopping point, where all of the goals stated in the beginning of this post about interpersonal relationships and improving self-esteem, may have been met, and the group reaches a fork in the road.

So, why start a group as a therapist in private practice and why join a therapy group in addition to or instead of individual therapy? Or why not join a 12 Step Anonymous Group instead, which is a peer led type of group? 12 Step groups are very effective for a lot of people, especially now that there is one in just about every flavor, from Overeaters Anonymous to Hoarders Anonymous, etc. 12 Step Groups are free and there is no specific regular attendance required. Private therapy groups run by therapists are not free, though they typically cost less than individual therapy and many therapists use a sliding scale or very low fee, especially for groups with at least 5 or 6 members. Some people join therapy groups that are specific in nature, like groups for people with eating disorders. Therapy groups are more stable than 12 Step Groups,as they usually require regular attendance, typically on a weekly basis and are limited to a certain amount of members. If you join such a group, you will see the same therapist or therapists and then same group members weekly, so they will get to know you well. Even in a closed time limited focused group in private practice, group members would gain the same consistency and some amount of “depth” and connection to other group members.

SO I am doing searches on the Psychologytoday website for different types of groups you could join right now for the New Year. Most group therapy, whether time limited or ongoing, tends to focus on relationships, as obviously,no matter whether it is about parenting, romantic relationships, or other topics, group therapy has the advantage of automatically involving you in your relationships with all the other people in the room. Here are some examples of different kinds of group therapy I have found on the Internet in my “research”. All groups are listed on the psychologytoday.com website unless otherwise described.

Here is an example of a time limited specific therapy group, an 8-week one for men about grief held in Minnesota:

“This will be an 8 week therapy group established as needed to focus on various men’s issues. Please call for more information or see website: crocushillcounselingcenter.com.”
Issues: Grief, Gender Issues: Men’s, Age: Adults”

It is unclear whether this is a group that can be ongoing in that it may be held in 8 week cycles, either changing group members every 8 weeks or open to members to repeat the group. The way it is described implies that it may well be.

Here is one that seems to be ongoing, accepting new members, but quite specific in focus, issues and population it would be appropriate for:

“This is a women’s group addressing trauma that may have been experienced in life.” Issues: Trauma and PTSD, Gender Issues: Women’s, Age: Adults

Here is one in NYC that appears to be ongoing as well as describing specific group exploration as well as adding a psycho educational component, the creatively worded “laboratory for intimacy”, which is a great phrase for any kind of therapy type group:

“Relationship Group: Group as a Whole: Being present with feelings and thoughts that are occurring in the moment. We learn to deepen our relationships by building trust, and creating a safe space as a laboratory for intimacy. Group Details: Issues: Relationship Issues, Sexuality: Gay Issues, Gender Issues: Women’s, Age: Adults

Here is another ongoing group in NYC. What I find interesting about it is the reference to style of therapy and theories intended to be used by the therapist with the group, implying that in this type of group, the therapist will be actively steering the group with certain stated intentions:

Recovery Group: For women in recovery from eating disorders, addiction, or for women who wish to work on body image. Focus is experiential, psychodynamic and internal family systems focused.
Group Details
Issues: Eating Disorders
Sexuality: Gay Issues
Gender Issues: Women’s
Age: Adults

Here is an example of a drama therapy group, which appears to be time limited, as the therapist mentions a “culminating” performance. Unlike the typical ongoing group title (Men’s Group, Grief Group for Adults, etc.), this therapist has been creative even in her title of the group, “Transform Your Life Script”, sells the group as very goal oriented and transformational; join this group and you will change in some profound ways that are very specific. Notice how specific the therapist is in her description of what the group entails in a session and what the goals of the group are. She also is “selling the group” directly to the prospective group member by addressing you in her “pitch”, a very different style from the traditional short description of an ongoing therapy group. You know what you will do in the group, what you are going to get into, even what kind of risks you may be invited to take, what challenges you will share with other group members, and how the therapist is going to help the whole group make very specific transformational changes in their lives. Like a lot of groups, this group is addressing the issue many adults face at some point in their life, feeling “Stuck” or at a confusing point in their life’s journey, while wanting their life to change, and wanting to transform themselves in some profound way. The advantage of drama therapy is spelled out in the description. Of course, as a creative arts therapist, I am biased in favor of the expressive arts therapies as a major component of group therapy, as I believe in the transformative power of images and non-verbal sharing.

Transform Your Life Script Drama Therapy Group
Do you feel stuck or dissatisfied with work or relationships? Do you struggle with low self-esteem? Do you desire change, but lack a supportive space to realize it? Live the life you want to live. Transform your life script! In this group, we’ll utilize drama therapy exercises, psychodrama, mindfulness techniques, and a culminating performance to help you: access your creativity; receive support and encouragement; establish therapeutic goals; externalize unhelpful patterns; practice implementing new behaviors; and make healing steps towards integrating change. No previous theater experience is required. Shy people are welcome!
Group Details
Issues: Grief, Relationship Issues, And Self Esteem

Here is an example of a very specific type of art therapy group in Brooklyn at an art therapy center, which is ongoing, (Link: https://nycreativetherapists.com/burnout-prevention)
Typically therapists will have a waiting list for a closed group, so that when someone leaves the group, the people on the waiting list have an opportunity to join as it is an ongoing group. This group is specifically aimed at “helping Professionals”/healers, so the members are a very specific group with a lot in common, and the goals of the group are specific, but the ongoing nature of the group actually matches the purpose, as the idea of burnout prevention is that you need to continue self-care on a regular basis. Going to this type of ongoing group is an automatic way to implement burnout prevention by its very nature, sort of like my supervision group, as my supervision group is designed to have a ‘Burnout prevention” aspect embedded in the nature of the group, the art making with others.

Age: Adults
Ongoing Saturday Art Therapy Group
Preventing Burnout for Helping Professionals
Reduce the impact of secondary and vicarious trauma in one of our supportive art therapy groups or trainings. Content includes psycho-educational information on the symptoms of traumatic stress and concrete solutions, based on current literature, to resolving it. Designed for social workers, creative arts therapists, caseworkers, child life specialists, special Ed teachers, and other helping professionals working with challenging clients. Groups meet bi-weekly Accepting participants for our 3:30 group (the 1:00 group is closed to new members for now

The other interesting aspect of this group is that it states in its description that a psychoeducational component is a significant aspect of the group. Psychoeducation is often seen now as a useful aspect of working with traumatized people in therapy, so the psycho educational component of a group can be directly opposed to a loose, non-directive, natural group process approach. In this type of group, the members are ok with the therapist also being a kind of teacher and with being very aware of the interventions the therapist uses that are educational, versus other forms of therapeutic interventions.

The traditional model of group therapy involve a trust in group process and also a philosophy of having the therapist “meet the group where they are at”, so interventions involve the therapist pointing out ways that group members have themselves created a theme for the group. In other words, the therapist points out ways the members are connected, if the group members “miss” this crucial component. However, with this approach, the group drives the direction of the group and the content, whereas in psycho educational groups and very specifically focused groups, the therapist has a lot more control over the structure AND content of the group.

Perhaps this is the most significant aspect of the difference between the two types of groups. Not whether the group is ongoing or time limited or even the kind of topics addressed, but whether the content of the group is created almost completely by the group or by the prompt of the therapist’s description of what kind of group members s/he looks for the group, or whether the group is very structured in content, very “directive”, such that even discussion can be controlled by the therapist limiting people to certain topics or redirecting them to whatever the therapist has picked as the focus. So the role of the therapist in these two types of groups is very different, no matter what the “modality” (“talk/discussion”, art therapy, music therapy, etc.), and the role of the group members is different, even if both types of groups have the same goals.

Most likely the newer type of group will have different goals from the traditional type, as it is very specific and advertises itself as resulting in measurable changes for group members.

So, where is art therapy in all of this if it makes a difference to the main idea of this post? Art therapy by nature lends itself to any kind of group. An art therapy group may have a structure in terms of the art directive being very specific, even asked for by the group, so in that sense the directives are driven by the group needing a directive even if the therapist tends to have a non directive style, while at the same time group process may be very organic and group driven. This type of art therapy group could at the same time be run in the traditional group focused style, even if the time is structured by the therapist (i.e. Ten minute verbal “check-in” at beginning of group followed by art making and discussion group driven with a directive the group agrees on.) In a very focused group, the directive may involve specific materials but be less specific, however the role of the art therapist is completely different. S/he controls the topic of conversation/discussion, as well as the rest of the content of the group.

Interestingly both types of groups lend themselves to the therapist leading the group to being in the “here and now”. In the traditional group led process, the therapist may stop the group in its process to ask members to check in with what they are feeling in the moment about some interchange that has “arisen” from the group process, so in this format, the therapist is skilled at finding those “teaching moments” and skilled at mostly getting out of the way of the group while witnessing and sometimes steering them to the here and now.

In the focused format, the group members are aware that a great deal of the content of the group will be about the here and now. “Stories” and “personal narratives” will more likely arise through symbols in the artwork or something that comes up in a role-play etc.

Now, having written this very long meandering post, I think my original question is not what I am really concerned with answering, as I have sort of convinced myself in process of writing this that both types of groups have a lot of merit and usefulness.

I think the question I am asking myself is really more personal, the question that actually engendered the whole post: “What kind of art therapy group is now of interest to me that would be in sync with my current interests in art therapy and in connecting with others in a meaningful way? What would feed me? Am I in a very different place in my own journey than I was several years ago wanting to run an art therapy group in my private practice? Do I actually like, enjoy, learn and grow from the traditional structure of an “Insight oriented, ongoing group for individuals looking to increase self-awareness and ability to navigate interpersonal relationships” as quoted in the beginning of the post?

Or, am I interested in exploring something else? Something for me as an artist? Something for me as an art therapist?

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Writing 201 post: reflection: Word images

Dreaming, I was only dreaming, I wake and I find you asleep in the deep of my heart here… -Billy Holiday, Gloomy Sunday

But wait a bit, the oysters cried, before we have our chat, for some of us are out of breath and all of us are fat. “No hurry”, said the carpenter. they thanked him much for that.” -Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Although we can’t impose quiet on our mind, through meditation we can find the quiet that already exists in the space between our thoughts. Sometimes referred to as “the gap,” this space between thoughts is pure consciousness, pure silence, and pure peace. -Deepak Chopra

These images are from the “mind map” I learned about as part of the reflection piece assignment in WordPress’ class, “Writing 201” about blogging long form. As I’m a visual person this was the obvious jumping off point for me of the suggestions given…

Exploration: Words as Images and Words in Images. When words are in images like drawings, they become images. They are part of what your are looking at.

When I started making images, I felt finally liberated from the tyranny of words. It was spring semester 1989 at Harvard. All my life I had been imprisoned by words, mainly at school but also at home. Saying the right thing, winning the argument, memorizing words and remembering them correctly for reciting poems, for plays, for speech debates in the drama category, for all kinds of things that involved success at school, that was a huge part of my life up until that first day of Drawing Class. Writing words was the biggest part of the prison sentence: learning to write, writing tests, quizzes, exams, and most of all, especially in college, writing papers. The five page, ten page and longer papers. I was up to my next in words. Even the grades, A was the best word, A- a good word, Bs not great and I didn’t venture into the Cs.

When I randomly took my first drawing class at Harvard, Alfred DeCredico, visiting professor from Rhode Island School of Design, liberated me from words. It was a big class, and he noticed me and my drawings but probably forgot about me; however, his attention to my explorations in drawing, which he said in a strong accent of some kind was nothing more than “marks on paper” (mawks on paper) changed my world, turned me upside down and shook me up out of a sophomore year depression. If not for him and that class, I would not be making images and writing this blog post today, 25 years later.

Wow. I can make images of just marks, unrecognizable ones, and feel like a five year old watching her mom put my picture on the fridge in the form of the “class “critique, during which the teacher basically focused on “breaking” the real drawing experts in the class by talking about how tight, rigid and uninteresting their drawings were, and encouraged slobs like me by admiring my enthusiastic messes on paper. His Buddhist approach to drawing was evident in the first assignment, though at the time I new pretty much nothing about Buddhism. We were instructed to find about 12 twigs and put them together and make something and bring it to the next class. I don’t remember doing much with my twigs but enjoying the silliness of my homework being finding twigs and sticking them together while everyone else at Harvard was doing “serious” stuff. Everyone brought in their twig sculptures all excited to show them off, and he tore apart show and tell very simply: big pieces of paper and pots of black ink awaited us, and we were instructed to make marks using our twig sculptures. Impermanence, Destruction as necesary to Creation, and non-attachment – all in a big Drawing 101 class. it wasn’t even reminiscent of kindergarten, as I don’t think kindergarten was as fun!

It was that class that caused some deep buried part of me to wake up and ask,” Is this what real Artists do, and if so, am I actually allowed to do it for the rest of my life and tell people I’m an artist when they ask me what I’m going to do with my life?” My usual answer was something akin to, no just because I am majoring in Russian Lit doesn’t mean I am thinking about how to make money by doing something practical like “working for the United Nations or teaching or omething”. At age 18-23 nobody had gotten through to me about having to figure out how to make money, even though I had my first job in the summer of 84 working in Law Firm mailroom. Jobs were fun and strange things to do and tell people about, and nice to make money at, but I didn’t think they were the main part of life at all, and though I was naive and earnest, I think I was probably right in some way that I only now have come to.

The main point of this longwinded reminiscence besides explaining how I escaped words and permanently committed to pictures as my main activity of life, is to connect it to my arriving relatively recently at the idea of using words again but in pictures.

Well, blogging is a lot of words, but you can put images in your blog. You can put only images in your blog. What am I doing even writing a blog? My first blog involved comic strips, which still had words in them.

There is still an enthusiastic writer in me who writes this blog. Blogging is perfect for her, as she doesn’t have to make too much sense or organize thoughts coherently and wrap them in a nice bow; there are no grades or critiques,  only enthusiastic very nice readers who sometimes make constructive comments. She can trail off at the end without a conclusion paragraph and nobody cares.

My main question my last year at Harvard, taking a creative writing class and a basic painting class was: “Do I want to keep writing fictional stories, OR, do I want to keep making images? Though my writing teacher encouraged my and even gave me a cool beaded hat that I still have, Painting and Drawing, Image Making won out because they were just easier. Even Creative writing seemed to involve way too much thinking, editing and especially reasoning and “figuring out” the right words. I guess I discovered the Artist in me and she was the victor; she wanted to leave words behind and Make Images. She blazed ahead with an interest mostly in texture and materials and no words.

My first discovery of words as images was through collage, probably over ten years into my “career” as an Artist. I started out making lots of oil paintings and awkward drawings, and didn’t’ try collage until at least six years into my working as an artist. My deepest exploration was in the last ten years or so, using magazine words and words torn out of books, before I even knew what an altered book was. I also discovered tearing up music books and gluing music notes into my work, which was perhaps connected to my complete “forgetting” of how to read music and how to play the piano even though I played it from age 7 until end of high school.

Forgetting is discovery. It leads you down a rabbit hole into some kind of great archeological exploration. I have never had a good memory, and it finally is serving me in some way, in terms of discovery and exploration. Forgetting involves re experiencing things as though for the first time, and that is one of the key aspects of being an artist, what the Buddhists refer to as “Beginner’s Mind”…

Altering books has been a meandering intuitive process and has landed me back into the land of destruction and rewriting, in the form of turning books filled with words and sometimes pictures into art objects, usually using words as images here and there.

What I am now focused on is these journal drawings in which I write a word in the middle of the page and then turn the page into a drawing. This mind map suggested by Writing 101 as a way to gather ideas and connect thoughts for the reflection piece I am now writing seems to have  turned into a diagram/drawing of sorts.

The words in pink circled are the words I have already used in my journal drawings, some of which I have posted on this blog. The words in squares circled in orange are words I might use in drawings in the future and the words in blue are the ‘ideas” to write about in this piece. My “Blavatar” is from a drawing with the words “I AM”.

Writing words and coloring them in is something children do. They love asking us so called adults to make them “bubble letters”, so making the words in these drawings is of course lots of fun. The words usually come to me and if I like the word I do it and make the drawing. Some of the first ones were not in time order, Calm, Breathe, I Am, Whole, Play/Mess, Act, Nothing, Love, Awake, Stay…

A word in a drawing, I discovered, can connect me to meditation and mindfulness, or at least thoughts about the process. Quiet and Silence are there when I write the word, and my association to the word involves contemplation and no speech, no sound. Probably I have come to this partly for the reason that my childhood was not a quiet one, though an adventurous one as I travelled to many places, with a very talkative, loud, argumentative family headed by two people who met in law school (obviously not training to be quiet and forget words). However, one parent had parents who were musicians and got silence and contemplation through listening to classical music. This person, though a lawyer, did not like conflict or heated arguments and liked to retreat to the quiet of beautiful classical music.  This was the parent who expressed themselves through song and poetry, remembered from childhood, out loud, often in the middle of conversations. This was how I was led down the first rabbit hole, the one from Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, still my favorite books of all time: But wait a bit, the oysters cried, before we have our chat, for some of us are out of breath and all of us are fat.” “No hurry”, said the carpenter. They thanked him much for that.

Wait a bit, silence and quiet, the sound of the ocean, a pleasant walk upon the briny beach… Growing up in NYC there was somehow in the land of imagination a place to go filled with talking animals, a girl changing sizes and reciting nonsense, a mad tea party and all sorts of delights not connected to the bore of daily reality for a child. “Dreaming, I was only dreaming, I wake and I find you asleep in the deep of my heart here…” (Billy Holiday, Gloomy Sunday)

Create, Imagine, Imitate, Explore, Make, and Make Something New, Something that Never Existed. Be quiet in stillness. Find your breath. Find your heart, Find your body. Be in the Moment and Awaken from your slumber, your daytime slumber as you let the seconds, minutes, hours slip by. Are you Alive and Aware and Awake, or are you one of the walking dead? Can you feel the space between all the words? That space is the golden, magic enchanted land of imagination and of what reality is. It turns out when you go back to your own land, the one you invented at some point in childhood, the one that is “Unstruck”: ANAHATA, the seventh chakra of super consciousness, in that space of silence and purity, the gap between all words, you will find yourself and lose your Self, and there is the place open to all, the place of calm and peace, the place of awakening to yourself and your connection to all living creatures, to stones and rocks, to the rhythm of the ocean, to your own heartbeat.

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Is There a Right Way to Spell Hanukkah? Chanukah? Hannukah?

happy chanukah! that’s how I spelled it as a kid, when nobody put up menorahs in NYC; times have changed. Spell it however you want! The festival of lights: put a little light in your heart! Put a little love in your heart, whether you celebrate any holiday at all, or none. There is always room for more love to spread around, and it starts with me and you:” put a little love in your heart!” No I am not crazy, just drunk on Bill Murray’s ending monologue in the movie “Scrooged”! This is the first day of the rest of our lives…

TIME

It began last night at sunset: Hanukkah. Or is it Chanukah? Or Hannukah? Sometimes getting the proper spelling of a Hebrew word transliterated into English gets tricky, especially when far more than a trio of options prove technically correct. But if you don’t fall into the Hebrew-scholar category, what should you do?

With so many ways to correctly get the point of Hanukkah across, the proper spelling really turns into a matter of preference and mass appeal. If you want to fit in with the crowd, opt for the Hanukkah spelling, now the most widely used of the choices.

(MORE:Hanukkah 2011: Why the Holiday Is So Popular in America)

However, don’t forget Chanukah, the second most often used spelling and the favorite of traditionalists. Just how did Hanukkah‘s spelling become so popular and oust Chanukah atop the list? You can blame it on the ch

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Instructional Post for Writing 201: How to on Radical Self-Acceptance!

“It takes a really long time to realize this, but if you’re lucky you eventually see that you’ve got this life on this planet and you’re responsible for really loving yourself. And I mean really, really, really loving yourself. Love is never a corruption. I’m talking about loving yourself with a true love, a love that’s incorruptible and everlasting.”
― C. JoyBell C.

“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

What is radical self-acceptance? Really it is pretty simply exactly what those words mean. For something that easy, it is pretty hard for many adults to practice Radical Self-Acceptance.

Try saying out loud: “I accept myself completely as I am right now.” It sounds simple, but remember, it means you accept everything about yourself in this exact moment: your physical body, your emotional body, your mental, creative and spiritual bodies, not the way you might have looked or felt or been several years ago or as you think you “should be” right now or how you want to be in some future time. This means you accept your whole body, for example, you can’t just accept your head and pick apart which parts of your body are acceptable and what isn’t. It’s all or nothing. As one of my patients once told me, “You cannot receive something in parts or somewhat, you have to receive it completely or not at all.”

So the challenge is, can you receive yourself and accept yourself in this present moment, no matter what you are feeling, how you are looking, what is going on with you and your life. I posted a while back about this kind of self-acceptance. I took a piece I read about yoga “not caring”, which had a lot in it about yoga not caring what you know, how flexible you are, how you eat, etc., and turned it into a challenge to not “care” what state of affairs your life, body, career or lack thereof, apt or lack of home, family or no family, etc. is and to just care that you have showed up to your life in this moment. The link to the post is:
https://natashashapiroarttherapy.wordpress.com/2014/12/01/just-show-up-and-be-here-now-getting-through-difficult-times-like-the-holidays/

Here are a few of the sentences:
“I don’t care what color my skin is or what gender I choose to love or what gender or non gender I am. I don’t care about others’ appearance, sexual orientation, gender, etc. either. We all share similar struggles and pain.

I don’t care how much money I have, what house or space I live in, what car I drive, or if I have to live on the streets right now.

I don’t care what my apartment, house, living space etc. looks like right now. It doesn’t matter; what matters is that I am still here anyway.

I don’t care if I smoke cigarettes, drink, use substances that are illegal, eat too much, binge and purge, starve myself, or am addicted to sex or other things or whether I hoard things in my abode. I’m still here and I showed up to this new day and that is enough.

I don’t care if I am single, with someone, with several people, in a messy relationship, stuck in a difficult relationship or anything else.”

To take these ideas into radical self-acceptance, we would not use the words “I don’t care”, but instead, “I accept that…”. For example, I accept myself as I am right now, including what I am doing right now, even if I am drinking, smoking, binging. I accept myself as I am right now, that I live alone in a tiny apartment and am in terrible debt and unemployed. I still can accept myself as I am in this moment, even though I need to lose 20 pounds and my house is a mess…

I first read about the concept of “Radical Self-Acceptance” in a DBT workbook. DBT is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, first discovered and invented by Marsha Linehan.
Here is a link to a description of the concept: http://www.dbtselfhelp.com/html/radical_acceptance_part_1.html

Here is something from that article: “So what’s Radical Acceptance? What do I mean by the word ‘radical’? Radical means complete and total. It’s when you accept something from the depths of your soul. When you accept it in your mind, in your heart, and even with your body. It’s total and complete.

When you’ve radically accepted something, you’re not fighting it. It’s when you stop fighting reality. That’s what radical acceptance is.”

So there is the importance of sort of surrendering to the reality of yourself and your life as it is, not as you would like it to be. The word “Radical” may sound extreme but it is just the right word to really pin down this concept, the idea of complete and total acceptance.

There is this too: “Often when you’ve accepted you have this sense of letting go of the struggle. It’s just like you’ve been struggling and now you’re not. Sometimes, if you have accepted, you just have this sense of being centered, like you feel centered inside yourself somehow. ”

So as this article says, this is an interior process but I disagree that it is hard to describe, as it is really very simple. The sense of struggle versus letting go gets at it. It reminds me of the feeling you have when you tense up part or as much of your body as you can and then release. That moment of release is what this is about. Radical Self-Acceptance is a bodily sensation as well as a verbal affirmation. It is what goes on when you focus on your breathing in and out. When you let the breath out, you let go; that is what goes on with this process. Hold your breath for a few seconds, then release it. There is a kind of metaphorical holding of the breath that people engage in during times of stress. Studying for law school exams and saying, I will attend to my body and get a massage and relax after the exams. That is holding your breath till you’re done. Taking care of yourself while going through some kind of big stress like this is a kind of radical acceptance. Accepting that you have no control over what might happen tomorrow, much less a week from now in the exam room is part of this process, for example.

When you are not calm, not grounded, not relaxed, not liking yourself, not using “healthy coping skills”, that is a time to practice this kind of self-acceptance. I accept that I am a mess, that I messed up, that I was doing great at “fill in the blank”, not picking my skin, not binging and purging, not getting drunk, whatever, and now I’m back in the muck, out of control, disgusting, ashamed, whatever. BUT, I can just stop, breathe and accept myself even in this moment of complete “failure”.

I have sat with very smart, very put together, very successful adults and asked them to say the words, “I accept myself as I am in this moment, right now, completely.”, and had them respond that they cannot do it. I press them to just say it out loud even if they do not believe it. Just getting someone to say that out loud is a huge struggle; for some, it is way more challenging than doing stuff that seems impossible, they can run a marathon, write and publish a book, etc. etc., but to say those words can feel impossible. Say them anyway, say them as if your life depended on it, because in a way, it does.

What I love about the theory of the “Dialectic” in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, is the idea of two opposing things being true at the same time inside a person. That includes radical self-acceptance alongside the desire to change behaviors. It turns out you can’t change much until you completely accept yourself as you are now, in the bad, unchanged messy state. You can feel sad and self hateful and want to die and still accept yourself right now, and it is the only route to ever living at all.

Radical Self-Acceptance happens right now, but it is also a work in progress. I can say that I radically accept myself as I am now, and most of me not believe it and say it isn’t true, but when I say it, it is true.

It is 11:11. I should have done my yoga practice and be getting ready to go to sleep. I should have written this article last week as it is not this week’s assignment. I haven’t done the first assignment, the interview yet. My mouth tastes lousy and I should brush my teeth. I think I missed going to the dentist and probably haven’t flossed enough. Now that I focus on it, my teeth are too yellow. My body feels uncomfortable from eating too much heavy food a few hours ago. I am behind on some bills and not budgeting. That could lead me to my issues with money. There’s the graphic novel I started in 2000, 14 years ago, and ten pages of it that I misplaced in my own house/apt. I won’t go to the apartment and what kind of state it is in right now, versus how it should look. There’s my studio too, in disarray. I could go on and on about all the ways I am disorganized, not good enough, my little private addictions, like shopping for stuffed bunnies and old Betsey Johnson jewelry on Ebay, during a month when I am buying holiday gifts and have no business buying crap for myself. I will say, I accept myself anyway, as messed up as I could portray myself. I am vain about my hair, but I accept that it doesn’t look like it did ten years ago, and I accept my gray hair and my age.

None of this stuff matters. What matters is that I am trying to accept myself anyway, just like the rest of humanity. I still mostly can believe in my own inner goodness, good intentions, caring, alongside my grandiosity and selfishness, petty jealousies, etc.

I accept myself completely as I am right now. Can you say this too? Of course you can! Just do it, just say it. Look in the mirror and say it every day.

Small Works Group Exhibition at the 440 Gallery!

It is a great feeling to see one of one’s artworks up on a gallery wall, whether with others by other artists in a group show or in a solo show. This was a juried art show. I submitted multiple pieces. The juror chose the artists and one piece from each artist, which is one way to approach a group show like this where the common thread is Small Works (under 12 x 12 inches).

I am including other work that I liked at the show that was hanging near my piece in the less crowded room. It is also great to be in a group show with others and enjoy other people’s work and get a chance to see what’s going on outside my artist brain!

Here are some photos from the show:
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