Being Authentic to Myself and Others, Both as an Artist and a Therapist

It is not easy to be honest with oneself, to confront strengths and weaknesses, to take off the masks and see ones’ true Self and be authentic to oneself as well as others.

What does this really mean? I read something recently about “right speech”, as in mindful speech. One key is to ask yourself if what you are saying to yourself or anyone else is “true”, “kind”, and/or “necessary”. We may not always be able to do all three, but I think it is a safe bet that if you are aware of at least two of these, what you are saying is more likely to be authentic and “real”.

What are we all doing on this planet? What is life truly about? What is meaningful and how do we spend our brief time on earth in as meaningful and authentic a way as possible. What does it mean to contemplate your life’s “purpose”? I think these questions are important ones at every age and stage of life.

I am at a turning point in my life, which I have realized more through the process of really contemplating the passage of time and the new year. In my process with my patients of joining some of them in writing down what we are ready to let go of from last year and what we are wanting to focus on and embrace in this new year, I have learned that I want to be more true to who I am, and more authentic to myself and others. I read a great blog post about how therapists often put a lot of “baloney” and fakeness in their public profiles and even the photo can be hiding more than revealing. I think the patients over the years who have confronted me about what I am about and what I have to offer. Sometimes being a bad fit with a patient can teach you a lot about what and who you are as a therapist and person and what your limitations are.

It is always strange to come to an awareness about myself, I have found, as usually it hits me over the head and then I say, “wow, this is so obvious, how come it has taken me so long to figure this out. what kind of fool have I been, etc.”

Maybe the truth about getting older is that you come to see more what you are about and what you have to offer as a human, a parent, a family member, a partner, an artist, a therapist, etc. How can you have self-acceptance without being real about who you are.

This blog post I mentioned above: https://girlintherapy.wordpress.com/2015/01/03/dear-potential-therapist/, as well as the reflections on the passing of the old year and the coming of the new year actually led me to look long and hard at my therapist profile on Psychologytoday.com, the sort of Yellow Pages of therapists website. I had an ok photo, but I updated it to reflect that I am older and do look older, as much as I may be vain about my hair and like it better in the older photo. Then I rewrote my personal statement, trying to follow some of the advice of Girl In Therapy, to avoid a lot of intellectual garbage and boring explanations, and take a risk and show something of the Real Me, that my patients all see anyway. And to make it more personal. I may not have shared my interest in Chakra and Tarot and other things, but I talked about my tea, as the first thing you will be asked when you come to my studio office after the preliminary greetings, is, “Would you like a cup of tea?”

I thank my colleague Nadia Jenefsky at ArtSpa (https://nycreativetherapists.com) for many years ago introducing me to the idea of sharing tea with whoever comes to the studio, when I went to her first office for the first time, probably about 8 years ago, and she offered me tea. (FYI, for those interested, they are having their 8th annual Open House at ArtSpa on January 16, 6:30-8:30pm so if you’re in Williamsburg, I recommend visiting, quoting their invite: “Try your hand at art therapy. Dabble in drama therapy, Eat good cheese. Drink a little wine. Network the old fashioned way—in person!
Every year for the past eight years, we have welcomed friends, colleagues, and other Willliamsburg business owners to make themselves at home in our creative arts therapy studio. We hope that you will join us in anticipation of a healthy, happy New Year.” Knowing my colleagues there, I am happy to say that they have a great thing going on there, really unique in the field of creative arts therapy, so I am always glad to send people their way!)

I lived in Japan for two years when I was 11 for fourth and fifth grade, and that was when I learned/discovered the ritual of tea and that drinking tea with others is a lot more than just sharing a hot drink on a cold day. Tea has always been associated with ritual, connection and camaraderie, with the sharing of current news of your life with another person. It’s cosy, full of variety, warming on a cold winter day and cooling on a hot day. From collecting teas and being given great new teas, I have developed an array of flavors of herbal non caffeinated teas as well as a supply of a variety of green and black teas. For a long time, I saved tea bags, and collected and displayed them all around my studio with dolls I had made. I was inspired by seeing art made on tea bags, and I have used tea bags in my art, from gluing them onto canvas, including them in altered books, painting them, adding them to dolls, even gluing tea bags together to form a doll’s body.

Anyway, that blog post got me thinking that when people see your profile on psychology today, they want to see what you really look like and what you are about. This makes sense as all the studies on the effectiveness or lack thereof of therapy point to the fact that people feel they are comfortable with their therapist and making progress in their therapy when they feel good about their therapist and actually “like” their therapist. Everything seems to point to it being NOT as some would think about what you studied, what your “approach” is, whether you are psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral or “eclectic”, but just how the patient feels coming to your office and sitting sharing with you for the session time. Of course one’s training and education and professionalism are all important, but the human element is too.

So here is what I put in my new revised profile. Let me know what you think. 2015 for me is all about taking risks and trying to be braver, so even if I fell on my face or went too “out there”, I am happy to be trying hard to be as authentic and true to myself as possible.

As an artist, it is easy to be myself, because I just make my art and let it come from my creative place and I follow where it wants to go. I love making stuff because it is such a free and playful process. I hope I can be more free and playful in other areas of my life as well!

Here is the link to my profile: http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/name/Natasha_Shapiro_ATR-BC,LCAT_New+York_New+York_65057

This is what I said:
We all have a creative spirit within us; I strongly believe that depression anxiety and other imbalances are fundamentally a wound in the creative spirit. Art therapy with me involves our embarking together on a journey to find and nurture your creative spirit; we may make art together; we may talk about what’s missing in your life and reconnect to your life force energy and find images within you. The journey is yours. I can help you find your true self and open up to awareness, self discovery and self acceptance.
Art therapy includes a variety of approaches It is useful for exploring emotional issues as well as other goals and relationship challenges. Mindfulness, sitting with yourself and being in the here and now, is one important key to growth and increased self awareness.
When you come to my studio office, I will offer you a cup of hot tea in winter and mixed flavor herbal ice tea in summer. I have collected all kinds of teas and believe in the sharing of tea! Also, I love to work with culturally, ethnically diverse clientele.

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Skipped last week’s post; some more questions about the stigma of mental illness…

I have been trying to post weekly so I was due to post on or around May 23, but obviously missed it!

I began a new topic, mental illness and stigma and society’s assumptions about mental illness, especially the common connecting violence and mental illness, which is disturbing to me, as I have treated and continue to treat so many people with various types of mental illness, including substance related issues, and there are so many people out there suffering from these issues who have never acted violently at all.

There is a lot of controversy right now about guns and what kinds of evaluations people should undergo before acquiring a gun. I am not pro guns in general, and my thoughts about this are that, if wonderful people who want to adopt a child have to undergo terrible stressful and traumatizing scrutiny to become parent(s), why should it be so much easier for any individual to just march into a store and acquire a gun? This is lopsided. Many people with mental illnesses are great parents.

In addition, there is the question, if you are diagnosed with a mental illness, does that mean you should be barred from owning a gun? Does it depend on the mental illness or severity of it? Who is to judge? Many people with “sociopathic” personalities are very good at “functioning” and passing as “normal”. Is it more likely that a person with sociopathic traits would be a danger if s/he owned a gun than someone with, say, a depressive disorder?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. However, I do think that if you want to own a gun, just like a prospective adoptive parent, you should undergo having visits from social workers to your house and should experience at least the same amount of scrutiny as these individuals who want a child so desperately.

And what if you have a mental illness and want to adopt a child? I’m not sure how hard that is, but just look at this “yahoo” website post and read the comments below it. I’m citing it to show that random people on the internet think very quick judgments about mental illness and fitness for parenting. There are a variety of comments in the comments section, a few supportive and trying to give the individual asking some answers and support, and some very harsh judgmental comments. It is sad to see that because there are so many more people wanting to adopt than kids to adopt, the “background checks” may cause agencies to be prejudiced against people with mental illness adopting kids if they have such a range of “choices”…
Here is the link:
http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20120129172953AAV7qgj