The Therapist Profile: Reflections

Writing my profile for websites for therapists, such as psychologytoday.com, has always been a challenge for me. With each new website, I’ve discovered new clearer ways to answer the questions about my work. It’s hard to put into words my practice and approach and how I might be the kind of therapist you would work well with. I definitely look at other people’s profiles for inspiration, more to see how they word things, if they start with questions, what kinds of phrases they use that seem to be really clear  than to paraphrase. My profile is unique and I explain art therapy in the way I think of it from how I experience working as an art therapist, but I’m still not too satisfied with it. It’s an ever evolving process for me, so I’ve often changed my profile on psychologytoday.com (the Main Encyclopedia of psychotherapsits), when I am in the process of putting it on it  other websites.

I’ve recently joined the relatively new website and community of healers/doctors/providers, lighthouselgbt: Safe Space for LGBTQ + Wellness. The first part of the Lighthouse Profile defines the space and providers in this way: “We are a group of NYC based providers who have devoted our careers to caring for LGBTQ+ patients.” This is the link if you’d like to check out the website: https://www.lighthouse.lgbt

I am very excited to be part of the Lighthouse community, especially right now with the political climate we are forced to endure. It is more than ever important to find your “tribe(s)”, no matter whether virtual or “real world”. As an extreme introvert, I need meaningful soul to soul  person to person connections with other like minded open tolerant curious and out of the box people, including in my work as an art therapist. (I have yet to find a group of artists/writers/galleries/publishers/creative professionals that feeds me. Here I am in NYC and the NY Art World is not for me at all, but I’ve never quite found something. I do have plenty of friends whose careers involve creativity and the “arts”, and social media places to share my work, but it is not quite a real community of people for me. I’m hopeful I will find this eventually. I put this in parentheses because it is a whole other topic to explore that is on my mind lately.)

Identity: “Who am I and what am I about?” is a lifelong voyage of discovery. I’m a work in progress. The longer I live, the clearer I am at articulating who I am in whatever sphere of life, and then I’m able to look back and see how I’ve always been this way and are just in process of becoming more fully who I am, constantly evolving. I am passionate about evolving and becoming increasingly aware of ways that I want to present myself to the world more accurately. Whenever I have an “Ah ha” moment, I realize this was who I was even back when I was a 7 year old just being me, without as many barriers to being able to be myself. I understand when my clients report that they have bravely forayed into proclaiming their discovery of their gender or something else and gotten reactions of “you never said this before. You’re not this and that so how is it you say you are this (gender, career, creative mode of expression.) It can be as simple as “But you’re a performer, youre not a visual artist.” “You’ve always been “xyz”. Even, “You should talk to your parent. They are so nice or they are your family.” Someone has gotten to the point of taking a brave stand and boundary with an abuser and doesn’t always get this validated; in fact often people devalue whatever you’re proclaiming. I recently read someone’s essay about their identity as an asexual person and what it is about for them. The comments were downright nasty, some insinuating that you can’t say you’re asexual because you had sex in that relationship or you’re talking about having sex, so you’re not asexual. I’m happy that now there is a phrase, “the asexual spectrum”, which was invented to explain especially to such limited bullying individuals that being asexual is not that simple and only works when not a label slapped on someone.

I can say that most of the barriers I have had to being myself have been self created, but maybe I woulnd’t have created these barriers to radical full self acceptance and standing fully in the light if the world were a lot safer and more openminded and accepting.

“Be yourself. Everybody else is taken.”As I wrote that I think of Oscar Wilde’s words in a way I haven’t before. The two sentences are kind of a dialectic in the sense that being yourself involves having to define yourself in relation to other humans because we use language, verbal and non verbal, to express or hold back who we are. We can’t get out of the aspect of self acceptance that involves negating a sort of “norm” communicated to us by society and their constructs and clarifying taking space as unique and beyond the norm. There should be no “box” to be inside of or outside of in any arena of life; of course that is a fantasy. Imagine being born into a world where gender was a spectrum, where polyamory, monogamy and a romantic approaches and of were all just choices like the color of a t shirt and that your shape, size and color of your skin were seen like a box of magic markers. You wouldn’t need to focus on what you are not and what does not resonate with you as who you are. There would be freedom to be and freedom to play. My challenge: “What gender are you today?” which was the main focus of my last art show, “#Bathroom Art Only” would be like deciding on a cereal for breakfast. Some people want the same breakfast every day; others want different things or no breakfast, or have the same breakfast for years and at age 37 decide to have a completely new breakfast. It would be the ideal of “live and let live”, “whatever floats your boat” and the maxim would be “Be yourself. Be free to be yourself. Be free to evolve and change in your concept of yourself.” with no need to refer to others.

There is a therapy phrase, “ego syntonic” and another one “ego distonic”. I like these phrases because they get to the heart of self acceptanc, self worth and learning how to navigate an unsafe unpredictable world we all have to live in. Something is ego syntonic if it is in sync with who you are and your values and aspirations, like when you put on a t shirt and it fits you in size as well as what it looks like and what kind of t shirt it is. Jobs can be seen in this way. If you are working at a job that is deadening you and feels like it’s not what you want to do or the people you work with are people you would not choose to be around, the job is ego distonic. When I worked cleaning the house of a science fiction writer in the summer during college, it was ego syntonic because he was nice and weird and non critical and paid me cash and the job was temporary; a job doesn’t have to be on your career path to be ego syntonic; it just needs to match who you are and your wants and needs. Same with any relationship. Therapy for example. If you feel comfortable with your therapist for whatever reasons and that there are minimal blocks in the way of your accomplishing your therapy goals created by the therapist, or even if the therapist has done so and you are able to address it, then the therapeutic realtinoship is ego syntonic; at certain points in therapy, it can be very therapeutic for you to notice and tell your therapist that they have said or done something that was not ok with you. Then you have an opportunity for the therapist to adjust/correct and you are improving your communication in important relationships and growth occurs. Often we discover what is ego syntonic by experiencing something as ego distonic. That’s the “everybody else is taken.” part of the dialectic. It means asking “Is this for me or for the other person?” “Am I ok with this or am I now not ok with it even if I was in the past?” “Is this something I want now in my life or not?” “How does this serve my growth or impede it?” The more you can clarify what is ego distonic, you also clarify what is ego syntonic. The process is unique for each person.

As an artist and person who has a deep need to approach life creatively and express myself creatively, I have always been someone who tries many of the t shirts on, or has different breakfasts every day. I like to shape shift and morph and copy and try on things; I learn best by watching how someone does something and trying it out, but reshaping it to do it my way. I don’t learn well by being told what to do in a rigid way or being told what I did wrong. My college was ego syntonic to the way I learn and the kinds of people I needed to find for my life, so I was able to grow as a person during thpse important years. I like seeing diversity and experiencing diversity, as I am easily bored and like the new. At the same time I don’t gravitate towards situations involving meeting new people in a social context. As a therapist I enjoy meeting new clients because I am curious and interested in how unque and fascinating each person’s inner life, identity and approach to life is. As an artist, I often try out new things and then in that process, keep repeating something I’ve stumbled upon. With drawing especially, it involves looking at other people’s drawings or images; to draw musical instruments for my Warrior Series, I looked up musical instruments from other cultures, especially middle eastern and African.

Using the line from Annie Hall comparing relationships to sharks, as an artist I need to be like a shark, constantly moving. The dialect between me the artist and me the art therapist is being the shark and the snail. As a therapist I slow down and stay with whatever the client brings in to explore and process.

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The New Mid Life Crisis

What is a mid life crisis? Everyone thinks of some middle aged guy with a receding hairline in a red Porsche having an affair with a 20 year old when they here the phrase.

Well, we’ve come a long way baby, since those backwards days. Now your gender doesn’t matter, it’s age that does. It doesn’t have to be about feeling physically past your prime either.

Maybe being 40-45 used to be when people had this “syndrome”. Now it could happen to you in your late 30’s, early to late 40’s or 50’s. Whatever feels mid life to you.

You don’t have to leave your spouse or disappear or find a new identity. You don’t have to spend tons of money on something stupid that is supposed to represent your last threads of holding on to your youth.

What is a mid life crisis? My definition is, you reach an age in your life, where you start looking back on your life, and wondering, sometimes regretting, sometimes wishing, sometimes scared to death. Usually it sinks in that you have less days ahead of you than behind you (I just heard that one, and it shook me). Even if you think you may live to 100, you have an equal number of days ahead of you than behind you, or you feel the weight of whatever many years are behind you and the time ahead of you looms as time you don’t want to waste, time you want to do something that makes you feel alive.

If you’re even thinking in terms of days you’ve spent that are over and days you have got left, you’re probably in the land of the Mid Life Crisis.

So it starts or is defined by a sense of urgency, thinking about your life as limited, ta a thinking about your death and what you did, could have done, could be doing, could do, might miss forever if you don’t do it now.

The actions that go with this self conception, the “red Porsche”, can take many forms. It may seem mild to some, getting a tattoo, changing your hair, going on a trip, taking trapeze or tango lessons, sky diving or bigger things, moving, spending a lot of money on something, whether a house, a car, a swimming pool, a horse, or picking some collection of books to read you never were interested in before. Its could be crazier, starting a drug habit, doing stuff that you always thought were “against the rules”…

There are other types of actions that are not so “bucket list” like things. Changing careers, suddenly realizing you want to run a bed and breakfast instead of working in a big city. Taking up some creative activity nobody thought you were interested in.

What do you think of when you think of Mid Life Crisis? What have you done or seen others do? To be continued…

Mission Accomplished: Art Therapists Are the Experts!

An Art Therapist Explains Why Justin Bieber Needs Coloring Books

Yes! Mission accomplished!!!

My biggest complaint about the media and art therapy is that they need to interview art therapists as experts when art making is involved. Too often I see an article where a psychologist is looked upon as the expert to explain people’s pictures. They ain’t the experts. We are, and we need to be the first ones out there. We need to be on more talk shows and all the stuff the psychologists do, and we’re on the way to getting in people’s living rooms and in their Twitter and other feeds.

For me, that’s the goal; get the general population to know about the existence of art therapy, by all means necessary. That means television, magazines, newspapers, articles, Youtube, all social media.

Now that we have the best adult coloring book out there: The Real Art Therapists of NY Coloring Book (https://nycreativetherapists.com/real-art-therapists), we need it to be sold in airports and supermarkets, Walmart, Target, Whole Foods, Duane Reade!

So check out this article in Vice and read Nadia Jenefsky’s take on Justin Bieber coloring as well as what he colored and how.

As art therapists, we are trained to look at images and pictures, and we know how to translate and explain them. We are trained in understanding what makes people drawn to certain materials and images, verbal and non-verbal communication. We make our own images, and we get other people not just to make images but we invite people who haven’t touched paint or other materials since they were 5, to get back the joy of art making and get in touch with their creativity, whether it’s cooking, gardening, sports, writing, coloring, sky diving, etc. Art therapy is not just about making stuff in therapy. Art therapy is about creative environments, connecting with others…

That is what it is really about, connecting on small and large scale, so this article is at the forefront of raising awareness of Art Therapy and who the expert art therapists are!

Trump Trauma or Trump Overdose?New DSM 5 Disorder

This comes from my own personal experience. Others with this illness, you are not alone! (Stay tuned for post on more severe illness, Trump Psychosis)
New DSM 5 Disorder for OCD or Trauma Chapter, possibly a specific form of PTSD:
Name: Trump Trauma or Trump Overdose, specify whether co occurring with Trump Psychosis
Age: 5 years to 99 years
Symptoms: One or more of the following, occurring at least 3 times/week:
(specify severity: mild, moderate, severe)
1. Trump in any form triggers somatic responses such as nausea, vomiting, digestive issues  
2. Trump in any form triggers responses such as revulsion in form of anxiety, panic, depersonalization, hopelessness and/or depressive outlook.
3.Inability to control obsessive thinking about not wanting to think about Trump and/or experiencing intrusive thoughts/images about Trump.
4. Nightmares about Trump and/or feeling of being in a nightmare while awake. Knowing that you’re not delusional about waking nightmare:
5. Compulsion: Feeling not in control of contact with social media about Trump and spending 20 minutes or more of your day in a Trump Trance writing posts or commenting or reading about Trump while being aware of not wanting to do so. 
6. Paranoia: after other symptoms get triggered, believing there’s something wrong with you or that you’re crazy to have such symptoms/reactions.
7. Frequent Violent fantasies you can’t control about physically assaulting, disfiguring and/or killing Trump or Trump dying sometimes accompanied by brief feeling of euphoria that often triggers subsequent descent into depression.
8.Frequent Violent fantasies regarding sources of info about Trump (usually in form of physically assaulting/destroying TV, Computer or Smartphone, specify whether danger to others)
9. Frequent fantasies about living on another planet, belief and/or realization that you are from another planet if this knowledge further triggers other symptoms. (see treatment)
Treatment/Cure:

1. Cure: Trump somehow disappears. Symptoms should be gone in a few days.

2. Trump gets out of the race. Symptoms will immediately subside, may linger a few weeks.

3. Person with this disorder finds any way to return to their planet and reduce greatly contact with planet earth. Taking a substantial amount of aliens chosen carefully is also a great option. Not a complete cure due to memories of Trump situation and concern for planet Earth.

Treatment for chronic condition:

  1. recognizing you have this disorder and you’re not crazy helps reduce paranoid symptoms while also triggering symptoms if you get reality check through search engine or social media

2. Talking about moving to other countries and picking what country/looking at homes there can help reduce symptoms. Focusing on that country or any other as a safe space may also reduce symptoms.Cure: Trump magically disappears or .gets out of the race.

3. Avoidance of exposure to Trump will reduce symptoms. Tracking time in day that you are symptom free gives hope for recovery. (Trump Disorder tracking App coming soon.)

Medication: Klonopin and similar anti-anxiety medication may help reduce symptoms and other medications of this type may make you so drowsy you forget about him for a while. Any medication proven to reduce nightmare frequency.

Course of illness: whether treated or untreated, will worsen with time. Possible extreme severity can cause another disorder: Trump Psychosis.

My Fantasy Candidate!

My recipe for Presidential Candidate Frankenstein:

Take a cup of Obama’s brain and calmness under pressure, 5 pounds of his great connection with children and a few cups of his speaking ability from 2008, throw in 2 tablespoons of Hillary’s memory for details and 1/2 cup of her matching color suits, maybe a few teaspoons of her foreign policy savvy, a sprinkle of Bernie’s passion for the people and pound of his crusty curmudgeon personality, a pinch of Trump’s confidence/narcissicm with none of his crazy opinions in them, Katich’s creepy ability to seem nice but not his horrible policies I just read about, ok, that’s about it of the “real choices”: while we are at it, how bout a bushel of Bloomberg’s leadership and business savvy, add the charisma, youth, athletic abilities and Renaissance man talents of my daughter’s imaginary candidate Garo, and a shit ton of je ne said quoi, then throw in 77 pounds of everything missing that we desperately need that none of the real/potential/imaginary candidates have:
voila, Presidential Material!

David Bowie, Thank You

“Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful (wonderful)”:

This morning I woke up to the news of David Bowie’s death. A heavy loss for his family and for the world. For me personally, it is more than sad. I feel like a brilliant light has been blown out, too soon. I can’t describe everything I am grateful for that David Bowie inspired for me. I want to write and post this today to honor him, so I will try to keep it short and organized…

David Bowie was/is one of the most important creative Public Figures in my life and my life as an artist. Before I had an idea of becoming anything, much less a visual artist, I loved Bowie. I first discovered and embraced everything I found about him while in first years of high school. It would not be crazy to say that he and Katherine Hepburn, another big love of mine, also a gender non comforming rebel, helped me enormously on an emotional level to survive a turbulent, confusing, sometimes lonely, amazing and crazy time of life. During the adolescent years when we are going through crazy transformations and trying to figure out who  the hell we are, these two icons in similar and different ways spoke to me and inspired me, not to make art, but to dare, to stay on earth, to discover and adventure, to embrace my uniqueness and weirdness.

As there was no internet in the 80’s, I had these two shining examples of people who said yes to T. S. Eliot’s question: “DO I dare disturb the universe?” On my senior high school yearbook page, I had that quote and Bowie’s: “We can be heroes, just for one day.”

I could continue about how David Bowie got me through some rocky times of confusion and contortion, but I wanted to say more just through his words, as I loved his way with words, whether lyrics or just things he said that came from him, in interviews, casually. I’m assembling a few from today, in memories, and including some things I just found today that speak to me and my history:

“He took it all too far, but boy could he play guitar.” -from Ziggy Stardust

 “I GLIT from one thing to another a lot…It’s like “flit”, the 70’s version.” I found this gem from his  Dick Cavett interview that speaks to the parts of me that are interested in any random thing and quickly bored and moving to something else shiny and new.

“Being an artist of any kind …a social dysfunction… An extraordinary thing to want to do… “-said to Charlie Rose in answer to some kind of question about creativity and craziness

:He’ll think about paint and he’ll think about glue,
What a jolly boring thing to do.” (and the whole song, Andy Warhol) One of my favorite of his songs. This goes through my head all the time, and sums up a lot of my days spent enjoying things like new scissors, glue, a new kind of paint, brush pens, any discovery of a magic art supply.

This is just a taste of the biggest part of his message for me, about being true to who you are, and accepting yourself and really celebrating your uniqueness.

My favorite Bowie song in high school was “Rock and Roll Suicide”, the last of the Ziggy Stardust album/concert footage. It’s not about suicide really; what spoke to me was the verses about not being alone. Growing up is often a lonely scary process for many of us…

Oh no love! you’re not alone
You’re watching yourself but you’re too unfair
You got your head all tangled up but if i could only
Make you care
Oh no love! you’re not alone
No matter what or who you’ve been
No matter when or where you’ve seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain
You’re not alone

The last verse of that song is what I will end with. I have in my mind the image of Bowie as Ziggy Stardust leaning down and holding the hands of the outstretched audience. A beautiful image of connection. Ziggy Stardust at least for me was a complex person/persona and felt like a friend, not an aloof outer space creature actually:

Just turn on with me and you’re not alone
Let’s turn on with me and you’re not alone (wonderful)
Let’s turn on and be not alone (wonderful)
Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful (wonderful)
Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful (wonderful)
Oh gimme your hands.

Thank you, David Bowie, for all your gifts to us, from the bottom of my heart…

Poem: Accepting the Donald Trump within Me

Time is running out. I have to accept my own Donald Trump before he takes over and actually does something really stupid.

Trump loves whatever he says.

He doesn’t think before talking.

He loves attention. (I think my Trump is writing this poem.)

He loves to say crazy things and not agree with them the next minute.

He thinks he is really unique and worships himself.

He doesn’t like playing by the rules.

Hmmm. Sounds familiar.

My inner assistant Angie is keeping him in line

Angie knows when to say to my Trump:

“Shut the Fuck Up!”