Interview About My Art Therapy Career!

Interview About My Art Therapy Career!

I am very excited to announce that the first of a two part interview that took place in my studio/office with art therapist Victoria Scarborough is now online at the above link! The interview is about how I started out in the field, my past experience, my present experience and current projects I am working on, as well as how I balance being an artist with being an art therapist. As on this blog, there is some personal information in it, in case you don’t want to know too much about me. (ie. patients out there and former patients and others, only read it if you don’t mind knowing a bit about how my personal life impacts my professional life…)

I will announce on this blog when she posts Part 2 of the interview.

The Pregnant Therapist, Continued! Part 3: What Little Info Is Out There Still!

This is my third post on this topic. I am planning to put together some kind of workshop for therapists that will be about the very particular experiences in therapy for both therapist and patients regarding the pregnancy of the therapist. In my experience, there is very little preparation, actually maybe none, for the female therapist regarding how to manage the very unique experience of pregnancy, especially those experiencing it for the first time. In my personal experience, it was never discussed in my grad school program, although, actually, while I was in grad school, one of my classmates got pregnant and went to her internship during the beginning and middle of her pregnancy. She had her baby after we graduated, but I have some vague memories of her sharing some of her experience with us. At the time, pregnancy and babies were not in my radar or future plans, so I did not retain many memories of what her experience was like, besides that there was nothing in the curriculum about it, and besides one woman with teenage children, she was probably the only person in the class about to be a mom.

Anyway, I did find two helpful books that I read while pregnant. Both were not recently published. I don’t know where they are in my bookshelves, but I think they were the following two that I found on Amazon after a big search:

First one was published in 1994: The Therapist’s Pregnancy: Intrusion in the Analytic Space, by Sheri Fenster, Suzanne B. Phillips and Estelle R. G. Rapoport

The other one was: Awaiting the Therapist’s Baby: A Guide for Expectant Parent-Practitioners, by April E. Fallon and Virginia Brabender, published in 2002

A quick google search just now (2012!) did not produce much besides the first book mentioned and a short blog post on Psych Central: http://blogs.psychcentral.com/unplugged/2010/07/the-pregnant-therapist/

So this short post simply reveals that this is a very important topic for women therapists who are curious about the topic even if they are not sure they want a child, or thinking about becoming mothers, of actively trying to get pregnant, or pregnant right now and experiencing the “intrusion” in the “analytic space” or therapeutic space as I prefer to call it.

On the one hand, I am happy to have stumbled on a topic that is very relevant for therapists and patients of pregnant therapists, yet not a very popular topic that has been written about exhaustively. Seems like there is plenty to say about it, and not much that has been written since 2002, ten years ago! The first book which is probably more well known, is way out of date, as it was published almost twenty years ago!

In posting about this topic, I am curious to hear people’s experiences both as therapists and patients. In addition, since my pregnancy, I have worked with pregnant patients as well as patients who are thinking about having kids and for one reason or another know that I have been through it, and found that to be an interesting experience. I had one therapist patient who went through my pregnancy with me, came back after my maternity leave and then got pregnant and went through her pregnancy with me, leaving therapy to have her baby. I also have worked with patients who came to therapy due to the loss of miscarriage and seen some of them get pregnant and work with me through their pregnancy. I have also had patients who have gone through the experience of abortion and processed this experience with me, a whole different but very important topic as well, as it can be a lonely difficult experience in which the person needs a lot of support for various reasons, especially the often secrecy of this process, in which a woman often does not want her family to know and only tells a few people…

I have also since having my own child been a close witness to colleagues who have gotten pregnant and experienced the “before” and “after” of private practice, in which your caseload goes through a lot of upheaval in terms of patients who stay through your pregnancy and return after the birth, patients who leave in the midst of your pregnancy, and patients who stay up to your leave and then do not return. Of course, how a patient leaves therapy in the course of a pregnancy and birth can be very important, just as it is in general. Having someone process why they are leaving and terminate in a more healthy manner is very different from some abrupt terminations, and some that come with no communication whatsoever. By chance I had a few patients who were moving out of NY during the time when I was pregnant and left before I had the baby. The termination was the more natural kind with a lot of time to process the person’s leaving therapy due to moving and their feelings about leaving as well as feelings about “missing” the opportunity to work with me after the birth, which they were all curious and slightly sad about in addition to the other feelings around termination… One of my patients had been processing a lot about whether she wanted to be a mother or not and had a lot of ambivalence about it. She found it helpful to see me go through the pregnancy and share some of the experience with her before her move. She subsequently sent me a very nice package with a hand made gift for me and several baby gifts. In addition, she emailed me a couple of years later to share her announcement of her own pregnancy and the birth of her first baby. Of course this was especially meaningful and I was thankful to find out about her decision and happiness about becoming a mother…

So there are many aspects to this experience for both therapists and patients. I found it an odd synchronicity that for some odd reason, before my pregnancy in my private practice, I do not remember working with a mother although I may have had a few patients with kids that I forgot about; I do remember working with a father of teenage girls, with whom I did discuss parenting, especially the particular experience of being a father of teenage girls. I actually used my own experience as a teenager to reflect with him upon the particular challenges he was dealing with. Once I became a mother, I started working with more patients who were pregnant, trying to get pregnant as well as people who were already mothers.

Is This Art My “Art Therapy” Art or my “Artist ‘Real'” Art?

This post is probably mostly of interest to other art therapists and those who are curious about art therapy and its connection to “Real Art” or “Fine Art”. There is also a big topic of “High” Art vs. “Low” Art and so called Outsider Art vs. “Fine” Art… Labels labels labels. We like labels when they help us define and differentiate, and we don’t like them so much when they limit us…

So, to begin with, for people who don’t know much about “art therapy” or “art psychotherapy”, there are usually two roads to becoming an art therapist, or two “Main” roads. One is the person who majored or minored in Psychology or took a bunch of psychology classes in colleges and got interested in becoming some kind of therapist. This person finds out about art therapy and realizes s/he also has a creative side and is interested in art making and how it impacts psychotherapy, so this person continues on the road to learning more about what art therapy is, and becoming an art therapist. Along the way, this person may have had his/her own personal therapy or even sought out an art therapist to try out art therapy as a patient. Some of these people skip going to therapy as a patient and end up in some art therapy graduate program after s/he has taken the extra art classes that are prerequesites to starting grad school in art therapy. Those who skip being a patient themselves are usually encouraged to go to therapy and at some point in their time as a grad student start therapy with a therapist, art therapist, psychoanalyst or some combination of these… This person may enjoy art making and even have a media s/he prefers working in but has not really identified as an artist before becoming an art therapist… There are many variations of this type of road towards becoming an art therapist, not in the scope of this post, so I don’t mean to have this description seem limited.

Then there is the other road, that of the “Artist” who then becomes an art therapist. Some of these people are what is called a “wounded healer”. S/he may have gone through therapy of some sort at some time in his/her life and had much more experience being a “patient” than some other art therapy students and art therapists. In any case this person usually finds out about art therapy at some point in his/her career as an artist and decides to obtain training to be an art therapist because of his/her experience as an Artist and Patient or as an Artist who is interested in the healing professions for some reason. Perhaps s/he has found art making to be transformative and healing, whether or not s/he has experienced the therapy process. So this person if need be, takes the psychology courses they may not have taken in college as prerequisites for going to grad school for art therapy…

OK. So now you’re in some art therapy graduate program. You might have gone through some training by attending some sort of Art Therapy Certificate Program to see if art therapy is for you or you just dove right into grad school. While in school, no matter what the philosophy of the school is, and there are many different kinds of art therapy programs with many different philosophies, slants, approaches. Where ever you are studying, at some point in some classes, you will be asked to make art. Some might be art directives from the teachers to get across some points on the subject they are teaching. You will probably make art in supervision class, either what’s called “Response Art” responding to your work with your patients at your internship or art work in response to a classmate’s case presentation. In some programs, there is a lot of art making that takes place in your training in the classes themselves. At the program I went to, my favorite class was my first year “Materials” class, in which we learned about all kinds of art materials and their uses with different client populations. The class was a place to do a lot of “experientials” which basically means you learn through experience of using the materials in your own art work in class and at home for class assignments. As a self identified “artist”, I loved the class as it was the class with the most art making in it, and I learned some new techniques and ways of using art materials that I considered useful both in my own personal art work and in the art I made with patients or witnessed patient making.

During graduate school at some point, the phrase “art therapy” artwork or something like it comes up and is understood to opposed to the concept of personal art work or art work that you are in process of making as an artist. I went to grad school many years ago, and a lot has changed since then. At the time, I continued to have my own art studio outside of my home, and I continued to have my open studios and continued to exhibit my work in various settings and to pursue exhibitions to further my career as an artist. I made this same distinction in the sense that most of the time, as far as I remember, I was working on some series of paintings or drawings that were very different from what I made in classes and at my internship. However, I also remember making some things that I thought of as my “regular” art work even though it was made as a class assignment. I also remember being surprised that so many of my classmates did not like making art in our classes. Even in the classes that involved more lectures than actual experientials, I would be drawing in my journal anyway, as I find drawing helps me focus on what the teacher is saying. Even these days, when I attend some sort of Professional event, such as a talk or conference, I usually draw pictures as I’m writing notes in order not to lose focus on what the speaker is saying!

Anyway, at some point in studying art therapy and then beginning to work as an art therapist, I saw there is a kind of division that exists between what people term their art therapy art work and their “actual” art work that they make at home or in a studio in solitude. I did not go to art school, but my first exposure to making drawings and paintings on paper was a very unique class that I have described more in another post, so my first experience of making art was in a room with a lot of people in it, including grad student assistants to the drawing professor as well as the professor. After I graduated college, I had the great fortune of having my first art studio, a very tiny studio but my own. I immediately began paintings that involved having friends sit for me while I painted. These were more than simple portraits, but I think, looking back at my very young beginning artist self, I see that I liked having people in the room while I made my art. Along the way, I eventually developed a taste for solitude and spending time making art alone. However, I see now that I began the process without a need for solitude and that making art among others or with others was very comfortable for me, so making art in classes at graduate school did not seem so different from making art in my studio or at home. I also along the way, probably during grad school, developed a liking for making art while watching TV, even though I always had an art table at home and an art studio seperate from home in which to make art.

As I developped my private practice, I noticed this split between art therapy art and so called more “personal” art, though maybe the art therapy art is more personal as the person is more loose and open while making it. However, I have always had art therapy grad students as patients over the years, as they sometimes want to try out art therapy as a patient, and I very much enjoy working with all kinds of students. With these art therapy grad students, they either had great discomfort making any art in my presence despite what they were doing in classes and would prefer to talk in session and make no art, or they would be quite comfortable making art in session with me, but tended to see the art they made in our sessions as their “art therapy” art, which basically means they would not think of putting any of their “art therapy” art in an art exhibition, while they might have work they were making on their own at home or in a studio that they would consider as art to put in their portfolio or an exhibit. They looked upon the art they made in school and in supervision much the same way.

Probably not everyone makes such a strong distinction in their work. However it is made enough that the topic has caught my interest and brought up questions for me as an artist and art therapist. Is there a difference between the two kinds of art? For me the blurring of the distinction began in my own therapy a number of years ago when I began bringing scribble drawings and other more “unconscious” drawings to my therapist. I noticed that a theme started emerging which I then developed in my “regular” art work. However, I still kept this sketchbook of therapy art work separate from my “regular” art work. At the time I was working with a great therapist who was not an art therapist but who enjoyed free associating with me about the drawings that I would bring in. Many of them I did on the subway on the way to therapy. A while ago with a different therapist I decided to try the same thing, with scribble drawings and bringing them in to therapy. However, this time what happened was quite interesting for me in terms of the complete blurring of the boundaries between these two types of art works that we art therapists tend to make. The sketchbook was started with making traditional scribble drawings, some of which I have exhibited in this blog. I would make a scribble with whatever I had on hand, pencil, pen, sharpie, etc. and then try to find people, heads, animals, fish, or something “representational” inside the scribble. Then I jumped to continuing that process and adding collage from magazines. My first scribble drawing with collage was a kind of bridge between the traditional form of scribble drawing and something new that began to emerge. I think the photos I’ve posted here show some of this transformation process.

Then something new happened. I continued to add collage from magazines, but I started going over the initial scribbles and making them darker and filling them in next to the collages. I think of these as a kind of “meta” scribble drawing, as suddenly the marks of the initial scribble, instead of being deemphasized in service of creating some kind of image with some of the lines, became emphasized on their own as ovals and curved lines which I then began to fill with collage elements. It progressed further to the point where I began seeking two kinds of images in random magazines. The first was patterns that resembled scribbles or marks or other kinds of black and white dotted circular patterned collage pieces that went with the repetitive drawing and filling of the scribble lines with tiny circles. This is what I see as the “abstract” “meta scribble” portion of these new works on paper. The other kinds of images started to develop repetitions, and I noticed I was looking for specific images of actual things, to be very specific: arms and hands disembodied, other body parts, animals, especially elephants, owls and birds, fish, peacock patterns, and also such things as light bulbs, dolls, strangely drawn faces, and I’m not sure what else will join this list. I also brought back a drawing of a face that was used in work I made a few years ago, so that some of these scribble collage works had drawings of this “face” that is probably thought of as a kind of self-portrait. Often I also find figures of females that are put in with everything else and often they seem to be watching the entire image or dreaming it. Words cut out from magazines have also emerged in some of these works.

It is beyond the scope of this post to discuss the ideas of Outsider Art versus Fine Art and other such topics, but I think these works represent the closest I have ever come to merging my “therapy” drawings with drawings I put up in my studio as part of a series of works I am engaged in. In fact earlier today, for the first time, I took a bunch of these Scribble Collages and put them up on my studio wall. In taking them out of the sketchbook and putting them on the wall, I make the leap from the personal to the Personal Art I Want The World To See… The other sign of this transformation was that I went from the small sketchbook to a larger one and challenged myself to do these pieces on much larger paper. This happened in the same time frame that I began to actually work on these drawings in my therapy sessions on the suggestion of my therapist even though my personal therapist is not an art therapist. So this is uncharted territory for me… To be continued…

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