Death and Facebook: A New Type of Supportive Therapeutic Community

I wrote an original post on this topic a few months ago and then decided it was problematic and needed to be reworked.

The purpose of that post and this new post is to show how Facebook can have an unusual, unique, therapeutic and healing aspect to it…

Besides all the “mundane” aspects of “status” posts on Facebook that many people complain about, (which, by the way, I actually don’t mind at all as I enjoy seeing photos of someone’s dinner or their kid doing something amusing), and other non serious or silly parts of the Facebook process, and also the professional aspect of Facebook, there is something quite new and interesting about Facebook in terms of its relationship to death. To begin with, I am a person who really enjoys Facebook and social media both personally and professionally, as those who follow this blog would know from my posts… So, I find lots of aspects of Facebook to be therapeutic, especially Facebook groups involving something creative or support groups…

I’m sure as long as Facebook has existed, there has been space on it for posts about death, whether the death of a celebrity or of an actual Facebook “friend”. I am curious to know how long Facebook has been a place for death announcements and mourning groups, and if activity of this sort has increased in the last few years or with growth of users…

So I just found an interesting article about this whole topic. I am not sure if I am adding anything new by writing this post, but perhaps writing from the perspective of a therapist, I can make this post different.
Here is the link to it, from Mashable.com, which I will quote from on here.
http://mashable.com/2013/02/13/facebook-after-death/
It’s entitled “How 1 billion People Are With Death and Facebook”, a title I might have changed to “With Death Through Facebook.”

The first aspect of this topic is the less personal: the concept of communal mourning of the largest scope, i.e. what happens on Facebook when a well-known person has died? One result involves regular people posting statuses and commenting on their feelings about this person dying, what this person has meant to them personally or what kind of a loss to the country or planet this death signifies. This seems to have been a common phenomenon since the advent of Facebook, as people often post links to interesting articles or info about celebrities, not just their death. I have observed it since joining Facebook around 2008. You hear about the death of a well known person in any aspect of life: the arts, politics, a religious figure, famous scientist, journalists, TV personalities, celebrities of all kinds, and notice your Facebook friends posting musings about this person, how s/he affected him or her personally, quotes from the person, references to articles or videos, etc. So with a very public death, Facebook serves as a place for people to comment on the famous person and his/her effect on their life, and also a place for easy access to a large variety of information about this person’s life and death. This is a significant aspect of Facebook and deaths of celebrities, that you can find all kinds of links to other websites/publications to access more information very quickly. I think people have not fully appreciated this aspect of Facebook. It also occurs on the anniversary of a celebrity’s death.

Since I first wrote this post, the big one has been the terrible tragedy of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s recent death. Another person whose relatively recent death resulted in a flurry of posts was Lou Reed. These are two good examples, as the kind of posts about their deaths is very different. Most of the ones about the recent death of Hoffman have been about how tragic it was and about heroin addiction and overdose, and what it means for a high profile very much loved and admired actor to die in such a terrible manner. There was shock at first about how he relapsed after so many years of recovery and then shock at the depth of his addiction and what was found in the apt. He died in, etc. Lou Reed’s death was fascinating for other reasons, as the loss of this public figure was elevated to the loss of an icon, which means he represented more than the sum of his creative acts and life on earth, but is a point of reference for a whole decade and generation and symbolized something more important than just his music and art — i.e. the era of Andy Warhol; with him, people are mourning not just a person and celebrating not just his music and talent, but something even bigger, how he fits into our culture as an icon, what he represents and represented in a much larger way than just his life and work… Facebook serves as a unique way for the intersection of the very personal emotional aspects of death and the phenomenon of the philosophical and cultural “legacy” left by someone that important to our “zeitgeist”… It also is a space then for nostalgia about the other loss, the loss of that time period and its particulars, such as the social, political and artistic realm of that particular “era”.

The other aspect of Facebook and death is the personal one, and there are different kinds of uses of Facebook in this category of loss. This can involve a dead persona who was active on Facebook or it could involve a Facebook friend’s using Facebook to mourn someone who was not on Facebook at all. One personal aspect of Facebook and death involving the mourner and not the dead person is the phenomenon of the anniversary of a death. Recently a Facebook friend posted a lot of photos of her father and family on the anniversary of her father’s death. It seemed likely her father was not a member of Facebook, but the important thing is that she was able to share with her friends some great photos and memories and also be able to share the loss on the anniversary in a way that people were not able to do before the existence of Facebook. It is also true for dead animal companions, the posting of photos on the anniversary of their death. I have seen a great eulogy written for a dead animal companion on Facebook, as well as people starting a Facebook “Page” or “group” about their animal.

One very odd aspect of death and Facebook is the actual discovery of someone’s death through Facebook, as we are used to finding this news out on the “news” itself, not second hand from a Facebook friend or Page. I think I have found out about celebrity’s deaths on Facebook itself, waking up to this news while looking on Facebook, before even reading or looking up news sites, where I would be likely to first see the news of someone’s death. On a personal level, the news of a peer’s or other connection’s death is sometimes first encountered on Facebook. Although it may seem too shocking to learn of your friend or family member’s death on Facebook, it serves as an immediate way to find out more information, both about the death itself and about arrangements for funeral and/or memorial service, and to be able to immediately communicate with others who share in this loss. I emphasize this aspect as it reveals an immediate therapeutic aspect of Facebook and death of a loved one. Through other’s posts on that deceased person’s own private page or through statuses of other mourners, there is instantly opportunity for dialogue and not being and feeling ALONE with the loss. One of the most healing aspects of the mourning process involves the ability to dialogue and communicate with others who share in this loss. There is much to be said for being able to share memories and nonverbal aspects of the person, such as photos, videos and songs, which Facbook allows immediate access for in a way that no other “social media” or other process can provide.

The Facebook personal page of the deceased and the Facebook Memorial Group or Page of the deceased: both are important as vehicles for communal mourning but in different ways. The article above describes the option people have of removing a dead person’s “Facebook profile” and presence or having the option of keeping it on Facebook for some very interesting reasons. Here are the options described verbatim from the Mashable article:

“• The profile remains untouched, unaccessed, unreported and therefore open to everyday wall posts, photo tags, status mentions and Facebook ads. In other words, business as usual.
• A family member or close friend may choose to report a death to Facebook. Upon receipt of proof of death, such as a death certificate or local obituary, Facebook will switch the dead user’s timeline to a “memorial page.”
• A close family member may petition Facebook to deactivate a dead user’s account.
• Users may gain access to a dead user’s profile in one of two ways: either through knowledge of the dead user’s password, a practice against Facebook’s terms of service, or through a court subpoena. However, per Facebook’s privacy policy and strict state law, courts rarely grant outside access to said social data. More on that later.
Facebook’s official policy for handling user deaths is the memorial page. In 2009, the social network began switching dead users’ profiles to memorial statuses, should the deceased user’s friends or family request the change.”

Interestingly, a lot of people do not choose to request a change in the dead Facebook User’s Profile from active to a Memorial Page. Not as a way to deny that the person is dead, but as a place to find actual real memories of posts that the dead person had written or posted. This can be especially meaningful to mourners if their dead loved one was very active on Facebook and also those who were not just active, but really used it as a direct form of self-expression. In addition, not mentioned in Mashable’s article, there are the Facebook Groups the dead person may have started and managed as well as any Public Facebook Pages this person may have maintained. A Facebook group has a number of privacy levels and kinds of access, but the point is that people who were actively involved in a Facebook Group with the diseased can continue posting particular posts relegated to that topic and to dialogue with the select people chosen by that dead person to be in that group. It’s like having 3 or more portals to mourning communally on Facebook. You can go directly to the dead person’s private Facebook page and look at old posts or new posts from other mourners. The interesting aspect of it being Facebook is that I have seen people address their post or comments to the lost love d one directly, which is a healing way to be able to “talk” to that person and get out what’s inside that you wished to have said or want to say. The other portal is the Facebook Group or Public Page of the dead person if they had a group they managed. Last of all is the possibility to create a special Memorial Page or Group for the loved one, whether or not s/he was a member of Facebook.

The Facebook Memorial Group is a very therapeutic and interesting phenomenon. It allows for a kind of constant memorial to occur and for people who cannot attend events like funerals/memorials who live far away to participate actively in the sharing of memories, feelings, and thoughts… Another great aspect of having a special Memorial Group for the dead person is that it can be created immediately to serve as a place to express shock and just feelings or other immediate things right away even before the formal ritual of a funeral/wake/service/memorial. It is also informational, a way to easily share info about such events so people can know quickly and make their plans in order to attend the particular event planned. In order to create a memorial group as opposed to a “Page” (which is more public), someone has to take the e initiative to be the one to create it, which just involves giving the group a name and picking the level of privacy of which there are three: Open, Closed, and Secret. If it’s open anyone who logs into Facebook can see everything about the group and who the members are. If it’s closed, it’s accessible in some ways, but only members of the group can view the “posts.” If it is Secret, there are further limits to access that make it much more private. For a fuller description, see this chart Facebook provides regarding groups of any kind:
https://www.facebook.com/help/220336891328465

Another important aspect of the Facebook Memorial Group is that it continues for no limit of time and people can be invited or ask to join at any point in time after the group was created. At various points in the years following the death, there are certain times when more people actively go to the group for solace and support, such as anniversary of the death or birthday of the lost loved one and other significant dates that people share as markers, such as a particular holiday the loved one especially loved etc.

In addition, this is also a way to be able to see the diseased and even hear his or her voice as people can post photos, videos and recordings. I think this aspect of it is really important as it can be very healing as part of the mourning process.

The other aspect of the phenomenon of the Memorial Group as well as the deceased continued presence through their profile and old posts and /or groups they participated in or managed, is that there is automatic allowance for the idea of mooning as having no expiration date. I think in a society where we are expected to “get over it” too quickly, this aspect of Facebook is very empowering for mourners who may not be able to “get over it” perhaps ever really, and are not required to completely…
This idea of loss is very beautifully expressed in the following quotation I found and actually posted on some memorial pages I am a member of:

Time does not heal, it makes a half-stitched scar
That can be broken and again you feel Grief as total as in its first hour.
-Elizabeth Jennings

Valentine’s Day Post: Be Your Own Valentine!

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I used to have a very jaded view of Valentine’s day as a marketing ploy for chocolate, flowers, stuffed animals with hearts and other stuff, as well as this idea of high expectations and not a great day for single people, of which there are many in NYC.

Even when not single, I thought this holiday was tacky and so mainstream boring; every day challenge is to be loving and celebrate love and give gifts that are not expected. However, since having a child age 3 and up, my point of view has totally changed. I see how the day can be fun and a celebration of love not between romantic partners, but for family, friends and the idea of inclusion in terms of school age kids’ making valentines for everyone in their class, especially age 4 to at least 8 or 9, when gender is not so important and children are excited to make valentines for their friends and family. Of course being an artist and art therapist, I have used the day as an occasion for making art with my child and patients. 

The idea of making your own valentine came from my child when she was 4 or 5. We were cutting out little hearts to decorate for each person in her class. The first one she made she liked so much she asked if it could be for herself. “I like this too much; I want it to be mine!” she said, excitedly. How cool was that. From the same person who said, “of course you have to love yourself,” when we were talking about who we loved the most. What a great idea, while making valentines for others and focusing on who you love, to make one also for yourself. I think she ended up keeping two of her own. We always make one for the teacher and she makes me one and I make her something extra special each year. All home made with art supplies.

This year was no different. Valentine’s Day happened to fall on a Friday, one of my busiest days in my practice. I went to work thinking, I want to make valentines’ cards with my patients and invite and challenge them to make themselves a card. I had a few phone sessions which worked out well for this directive too.

The main idea is to make yourself a Valentine’s Day card and in so doing , remind yourself to love yourself. WIth each patient who did this, I asked them if they would be comfortable for me to make them a card. Nobody refused! For adults this was definitely more oriented toward female clients, or it might have been that everyone I did this directive with was comfortable already with making art in the session, so they happened to all be women.

Anyway, for the people who came in person, I had lots of materials out all day, including: colored cardstock paper for the card, sharpies colored and metallic, decorative paper, foam heart shapes and other shapes, jewels, rhinestones and lots of fun stickers… I had fun in the session making each patient their card, and discovered a new kind of card — the triple decker card. I had cut a small peice of colored paper for a card and realized it needed to be bigger, so I added another card and glued it on top. Sort of like a stacked cake. 

This directive is a simple example of how great art therapy can be for helping people appreciate and accept themselves as they are right now, not who they have been or want to be. Also, accepting a card from me seems to be a sort of connection to their own therapy process and their appreciation of their work on liking themselves in art therapy. The card from the art therapist functions on many levels; as a “transitional object”, as a concrete object to represent the therapeutic relationship, as an indication of the trust that has built in the relationship with the therapist, and as a positive kind of statement about being in therapy and feeling good about it.

Making Valentine’s cards all day long from 8am until 8pm was definitely a fun and different way to spend Valentine’s day. I think throughout the day about 6 of the 8 sessions I had involved making Valentine’s. With the phone sessions, there was a fun part of the process involving knowing what we were making and having a surprise email afterwards, emailing back and forth photos of our cards and knowing that the patient would be getting their card next week.

I also made a Valentine for my colleague during our peer supervision and she made herself a birthday card. At the end of the day, I realized I had not had time to make a card for myself! As an art therapist I am a firm believer in doing the art you ask your patients to do always, so I knew I would be making one for myself. Yesterday while drawing with my daughter, we ended up making Valentine’s for each other; I had already given her two on Valentine’s, but as I started my own one, she asked for it, so I had to make a whole new one for myself. I had fun doing it, especially enjoying writing the phrase: “Happy Valentine’s Day to Me”, with the idea that anyone can look at my image of my valentine and say it to him/herself!

I am happy to be less jaded as I age, and a convert to all things childlike: hearts, rainbows, glitter, beads, Valentine’s Day, stencils, coloring pages, mosaics, all of which I had much disdain for when in art therapy school. Thankfully, I now know better and have a much more broad view of art making and art therapy.

Happy Valentine’s to me and to you and your Self! Make yourself a Love card as a reminder to love yourself every day…

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Photos: Top, my own card to myself, Sharpie on collaged paper cut out heart
First on bottom: Triple decker pieced together card for a patient, mixed media on cardstock
Second on bottom: detail of above
Third and fourth: other valentine’s cards made by me for patients
Fifth and Sixth: front and back of a card I made for my daughter
Last photo: Part of a Valentine made for a patient

Altered Book Workshop Proposal Accepted!

The good news is that my altered book workshop proposal for the 2013 Creative Arts Therapy Summit this fall was accepted! The whole event will be taking place in NYC in various locations, from November 7-13, 2013. Link to the site is:

http://www.cvent.com/events/expressive-therapies-summit-2012-registration-site/event-summary-a631d616cdd6499c92f749761a4d1d3a.aspx

The other part of my news is that instead of a 3 hour experiential workshop, I will be doing the workshop in 80 minutes, basically and hour and 20 minutes, which basically cuts out a little over half the time, so I tried to re focus the workshop.

Here is my description of it: (Let me know what you think; it’s a lot to pack into 80 minutes!!!)

Title: Altered Books with Adults in Art Therapy; Conquering Creative Blocks and Depression

Description:

In this workshop, we will discuss how the medium of altering books in art therapy uniquely treats adults with any kind of creative block and/or depression, connected with past or present trauma and feelings of creative deadness or loss of the creative “spirit.” Through the experiential, participants will choose a book and begin to alter it, thereby experiencing the uniqueness of this format that allows for the creative spirit to reawaken. The transformative experience of “destroying” a book to create something new can jump start the creative process through the variety of options, length of the project and the holding environment of therapy. I will also provide actual examples of Altered Books in process by some of the adults I am working with to demonstrate the scope of options in this particular medium and the essential role of the art therapist and therapeutic relationship in this long- term process.

3 Measurable Objectives:

  1. Participants will learn about ways that creative blocks and/or loss of creative spirit in adults is best treated through the creative process itself combined with the relationship with the art therapist.
  2. Through art making and viewing real examples of patient and therapist artwork, participants will learn about the different options provided by altering a children’s board book versus an “adult” hardcover book, and the messages the choice of book can convey to the patient and therapist.
  3. Through the experiential, participants will start the process of altering books and use at least 3 different media and techniques involved in the process of making an altered book.

 

Silver Linings Playbook; From A- to B-/C+ in Less than a Week!

ok. I had a terrible day today, so it feels like the perfect time to have fun writing this post because I saw Silver Linings Playbook for the second time the other day and I was blown away — by how much worse it was on a second viewing! I almost felt scammed or literally “played” that I had such a “manic” experience loving it after a first viewing.

Basically for me, the big test of a movie is, does it stand up to being seen a second and then a third and then maybe even a fourth or fifth time? Doesn’t matter how soon you see it again. As I said in my last post, that is why I love films like “Bringing Up Baby” and more modern ones like “Spotless Mind”; every time I see them, I find something else to love about them and get great enjoyment out of seeing scenes I could practically play over in my head between viewings, such as the dog and dinosaur bone garden digging scene in “Bringing Up Baby.” In fact when I realized how much lower Silver Linings sank on the second viewing I remembered that I talked a lot about Bringing Up Baby in my glowing post; and I realized it was because the elements I liked about Silver Linings reminded me of that classic and maybe reminded me too much of how great that movie was! A really good movie like the “Spotless Mind” one doesn’t remind you so quickly of other movies because there are really great cool things in it to enjoy that seem totally unique to the movie even if it is a familiar “genre”.

So what took the silver linings out of “Silver Linings”? Just about everything except the characters of Tiffany and the father played by DeNiro. The fact that on second viewing the main character Pat did not seem like a real person and those other “supporting” characters were more interesting did not help it. Other complaints that can be quickly listed off: too many montages (I challenge you to watch it again and count how many long montages there are and how much time they take up in between real scenes)– unless you’re watching a cool music video, you do not want to be aware of having a montage much less five or more of them in a movie. OK. I guess my other criticisms do not fit into a short list. Let’s take the most important one, the portrayal of bipolar disorder:
On a second viewing I was shocked I did not notice this important thing the first time: Pat’s big episode was “triggered” by a violent situation which is terrible for many reasons. One, I have worked with many people with serious bipolar disorder and others with family members and close friends with bipolar and never in all the years of hearing all the stories of these people has any of them been described as involving violence, much less two episodes with violence in them (the scene where he almost kills the history teacher and the scene in which he hits his mom and his dad gets violent). This gives the general public a very strange idea about mania and bipolar psychosis and from viewing the film if you did not know about it, you would associate violence with manic episodes. In addition, as I confirmed by talking to a married straight guy about the film, most men in Pat’s situation might have done the same thing upon coming home to their wedding song playing and their wife in the shower having sex with the history teacher, without having any mental illness issue whatsoever, so it confuses the issue to have this event be the major event that results in Pat’s hospitalization. Plus if you watch the movie carefully, you hear that the lawyer obviously used mental illness to get him into the hospital for 8 months instead of put in jail, which puts the reality of him having it in question as it is referred to as “undiagnosed bipolar”. The icing on the cake is the scene where he ends up getting violent with his mom and then realizing he needs to take his medication. None of this fits any of the accounts I have heard of others’ manic episodes. The most common thread is the transition from mania to psychosis involving religious delusions and all kinds of intense meaningful LSD like spiritual experiences as well as grandiose delusions (ie. “I was convinced I had to fly to LA to the big premier of my brilliant movie, or, “I really thought I was god” “I thought I had found the cure to cancer and was about to receive the Nobel Peace Prize,” etc.) Sometimes if a relationship has just ended or some kind of intense love feelings are involved but not receprocated in reality the person while manic is convinced someone or several people are in love with him or her who in reality are not.

Anyway, that is a big problem with the movie on second viewing that makes me change my opinion of the TV show “Homeland”. I was a bit hard on it in my last review of this movie. I still think the ECT was strange and not well explained and that I would like to see the character have a session with a psychiatrist or therapist and also know what meds she takes, however at least her episodes are more realistically portrayed. We see that she is not in reality but we see how subtle it is that her reality is becoming out of wack, which is really well done on that show in that her job is already an inherently stressful and crazy paranoid making job and her obsession with the other character makes sense.

So “Silver LInings” still gets my approval for an ok portrayal of therapy and for the character taking the right medications. Probably the best scene in the movie that reflects the stigma of all kinds of mental illness is when he points out to his family and the others in the scene that maybe he and the other two “crazy” characters in the movie see things and understand things in a way that the others do not; I think that is true. If there is a silver lining to having a serious mental illness, it is that you experience life in a way that others do not and have a unique sensitivity towards others. The way seeing impaired people report that they their sense of hearing is very good…

So, lesson learned: watch out for getting too seduced by a movie that already has a lot of hype. Watch it at least two times before writing a big “I love it” blog post!!! We therapists sometimes get it wrong, that is for sure!

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.

Great Website: The Broken Light Collective

I don’t know if I’ve talked about them before on my blog, but I’ve been very excited about the “Broken Light Collective” blog website and what they are doing for people affected by mental illness, and in addition as an added bonus, as a way to educate the public about mental illness. This is a really impressive endeavor as it is much more than a blog. It is very moving and somehow allows people to be vulnerable and feel safe as well as able to express their own unique voice…

This is a WordPress blog started by people who wanted to post daily photos by people with mental illness. I’m not sure what got them focused on photography as the medium of choice, but it works extremely well on the internet, and nowadays with phone cameras etc., non professionals can express themselves skillfully through the art of photography and manipulating photos to create an image. There are so many options: just a snapshot caught at the right moment, a photo reworked in Photoshop to heighten it in some way, even photo collages… The only thing any of the photos all have in common is a search for the Truth about Life, as experienced by the photographer/individual.

Broken LIght Collective is a beautiful name for this simple idea. Follow the blog. and every day you will see a new image, completely unique, made by someone struggling with a mental illness or less often, someone very affected in his/her life by a loved one’s struggles with mental illness, and of course, many people fit both of these descriptions. If you are interested in studying mental illness, this is a great blog to follow to learn from the people who are struggling with it every day of their lives. They have a lot of wisdom and battle scars, not to mention the courage of putting themselves out there and showing a part of themselves through their photography.

This is to me, in a sense, art therapy at its best — a form of community art therapy or photo therapy or whatever you feel like calling it. It is an example of healing through creativity and sharing, which I think is a very important component of this original and thoughtful and sensitive blog/website. I believe strongly that creative acts and sharing of one’s creations coupled together promote the most healing as connecting with others who are sensitive to one’s struggles and/or struggling with similar issues is most healing of all. This is not to elevate or promote the idea of connecting as being social. This website is great for people with “social anxiety” which I am starting to doubt is a real “Disorder”. Anyway it is a great form of therapy through community combined with individuality, something very rare to find in the “physical world out there” in our daily lives, but perfect for the internet. In the case of the “Broken Light Collective”, the therapeutic healing aspect of this endeavor is accomplished through as a supportive community which gets formed through the people’s efforts, much like the AA model, however without any philosophy or approach to recovery. Just an interest in telling people’s stories through words and pictures. Thus the strong community of sensitive people does not require a therapist to be present, although some of the interesting “profiles” are of psychotherapists and healers of one kind or another sharing their own struggles with mental illness.

So please go check out the blog and follow it!

Inspired by the Broken Light Collective, I would like to do something similar with art in all other media excluding photography and post a picture a day of art work with the person’s story. I’m thinking of calling it the Shadow Brush Group and would model it on the philosophy of Broken Light. It would just be a place where people instead of sharing photos, share photos of paintings, drawings, mixed media, sculpture, crafts, fiber arts, environmental art, even short poems.

Note: For the Broken Light Collective people can choose to post on there with their real names and also are able to post with a pseudonym to keep their privacy… There is no judgment either way, just an invitation.

My 9/11/12 post a day late…

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These photos did not show up in the order I intended, however they are a good representation of the way the day of 9/11 is punctuated by memories, memories of artwork I did that was very much a personal response, and the present day 11 years later with the ghost of the towers shining in the clear night sky. I also took some pictures of sunflowers at a deli on Chambers st. That I should have included…

So there was this desire to take many photos of the ghost lights making a large eleven and two white towers in the night sky; I took many photos of them on my walk home in the neighborhood. I also took sone self-portraits with them in back of my face. As well, there was a desire to take photos of the street signs and flowers in the deli, even the sidewalk, perhaps an expression of the weird feeling of, it’s as though it never happened when you look at the essential life of any NYC neighborhood: there are the street signs, different signs in a different color but the same street names, there is the concrete sidewalk and the corner brightly lit up deli open late…

The twin lines of light always inspire and move me; they function as a better expression of a “memorial” than any building or fountain or plaques could be, and there is something evocative about their annual reappearance and disappearance. Also, their simplicity and visual effect if having no words, accounts, stories, explanations, even objects from the day, etc., as no words capture the essence of such monumental events such as 9/11 and other more personal private losses people suffer with: because there are no words for the big gaping hole of a traumatic loss, any death of a loved one really… These twin white lights stretch high into the sky until they link together, no longer seen as separate, one white far away blurry line swallowed up by the night sky…

In my art work there is a continuity since 9/11/01 versus before it. I posted some images done soon after the event, the one with ink and green background and the double one with a filmstrip like composition of a face and traces of a building in pinkish colors.

Another photo posted here of two framed drawings is a diptych, entitled “Falling Towers” fine with pen and mostly bright pink ink, from around 2009.

Finally, tying it all together are 2 tiny pieces made yesterday evening in my studio. They were response art but seemed to be connected with the day, a long one which swung from everyday “normal” activities with my oblivious 5 year old keeping me in the present moment, and pockets of moments of replaying parts of the day 11 years ago, tiny emotional moments punctuating a beautiful September day with a clear sky…

New Art Therapy Group Forming

I am starting a new art therapy group for women suffering with and dealing with issues around anxiety and depression. Any woman age 19 and up who would benefit from this group is invited to join.

The group will meet at my downtown NYC studio for an hour and a half on Thursdays, either from 11-12:30 or 12-1:30 pm, depending on the preferences of group members.

Thus, the group is great for students, freelancers, women who work part-time, or women who can leave their job to come during their lunch hour…

As it is an art therapy group, art making and sharing and processing of art work will be emphasized along wuth verbal processing.

You do not need a formal diagnosis to join this group. The fee will be low for those whose insurance does not cover it or those with no insurance. Those with Artna or Cigna or possibly other insurance will pay a low copay.

Please call or email me directly with referrals or if you are interested in jining the group.
It will start some time in September once I have at least 4 definite participants.

Natasha Shapiro, LCAT, ATR-BC
917 374-7082
natashart@yahoo.com
For more info about me, check out my art therapy blog:
https://natashashapiroarttherapy.wordpress.com

Mental Health Awareness Month Post Again

I posted ten days ago that I wanted to discuss mental health issues for May’s Mental Health Awareness Month by listing ten random topics rated to Mental Illness and Health. This post aims to finish off this goal with six more such short discussions.

5. Alternative Medicine and Alternative Approaches: These can work alongside the more traditional Western Medical Model Approach of medication coupled with psychotherapy. These alternatives include massage, Reiki, acupuncture and acupressure and other forms of body and energy work, including regular yoga classes, regular meditation, and/or individual yoga therapy. In addition, regular exercise and healthy diet have been shown to play a big role in altering brain chemistry, especially anxiety and depression. And I don’t think there is one kind of diet out there that works for everyone. Ayurvedic Medicine has an interesting approach to nutrition in terms of not seeing food divided into good versus bad; as with most substances, almost any food or beverage can be used well or abused. In Ayurvedic Medicine, there are 3 “doshas” based on a lot of criteria, and for each category, healthy food is very different. A person with a lot of “pitta”, the fire dosha, needs to avoid spicy foods and eat cooler foods while a person with a lot of “vata” needs to eat heavier foods to ground themselves. The other dosha, Kapha tends to need lighter foods. When i had my dosha diagnosed as very “vata” I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my tendency to eat a lot of ice cream isn’t so bad in moderation. This food that’s on the heavy side would not be great for Kaphas. Anyway, I’m not an expert on this, I just find it interesting that the philosophy behind it relies on the idea that different kinds if foods are better for different people. Also I definitely ascribe to the belief, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” meaning that if a person stumbles on a good combination of treatments, say, an anti depressant that works, weekly massage therapy and yoga classes, moderate exercise and Reiki added on when symptoms arise, go for it! Keep doing the self care that works for you. his person may have had enough psychotherapy and be in a period is working on their mind body connection through these alternative treatments. Even approaches to treatment can be seen from an Ayurvedic point of view: “pitta” people like structure and discipline so the above treatment plan would work for someone like that whereas a more vata person would not take on so many forms of treatment and might do one thing or two for a while and then switch to something else….google Ayurvaduc Medicine and read about it. It’s a fascinating approach to healing that is way older than Western Medicine…

6. The DSM V: wait another year and then fork out your $80 for it and it will finally be here in May 2013! It’s the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, fifth edition. Some new disorders under consideration include binge eating, hoarding and hyper sexuality; substance abuse now termed “dependence” will maybe be considered an addictive disorder. Non-suicidal Injury Disorder and Suicidal Disorder are under consideration. Of course there is controversy on all of the proposed changes…

7. Hoarding seen as a mental illness: as with all behaviors, the quantity, frequency and dependence on a non healthy behavior is usually what tips it into mental illness from plain old eccentricity or just pretty “normal” behavior”, eating emotionally for a few days after a breakup, having a fee drinks every once in a while, punching a wall once when enraged or throwing your cell phone… Many people hoard without it becoming pathological but sometimes moderate hoarding behaviors co occur with ADHD and depression in adults. I’d be interested to know the role of trauma in extreme hoarding behaviours. When hoarding gets to an extreme, the individual tends to engage in and display a lot of distorted paranoid thinking and fantasies, as well as overwhelming feelings of abandonment and social anxiety and phobias. “Don’t leave me, but don’t come too close to me, and don’t touch any of my stuff or move it around. Don’t come in my house; if I leave someone’s going to mess with my stuff so I’ll stay here. You’re trying to get me out of the house so you can take my belongings away…” Binge eating can also go with hoarding for obvious reasons. I see hoarding could be considered a sort of obsessive compulsive disorder, definitely a phobia and form of social anxiety, or a paranoid delusional one or even a form of addiction as well as part of PTSD… How complicated!

Alright it’s almost 1 am here! Time to stop and I’ll put the next three topics in my next post before May is over!!!

Mental Health Awareness Month Post Number 2!

Ok. I’m interrupting my attempt to get deeper into the issues around money and therapy because I have until the end of May to do my part in raising awareness around mental illnesses and the paths to mental health and stability…

I think this is too great an opportunity to pass up. On my personal Facebook I pledged to post at least once a day a fact or question to do with this subject. Then I decided to do the same on my LinkedIn “share” with connections. I am in too many professional LinkedIn groups to post on all of them! Then I decided to post about it on my public Facebook Artist Page. In fact after I’m done with this post I will announce it on my Artist Page.

I confess as a therapist and human who works closely with people on their very personal paths towards health and real soul fulfillment, feeling myself to be, or at least aspire to be, a sort of modern times Shaman or Doctor of the Psyche, I am really excited about this discovery that May has been Mental Health Awareness Month for over 50 years! How dare they not tell us in grad school or at our jobs and internships! How many therapists know about it??? Check with your therapist and/or psychiatrist to see if s/he knows about it! Spread the word! Thank goodness for the Internet and social media, as they help us raise awareness of such an important topic. There is just too much stigma out there about mental illnesses and so much ignorance. Why do health insurance companies still limit outpatient mental health treatment to 20 or 32 visits a year!?? How dare they set a limit on something so important in such an arbitrary manner! I’ve never had a patient with a mental illness who was invested in his or her therapy, who thought 20 visits or 32 sessions was enough per year. That has to change. What would people with one kidney do if they limited their dialysis visits per year? Unthinkable…

To get back to the point, though I don’t think I’ve strayed that far, in this post I will do what I’m doing daily on Facebook and LinkedIn: I’m going to make a list of ten questions or lesser known facts about various mental health issues. By mental health I include addiction, eating and personality “disorder” issues as well as trauma of various kinds and healthy positive behaviors related to this topic…

1. The relatively new phenomenon of personal blogs about how a person is living day to day with his or her symptoms and feelings about having some type of mental health issue is a wonderful way that people can see up close the courage and strength it takes for people to face their life day in and day out, struggling with staying healthy. It’s also a great testament to how far we’ve come with medications that work for people and with diagnostic criteria that help people come to terms with and manage their daily self care. Of course there is a lot more to improve with medication and treatment, but these very raw personal and honest blogs out there are a great way for people to feel less alone with their particular struggles. For some, the blogosphere is the only community they have and place they feel safe discussing such personal issues and struggles. So I start with a very positive aspect of mental health awareness by saluting all you people out there blogging about your struggles and triumphs. I follow many great blogs of this type and hope to find many more…

2. Schizoaffective Disorder: how many of you have heard of it? I first learned about it at an internship at a Continuing Day Treatment program long ago, so I have worked with individuals given this diagnosis. The term was first coined in 1933, but I have a feeling most people haven’t heard of it unless they have it, know someone with it, or work in the mental health field. You can find very particular detailed explanations of it on the Internet. I would describe it as bipolar and mood disorders meets and marries schizophrenia types of symptoms. What a challenge to be dealt this card! You have some sort of mood instability, whether primarily depressive, manic or both, as well as possible psychotic episodes, paranoia, hallucinations and delusions. For a really up close and personal account of it, read the memoir “The Quiet Room” by Lori Shiller. There’s still a lot of controversy about this diagnosis, and it comes up in this very moving book. In my experience, I think this diagnosis can be helpful to people suffering from such a confusion of symptoms because usually Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia thankfully now are seen and recognized and treated as very different because they are completely distinct. In the past people with either of these illnesses were lumped together , but we know a lot better now. However, there are some people who suffer from symptoms described by this “cross sectional” type of disorder. In my experience it really does exist, and the diagnosis is helpful, as people can be treated with both a mood stabilizer or anti depressant and an antipsychotic type of medication that people dealing with schizophrenia take, and they can have potential relief of their mix of symptoms and also begin to experience themselves as functioning at a much higher “level” in their lives which can be greatly improved and a lot less painful and confusing…

3. So, on the topic of mood stabilizers and “anti psychotic” medication, otherwise referred to as “psychotropic” medications: In contrast to what I said above, it can be confusing for people suffering from Bipolar Disorders, Schizoaffective Disorder, or other schizophrenia related disorders on terms of the wide variety of medications currently used to treat such illnesses. On the one hand, modern medicine has put to rest the confusion of what used to be called “manic depression” and “schizophrenia.” We all know now how different these are, but some of the medications treat both types. The difference is in the dosage. Old fashioned medications like Haldol, as well as the newer “anti psychotics”, such as Geodon, Risperidol, Seroquel, Zyprexa and many others, are prescribed for any form of psychotic episode, as well as being maintenance medication for schizophrenia and related “schizo” type disorders. To make matters more confusing, people with Bipolar Disorders, for whom a typical mood stabilizer like Lithium or Depakote, just to name 2 main ones, does not help enough to stabilize moods, can now take such medications as Zyprexa or Seroquel as mood stabilizers, usually on lower doses than for schizophrenia type symptoms. Some people with a kind of Bipolar Disorder take a typical mood stabilizer, as well as one of these other meds, and as well as an anti-depressant and other medications such as those for anxiety, which are in a totally different classification. So we’ve come all this way in distinguishing Bipolar type symptoms from those of schizophrenia related illnesses, and yet the same medications may be used to treat both. A little confusing. However, it is great that these other medications were discovered to have mood stabilizing properties, as some people need to take them instead if or alongside their regular mood stabilizers. Seroquel is also considered to have anti depressant properties, so probably some of the others like it also do.

4. While in my experience with working with people who suffer from very serious mental illness, mood stabilizers and medications like them can really be miracle workers for those suffering from Bipolar type issues in that, once the right medication or combination is found, people who take their medications daily can experience a great relief of symptoms and a sudden experience of real stability, those suffering from “unipolar” depressive illnesses such as dysthymia and major depression, tend to have more struggles with their medications. There are the lucky people who find the right anti- depressant and get relief; unfortunately of those people there is the group who after 6 months to a year find the medication no longer works, and they are plunged into a depressive episode and have to try some other anti-depressant(s) to see if a different one will work. For others, none of the different types of anti depressants out there seem to work. Some women in the latter group find a doctor who decides to try the more innovative treatment of using hormone medications to treat their depression. I read an interesting article about this a few years ago which really amazed me, as many people I know who suffer from mood disorders tend to complain that they can’t take birth control pills because it sets off depression. Others take hormones for birth control alongside their other meds without any trouble. Thankfully now there is a small group of women who take only hormonal medications to relieve their depressive symptoms! What a great medical breakthrough!

Ok. I have not yet reached number five and this post turned out to be much longer than I expected. So, the above is my food for thought on this topic thus far. I pledge to reach number 10 before Mental Health Awareness Month is up!!!