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.

New Topic Series: Multicultural Rituals and Their Meanings

The other day, I was reminded of a few things I had read about concerning interesting customs in different countries/cultures that were very particular to that culture. Probably I was connecting this to last week’s American ritual of Thanksgiving, a holiday I try to focus on being grateful and also feeling sad about what really happened with the “first thanksgiving”. Yes, Squanto did have a peace treaty feast with the Pilgrims, but after that, the Puritans came and, according to this interesting website: http://www.manataka.org/page269.html

“In 1637 near present day  Groton, Connecticut, over 700 men, women and children of the Pequot Tribe had gathered for their annual Green Corn Festival which is our Thanksgiving celebration. In the predawn hours the sleeping Indians were surrounded by English and Dutch mercenaries who ordered them to come outside.  Those who came out were shot or clubbed to death while the terrified women and children who huddled inside the longhouse were burned alive. The next day the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared “A Day Of Thanksgiving” because 700 unarmed men, women and children had been murdered.

From then on it became a custom to have a “Thanksgiving Feast” after a successful slaughter of Native Americans…Anyway, back to the main topic: most of these types of rituals I will be posting about are different from what mainstream Americans are accustomed to. I will focus on the big rituals of every country/culture: birth, marriage/joining love ceremony for “life partner” and death. I thought it would be fun to post different descriptions of these rituals on this blog that are interesting approaches to these big life changes we all share as human beings. Having lived abroad and travelled a lot and having been exposed to many cultures and languages and countries from a young age, I have always been interested in ways that we differ and are similar in celebrating important life events or dealing with death, and also some every day life activities that are elevated to ritual in other cultures. When I lived in Japan for two years, fourth and fifth grade, I was exposed to all kinds of unfamiliar rituals, as Japanese culture has a lot more rituals in everyday life than American and other cultures. There is the tea ceremony and the act of giving gifts on non-holiday occasions. I remember my parents coming home with gifts all the time after they had gone to some kind of event or party or business meeting as gifts are given in all sorts of settings and types of daily activities bringing people together. The gifts were always exquisitely wrapped in that distinct style that I tried to copy when wrapping gifts; there are a lot of horizontal folds involved…

Anyway, for the first example, I will skip Pregnancy for now, as I have written about it so much here in a different context, and skip to the child’s first birthday celebration. I found a description of an interesting Korean ritual for the first birthday of a child. I remembered hearing before about this ritual from a friend, but the description is detailed enough to give a good idea of what it is all about. This is a direct quote lifted from: http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/biz/2007/10/123_12172.html

“The first birthday party is special for any baby around the world, but Korea has a unique tradition of putting various things on the table in front of the baby and letting the baby pick one of these to tell the future of the baby.

On the table are usually money, thread, rice and pencil. The baby will be rich if it picks money, will live long with thread, and be a scholar by picking a pencil, which reflects Confucian tradition. Rice means that the baby will have enough food throughout his or her life, which was a huge blessing when people often suffered from famines.

The tradition is changing. Now some parents put a microphone on the table, which means the baby will become an entertainer, or a golf ball, wishing that the baby will be a famous golf player.”

What a lovely idea! In Bali, the first birthday is treated in an entirely different way. I think I first came across this in the book “Eat, Pray, Love”! Actually, if you go to the link below, you will learn that the rituals start in pregnancy and there are several different ones on different days of the baby’s life leading up to the first birthday.

This descritpion comes from the following website:

http://www.bali-travel-life.com/bali-festivals.html

“On the first birthday (Oton), which is according to the Balinese calendar on the 210th day, the baby is allowed to touch the ground for the first time. Because the ground is considered impure, the baby has always been carried around up to this day.

This day is of course again accompanied with a ceremony which is pretty big and takes place at the ancestral temple where families and the community gather to celebrate.”

Here is a great website with descriptions of first birthdays around the world, including the American custom of parties with decorations, cake, etc. The Hindu custom is another great one, and after reading about it, I sense that certain cultures focus on themes like “cleansing the baby”, “evil from past life”, “impurity” that area also part of the Catholic tradition of babtism. What is interesting about the Balinese point of view is the idea that the world the baby enters is “impure”, not the baby!

“On a Hindu child’s first birthday, his or her head is shaved while being held by a special fire. Removal of the hair cleanses the child of any evil in past lives, symbolizing a renewal of the soul.

Usually on the day of the birthday, the child will wear very colorful clothing to school and will pass out chocolates to the entire class. The child will also kneel and touch their parents’ feet as a sign of respect. They then all visit a shrine, where they pray and the child is blessed.

In the afternoon there might be a meal that includes a spicy vegetable stew called curry and chutney which is a spicy fruit relish. The dessert is a treat known as “dudh pakh”, which is rice like pudding (they might also stir in pistachios, almonds, raisins, and a spice called cardamon)”

Another different reference to feet. Interesting.

To end, here is a tradition in Ghana, again involving a cleansing ritual:

“The Asante people in Ghana celebrate “krada” (which means “Soul Day”) on the day of their birth. On a person’s krada, he or she wakes up early and washes themselves using a special leaf soaked overnight in water (this is a cleansing ritual intended to purify the inner soul). Then in the afternoon, they have a feast with family and friends and the celebrant is usually dressed in white clothing.”

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.

The Other Face of Facebook: Facebook in the Therapy Session

A day or two ago, I witnessed the miracle of Facebook. One of my college friends, in fact, one of the first people I met in my new dorm my first day at college over 20 years ago, had a baby girl. The announcement of this great birth appeared in her Facebook status within the first day of this baby’s life, with the amount of hours of labor and her name and weight. 115 “Likes” and 110 comments within six hours of this status posting! But for Facebook, I would have no idea where my former classmate lived, much less, have been able to participate in witnessing her marvelous pregnancy and the birth of her first very healthy child. This is the wonderful power of Facebook, and a big reason for why I confess I check in almost daily to see the “News Feed”. Many other wonderful pregnancies and births are going on, not to mention little children growing up before our eyes through Facebook photos…

So, the wonderful world of Facebook is truly a great way for people to see each other’s kids, and for aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents to participate in the lives of these children, no matter where they live.

There is also grade school, high school, college and graduate school classmates to keep in touch with so easily! In fact it turns out the most friends group people have is from high school…

The other great reason I like Facebook is to be able to casually post a photo of my latest art work, whether just a weekly scribble drawing or a more serious work in progress and get instant positive support! For us therapists, once we’ve navigated the issue of making sure we’ve looked carefully at our “privacy settings”, Facebook represents a place we can “let our hair down” and be people, as goofy and weird as we want to be…   Or you can figure out how to live comfortably with a professional and personal presence on Facebook by joining professional groups, starting your own Artist page or Therapist page or starting your own Professional group…

Of course there are many pitfalls and huge complicated issues that arise from Facebook. Sometimes the whole six degrees of separation thing means one has to block a friend’s friend because they are or were a patient. Or my patient comes in and says she saw my happy birthday post to my old supervisee who happened to be her supervisor recently. Not too big a deal, as it was a week where my profile picture was an artwork and not a private photo. The world of art therapy is small…

Far more difficult than privacy issues we therapists face, are the issues our patients are bringing in to therapy that often involve Facebook in some major way. First of all there are parents. Many parents are young enough that they want to be on Facebook for their own social reasons and secondarily to keep an eye out on their young adult children and get to “peek” into their lives. Some parents are on Facebook purely to peek into their young adult or even older adult children’s lives. Sometimes this isn’t too complicated and only requires the child “educating” their parent about Facebook parental etiquette. That means telling your parent, don’t make a comment on every one of my posts. In fact, try not to make your presence known at all on my posts and I won’t “block” you from seeing them. Simple instructions, followed well. Done.

Not so easy if Mom is using Facebook to spy on you. “What were you doing out so late partying when you called me earlier freaking out about your English paper due tomorrow?” and, “I thought you quit smoking (or insert “drinking”, “gambling”, etc? What’s up with that photo of you from last night? Woops. Forgot to set blocking Mom from that particular revealing photo…

“It’s Complicated” is actually a relationship status you can post to your profile and put the name of the complicated person you are in this mess with up next to it. Not a good idea if you’ve met each other’s parents and are on Facebook with all of them. Most difficult scenario with a parent is the following one. The said “child” over age 20 is going through messy breakup or even messy divorce. Suddenly that 2 am drunken weepy phone call to Mom late at night right after she dumped you by email is seeming like a really impulsive move now that it’s 6 weeks later (an eon in modern relationship breakups and makeups) and she has posted pictures of you together after you and your mom agreed she was the scum of the earth and had been mistreating you the whole time you were dating. Oops. So you go into therapy and talk to your therapist about how you decided to block your mom completely and defriend her and then she called you hysterically crying upset that you would treat her that way. Which one is more high maintenance now, the girl who took you for granted and dumped you and then realized she couldn’t live without you, putting you through torture, moodswings, extra therapy sessions and bad phone calls to your parents, or the mother who now is too thorouhly involved in your love life, such that you have to figure out in therapy how to manage her Facebook presence in your life without her knowing you are keeping her out of the loop so she doesnt call you again crying? And in between all that you had to confess in therapy that after your girlfiend dumped you, you checked her Facebook wall about twenty times a day to see if she was hanging out with other guys/girls or what she was doing. (There is a whole different post I need to write about cyber confessions in therapy — “I knew his password, so I broke into his emails and read them for a week to see what the hell was going on in his head after the breakup…”, “After that asshole blocked me from his Facebook and defriended me, I signed in to his page to spy on his Facebook wall and chats…” etc.)

With some patients, we have had to talk about Facebook addiction and treatment which involves “breaks” — take a day off where you aren’t allowed to go on Facebook at all. Take a week off going onto your partner’s or soon to be ex’s or ex’s page. No peeking at all.

Re-set the boundaries with mom and dad. Translates as, keep him or her as your Facebook friend but block him or her from all photos of your wonderful reuniting with the girl or guy that your parents never want you to mention much less see again. Yes you can manage each post and each photo separately, thus blocking mom from only the ones you don’t want her to see. The challenge in therapy now is beyond Facebook pages. How do you “delete” the 5 am crazy phone calls you made to mom or dad when you were ready to jump out the window from finding all the terrible things this “awful” relationship was putting you through while you secretly start over with the same person who has gone from awful to adorable love of your life again within the last month or two, or worse, you moved out and back in all within about 4 months time and can’t bear telling your parents because of their obvious and predictably bad reactions? And now you have to go home for the holidays and pretend to be still sad about it or deal with everyone in your family (yes, I forgot about grandpa and the siblings who know all about it and who have seen those new photos on Facebook of you back together.) Damage control first, arrange with all of them to keep it quiet and do not mention any of it to mom or dad during the holiday visit. Second, what do you do when you are baking with your mom and she starts casually asking if you’re meeting any new people, or if she found out, how do you steer her away from the topic of how you are throwing your life away in this relationship, how disappointed she is in your terrible choices, and worried sick as well. “And how could you even think of defriending me on Facebook!” she will definitely bring up, still hurt about it.

This is not dramatization. It happens all the time. As does the addiction to checking up on your too attractive boyfriend who gets too many likes on all his photos and comments… Jealousy redifined, or jealousy obsessions now have a new Face, and plenty of new places to find fuel for the jealousy.

The other Facebook therapy topic is just plain old addiction. Complaints of spending way too much time playing “Farmville” or some other Facebook game, or even worse, just spending countless hours on Facebook and not too sure what you were even doing. This one goes with other internet addictions, porn being a typical one. Almost worse than porn which at least involves some kind of “goal”, is the hours on the internet people spend and cannot account for and have no idea what they were doing, but one minute the computer was on and suddenly four or five hours of time has gone by and nothing to account for it. This usually happens when someone has a paper or thesis or work related activity due.

Which brings me to Facebook at the workplace. At a party recently, someone told me about a new form of work interview “prejudice”. That some people are complaining that at a job interview they were asked why they do not “do” Facebook, that there must be something wrong with them. I was astonished, but she had actually heard this from several people. This one goes with the big question, do you friend people you work with or your boss? Do you friend the babysitter? Are you Facebooking while at your workplace and do you do this on the sly or in full view of everyone?

Blocking, unfriending and defriending…Do you really want to stay friends with some ex from years ago? What about the friend you have stopped speaking to or the cousin you suddenly regret friending. Turns out according to a recent article in Huffington post,

“Offensive comments” and a lack of knowledge about a person are the top two reasons people unfriend on Facebook, according to NM Incite’s research. People were also more likely to be disturbed by the nature of the content friends shared, rather than the frequency of it: 23 percent said they unfriended people over “depressing comments” and 14 percent unfriended over “political comments,” while just 6 percent unfriended because someone had posted too frequently.

Wow. I was quite surprised, actually shocked. Nobody said they unfriended because they got in a fight with someone or broke up with someone, the two top reasons I would have guessed for unfriending. And what about obvious reason number 3, “Woops, I am so regretful that I friended Mom and Dad…” Why do people have such a low tolerance from a single depressing sentence in a Facebook status, when, last I checked, most close friends include long depressing phone calls, coffee, dinner or drink sessions, as a major part of friendship, that they know this Friend has been there when they were in tears, so of course they will be there for this Friend through countless depressing but worthwhile hours.

Another interesting topic is the content of status posts. Everyone on Facebook has at least one friend who posts just to say what s/he made, had for dinner or even put a photo in of the meal. In one case my gourmet friend posted several photos of the many courses of an elaborate meal and the menu; it went from the mundane to a work of art in progress to see this gourmet meal unfold. But there are those posts that sound like the person needs to let everyone know s/he just sneezed. What is involved in the psychology of the everyday ordinary aspects of life being “glorified” or at least expressed on the “news feed” of Facebook? Just raising the question…

There is also the Facebook “love/hate” relationship. One week you’re on and reading it daily and posting. Then suddenly something happens and you get a bout of  what I like to call “Faceebook overexposure”. “Suddenly I felt really weird and decided I hated Facebook and did not want to be on it, so I am leaving Facebook.” This is often accompanied by a goodbye post, which often sparks a lot of comments from friends suggesting/begging the person not to leave Facebook. Sometimes this is enough to get you hooked again. Or a week later, the soame person reports that s/he returned to Facebook, so easy to get back on with the sames profile and friends all saved and waiting for your re-conversion to Facebook. Some people treat Facebook like a messy on again off again relationship and then finally call it quits with it. There are other people who actually are totally internet savvy and may even have great websites and/or blogs or other internet presences who might even work in publishing or publicity or television other internet related fields who never go near Facebook. What kind of personality is completely immune to the Facebook bug. I have a few friends and relatives whose spouses are on Facebook but who themselves are not going to go near it.  And I cannot figure out any one characteristic that these people who share the Facebook allergy have in common. Someone’s got to do a survey on that topic: what makes a person immune to the magnetic pull of Facebook?

Yes, Facebook has become a therapy “topic” and is here to stay. Now it’s time for me to edit this post and then, of course, post the link to it first to Facebook and only after that, on LinkedIn…