The Therapist Profile: Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A matter of choice – BPD and self-worth

I am posting another “Reblog” from the same blog, “Life in a Bind – BPD and Me”, as this post really gets at one of the fundamental aspects of therapy: self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is not simple, as it involves accepting the part or parts of yourself that refuse to accept you. In other words, in order to learn to love yourself, you may need to love the parts of you that hate you and berate you, that try to convince you that you are worthless…

Life in a Bind - BPD and me

People come to therapy with a variety of issues, and with their own individual goals. But whatever the particular difficulty, at the heart of therapy there are often twin tasks: to reveal the ways in which we really think about ourselves; and to ‘make up for’ what has been missing. Or, to put it in even more general terms, the twin tasks of therapy are concerned with content (or process) and with relationship – and both are important.

But even when it comes to content, and uncovering the nature of our thoughts and assumptions about the person we thought we knew best – that too, at heart, is about relationship. But in this case, it is the relationship we have with ourselves, that is being explored.

In my experience, and on the basis of reading numerous blogs by others with BPD, there is nothing more likely to elicit feelings of…

View original post 1,265 more words

Instructional Post for Writing 201: How to on Radical Self-Acceptance!

“It takes a really long time to realize this, but if you’re lucky you eventually see that you’ve got this life on this planet and you’re responsible for really loving yourself. And I mean really, really, really loving yourself. Love is never a corruption. I’m talking about loving yourself with a true love, a love that’s incorruptible and everlasting.”
― C. JoyBell C.

“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

What is radical self-acceptance? Really it is pretty simply exactly what those words mean. For something that easy, it is pretty hard for many adults to practice Radical Self-Acceptance.

Try saying out loud: “I accept myself completely as I am right now.” It sounds simple, but remember, it means you accept everything about yourself in this exact moment: your physical body, your emotional body, your mental, creative and spiritual bodies, not the way you might have looked or felt or been several years ago or as you think you “should be” right now or how you want to be in some future time. This means you accept your whole body, for example, you can’t just accept your head and pick apart which parts of your body are acceptable and what isn’t. It’s all or nothing. As one of my patients once told me, “You cannot receive something in parts or somewhat, you have to receive it completely or not at all.”

So the challenge is, can you receive yourself and accept yourself in this present moment, no matter what you are feeling, how you are looking, what is going on with you and your life. I posted a while back about this kind of self-acceptance. I took a piece I read about yoga “not caring”, which had a lot in it about yoga not caring what you know, how flexible you are, how you eat, etc., and turned it into a challenge to not “care” what state of affairs your life, body, career or lack thereof, apt or lack of home, family or no family, etc. is and to just care that you have showed up to your life in this moment. The link to the post is:
https://natashashapiroarttherapy.wordpress.com/2014/12/01/just-show-up-and-be-here-now-getting-through-difficult-times-like-the-holidays/

Here are a few of the sentences:
“I don’t care what color my skin is or what gender I choose to love or what gender or non gender I am. I don’t care about others’ appearance, sexual orientation, gender, etc. either. We all share similar struggles and pain.

I don’t care how much money I have, what house or space I live in, what car I drive, or if I have to live on the streets right now.

I don’t care what my apartment, house, living space etc. looks like right now. It doesn’t matter; what matters is that I am still here anyway.

I don’t care if I smoke cigarettes, drink, use substances that are illegal, eat too much, binge and purge, starve myself, or am addicted to sex or other things or whether I hoard things in my abode. I’m still here and I showed up to this new day and that is enough.

I don’t care if I am single, with someone, with several people, in a messy relationship, stuck in a difficult relationship or anything else.”

To take these ideas into radical self-acceptance, we would not use the words “I don’t care”, but instead, “I accept that…”. For example, I accept myself as I am right now, including what I am doing right now, even if I am drinking, smoking, binging. I accept myself as I am right now, that I live alone in a tiny apartment and am in terrible debt and unemployed. I still can accept myself as I am in this moment, even though I need to lose 20 pounds and my house is a mess…

I first read about the concept of “Radical Self-Acceptance” in a DBT workbook. DBT is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, first discovered and invented by Marsha Linehan.
Here is a link to a description of the concept: http://www.dbtselfhelp.com/html/radical_acceptance_part_1.html

Here is something from that article: “So what’s Radical Acceptance? What do I mean by the word ‘radical’? Radical means complete and total. It’s when you accept something from the depths of your soul. When you accept it in your mind, in your heart, and even with your body. It’s total and complete.

When you’ve radically accepted something, you’re not fighting it. It’s when you stop fighting reality. That’s what radical acceptance is.”

So there is the importance of sort of surrendering to the reality of yourself and your life as it is, not as you would like it to be. The word “Radical” may sound extreme but it is just the right word to really pin down this concept, the idea of complete and total acceptance.

There is this too: “Often when you’ve accepted you have this sense of letting go of the struggle. It’s just like you’ve been struggling and now you’re not. Sometimes, if you have accepted, you just have this sense of being centered, like you feel centered inside yourself somehow. ”

So as this article says, this is an interior process but I disagree that it is hard to describe, as it is really very simple. The sense of struggle versus letting go gets at it. It reminds me of the feeling you have when you tense up part or as much of your body as you can and then release. That moment of release is what this is about. Radical Self-Acceptance is a bodily sensation as well as a verbal affirmation. It is what goes on when you focus on your breathing in and out. When you let the breath out, you let go; that is what goes on with this process. Hold your breath for a few seconds, then release it. There is a kind of metaphorical holding of the breath that people engage in during times of stress. Studying for law school exams and saying, I will attend to my body and get a massage and relax after the exams. That is holding your breath till you’re done. Taking care of yourself while going through some kind of big stress like this is a kind of radical acceptance. Accepting that you have no control over what might happen tomorrow, much less a week from now in the exam room is part of this process, for example.

When you are not calm, not grounded, not relaxed, not liking yourself, not using “healthy coping skills”, that is a time to practice this kind of self-acceptance. I accept that I am a mess, that I messed up, that I was doing great at “fill in the blank”, not picking my skin, not binging and purging, not getting drunk, whatever, and now I’m back in the muck, out of control, disgusting, ashamed, whatever. BUT, I can just stop, breathe and accept myself even in this moment of complete “failure”.

I have sat with very smart, very put together, very successful adults and asked them to say the words, “I accept myself as I am in this moment, right now, completely.”, and had them respond that they cannot do it. I press them to just say it out loud even if they do not believe it. Just getting someone to say that out loud is a huge struggle; for some, it is way more challenging than doing stuff that seems impossible, they can run a marathon, write and publish a book, etc. etc., but to say those words can feel impossible. Say them anyway, say them as if your life depended on it, because in a way, it does.

What I love about the theory of the “Dialectic” in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, is the idea of two opposing things being true at the same time inside a person. That includes radical self-acceptance alongside the desire to change behaviors. It turns out you can’t change much until you completely accept yourself as you are now, in the bad, unchanged messy state. You can feel sad and self hateful and want to die and still accept yourself right now, and it is the only route to ever living at all.

Radical Self-Acceptance happens right now, but it is also a work in progress. I can say that I radically accept myself as I am now, and most of me not believe it and say it isn’t true, but when I say it, it is true.

It is 11:11. I should have done my yoga practice and be getting ready to go to sleep. I should have written this article last week as it is not this week’s assignment. I haven’t done the first assignment, the interview yet. My mouth tastes lousy and I should brush my teeth. I think I missed going to the dentist and probably haven’t flossed enough. Now that I focus on it, my teeth are too yellow. My body feels uncomfortable from eating too much heavy food a few hours ago. I am behind on some bills and not budgeting. That could lead me to my issues with money. There’s the graphic novel I started in 2000, 14 years ago, and ten pages of it that I misplaced in my own house/apt. I won’t go to the apartment and what kind of state it is in right now, versus how it should look. There’s my studio too, in disarray. I could go on and on about all the ways I am disorganized, not good enough, my little private addictions, like shopping for stuffed bunnies and old Betsey Johnson jewelry on Ebay, during a month when I am buying holiday gifts and have no business buying crap for myself. I will say, I accept myself anyway, as messed up as I could portray myself. I am vain about my hair, but I accept that it doesn’t look like it did ten years ago, and I accept my gray hair and my age.

None of this stuff matters. What matters is that I am trying to accept myself anyway, just like the rest of humanity. I still mostly can believe in my own inner goodness, good intentions, caring, alongside my grandiosity and selfishness, petty jealousies, etc.

I accept myself completely as I am right now. Can you say this too? Of course you can! Just do it, just say it. Look in the mirror and say it every day.