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I have been loving Jan Richardson books lately. She is an artist, a poet, and ordained minister. In one of her newer books, “Circle of Grace”, I was struck by a poem entitled A Blessing for Traveling in the Dark.
“But this is what I can ask for you:
that in the darkness
there be a blessing
That in the shadows
there be a welcome.
That in the night
you be encompassed
by the love that knows your name.”
I think this poem in its entirety really moved me, but this last stanza was particularly comforting. As a therapist, I meet people in their darkest moments and it can be heart wrenching to hear stories of pain and to witness the struggle of another human being. I often explain to my clients that I do not have all the answers, but only have the light to help them take their next step toward healing. Everyone’s path to healing is unique and my role is to guide them toward their own solutions.
I think what makes a good therapist is the therapist’s ability to be in the darkness with another and continue to be a light.
Posted in Draw Me A ........ Tagged A Blessing for Traveling in the Dark, alternative therapy, art, art therapy, Arttherapyyork, calm, CircleofGrace, healing, health, hope, imagery dream nightmare, Jan Richardson, Karen Stabley, light, love, meditation, mind and body, nuturance, peace, soothing, therapy, warmth
I mentioned in a previous blog that I was excited about an art therapy technique called SoulCollage. SoulCollage was created about 30 years ago by a psychotherapist named Seena Frost. She was interested in combining creativity, insight, and healing for her clients who felt they were not creative.
Art therapists have used the collage process in their practice for years. The SoulCollage process is a bit different in that it there are no words involved and only images. In addition, the collage is limited to a 5” x 8” card consisting of only 3 to 4 carefully selected pictures. Each person makes his or her own personal deck of cards with no set number of cards. The photograph above is one card from my personal deck. I made this card when my mother was dying.
In SoulCollage we interpret our own cards. Even as a therapist, I would not interpret a client’s card. The images are selected on an intuitive personal basis and have meaning only for the individual. There is a phrase that is used when you look at the card and are attempting to glean information from the imagery. The phrase is, “I am the one who…” When we consult our SoulCollage cards, we use the phrase, “I am the one who…” to begin speaking from the image on our own card and to answer our own questions.
As an example, for this card when I use the phrase “I am the one who…”, I finish the phrase “I am the one who is really scared about the unknown journey of my mother’s impending death.” This helped me realize that fear played a role for me in my interactions with her. At different times when consulting the card, the meaning and interpretation will change.
SoulCollage reminds us that all the answers are inside of you already. It helps us recognize these answers and bring clarity to confusing situations in our lives. Sharing SoulCollage cards in community is an important part of the process. SoulCollage brings people together in creativity, acceptance, and self-reflection.This is just a very basic introduction to the process. There are many more aspects and levels to SoulCollage. To learn more you can visit SoulCollage.com or contact me for an individual or group introduction to the process.
Posted in Draw Me A ........ Tagged alternative therapy, art, art therapy, arttherapy, Arttherapyyork, collage, draw, drawing, healing, health, Healthy Living, hope, imagery dream nightmare, Karen Stabley, letting go, light, Loss listening stories, meditation, mind and body, peace, soothing, soulcollage, therapy
Another therapist told me about this quote and I started thinking about how we listen. Invariably we want to give advice and make a person’s problems go away. Very often this is not what the person needs. Sometimes one of the most powerful tools to help another person is to just listen without judgment or the intent to solve their problem. This is a gift and we rarely do that for one another. This gift of listening really helps the other person feel like they are truly being seen and heard.
I can see this more clearly now as I reflect on my relationship with my parents before their deaths. I remember with my Mother that I listened with the intent of fixing things for her. I look back now and realize that she just needed to be heard. This also reminds me of situations when my Dad complained about my Mother’s Alzheimer’s and my reaction was to jump in and want find solutions to her deterioration.
There are times when we just need to process our thoughts and feelings, and when someone listens it gives us the space to fully express ourselves. This process takes time and we don’t often feel like we have the time or are allowed to make the time. Make a conscious effort to try this with a friend and really listen. See if this makes a difference in your own life. When you see the value of stopping and listening, it can remind you that you have the same need in your own life.
Posted in Draw Me A ........ Tagged alternative therapy, art, art therapy, Arttherapyyork, calm, healing, health, hearing, hope, Karen Stabley, letting go, listen, listening, Loss listening stories, nuturance, peace, quiet, soothing, therapy
Ever wonder what art therapists do? Art therapists are trained as psychotherapists with master’s degrees in expressive therapy. We utilize art materials to help individuals and groups express feelings nonverbally. Art therapy is one of the most effective ways to overcome psychological blocks that prevent individuals from reaching their goals. Art therapists utilize the drawings of their clients in several different ways.
Initially the drawings are used diagnostically as a way to uncover the underlying issues of what a person is struggling with. I use a series of ten to fifteen drawings when I meet with a client for the first time. These drawings are used as a baseline for where the person is emotionally at this time in their life. These drawings can also reveal unconscious material that can be at the root of what clients think they are struggling with. These initial drawings act as a roadmap to treatment.
Art therapists are trained to understand which materials can most effectively allow for the expression of specific feelings. Often when an individual starts therapy they are emotionally defended. They have a well-rehearsed story. The drawings cut through the defenses and quickly reveal deeper content. Art therapists then provide art materials such as paint or clay or pastels to foster the expression of what was previously well covered. I continue to be surprised at what comes up for my clients that has until this time been suppressed. Often what is revealed in the drawings is not what my client thinks they need to address but is the root of their struggle.
You do not have to know how to draw or be in any way artistically inclined. We as art therapists are trained to walk you through working with any art material that we would choose for you. It’s the pure expression of feeling and not your artistic talent that we are looking for. Art therapists treat the same emotional disorders and mental health issues that verbal therapists address. In fact, art therapists often work in tandem with verbal therapists when a client is blocked and unable to express their feelings verbally.
At the termination of therapy, I will ask for a few of the same drawings that my client created at the very start of therapy. There is such a difference in the drawings from the start of therapy to termination that show emotional growth, insight and healing. It is always rewarding to be able to see progress and have a visual record of a person’s improved emotional well-being.
If you are interested in further information about art therapy, you can go to my website: thedrawinganalyst.com or the American Art Therapy Association website: arttherapy.org.
Posted in Draw Me A ........ Tagged alternative therapy, art therapy, calm, Depression, drawing, healing, health, Healthy Living, hope, Karen Stabley, meditation, milestones, mind and body, peace, soothing, therapy
Let’s talk about anger. As tensions rise in the political arena, we are seeing how easily anger and frustration an be ignited into violence. I see this on a daily basis within families as well as my teenage clients.
Anger often stems from a feeling of powerlessness and a perceived lack of control. Much of my work revolves around helping people realize that we can only control our own thoughts and reactions. A sense of calm within the family starts with the parents setting the tone and being in control of their own emotions.
So how do we create a sense of calm when it feels like the entire world is blowing up around us? The first step is to try to find what I call “pockets of peace” within our hectic day. Simple rituals that help us clear our mind are a reprieve from the burdens and stresses that overwhelm us.
One pocket of peace can be starting your day, even before you get out of bed, with a positive affirmation. Name two things that you are grateful for this day.
Another pocket of peace can be found by shutting off the anger that permeates the media and television. Turn off the news; it is a source of tremendous anxiety. Don’t start your day with your head filled with someone else’s fears and tragedy.
A third pocket of peace is thinking outside of yourself. Envisioning contentment and calm for another individual can widen our compassion and help us really see those around us that are struggling just like we are. Too often we focus with envy on those we perceive to be more fortunate than ourselves and we compare and feel resentment.Anger can be contagious, but so can contentment. Let’s try to shift our individual focus towards our own pockets of peace. In this moment you can’t change the world, but you can change yourself. Shift out of an anger mode, that may lead to regret, and move toward a moment of calm.
Posted in Draw Me A ........ Tagged alternative therapy, anger management, art, art therapy, healing, hope, Karen Stabley, letting go, meditation, mind and body, nuturance, peace, serenity, soothing
Eight Reasons Doodling is Good For You
- Exploration. Doodling creates the same brain patterns that helps us innovate and improvise. It can ignite spontanity and creative ideas.
- Concentration. Doodling improves the abilty to focus and concentrate. (Students who doodle in their notebooks often retain more information because they are untilizing both hemispheres of their brains).
- Memory. Doodlers retain more information. This should be encouraged from childhood to adulthood, because it creates a higher memory capacity.
- Problem Solving. Because doodling is associative and not linear, it allows you to visualize a problem and create solutions from a wider perspective instead of a narow train of thought.
- Mental Time Out. Putting pen to paper in a random way limits the focus and allows more space in the brain. This aspect of doodling relaxes the mind and creates a mental Time Out which is refreshing in ths world of hyperstimulation.
- Seeing The Big Picture. Doodlers tend to be more skilled at seeing the big picture. This seems to be true whether its, a corporate stategist or a parent planning dinner.
- Multi-tasking. The ability to multi-task is enhaced by stimulating multiple regions of the brain at the same time. It rewires the brain and creates new pathways, that are being trained to operate simultaniously.
- Outside the Box. Doodling naturally helps to break out of habitual thought patterns and allows freer thinking. It enables the ability to recognize and react to subtle nuances in life.
I was having the most difficult time deciding what to write about following my summer vacation. So many ideas bubbled to the surface as I contemplated moving beyond one’s comfort zone, talking to strangers on the beach and the letting go of life’s daily struggles and challenges. I was struck by the quiet calm beauty of the island. I could not help but noitce the heartbreaking poverty of its people vs the abundance of the resorts. All of these thoughts surfaced as I tried to writeand sum up th eexperience. Unable to choose just one idea I decided to keep my vacation memories close and hold them dear until I was ready to share.
We were in Negril, Jamaica for seven days this summer and what I am struggling with the most, is how to return to my real life. I guess we all have difficulty with this, we joke that we need a vacation after our vacation. I feel that I have not reengaged and have not been fully present since we have returned, (it’s been 2 weeks now). As I struggle with this, I remember returning home and the crushing weight of all I had to do felt overwhelming. Rewriting my sylabus for the college, introducing and writing curriculum for a brand new course, preparing to expand my art therapy practice… my daughter moving to NYC to begin graduate school, the list goes on and on.
So… how do we re-engage after a break? I don’t just mean vacation, it can also be a re-entry into the real world following maternity leave, or re-entry follwing a medical leave. How do we re-enter following a job layoff, or even a long weekend.? Not that I have the full answer to this issue, but here are some of things that have helped me.
1.Lists! I love making lists and I have notebooks full of them. I carry around a thin notebook and write notes and lists daily. I keep a list in my car as well.
- Small Attainable Goals. I remember looking at a list I wrote a few years ago and on it I had written Write a Book! That’s a great idea, but what is the first step? Set up smaller goals, and write them down.
- Sleep Well. I know, easier said than done. But this is HUGE and we forget how important it is for the body and mind to POWER DOWN. More on this in a later blog post.
- Be aware of what is depleteing your energy…re-entry can be an extremely anxiety producing time, worry depletes energy. Again, make a list write down your concerns and worries, (seems silly, but it really helps).
- Gratitude! Take into account and say thanks for all you have in your life. Realize what a gift it is to even have the opportunity and ability to jump back into your life!
- Talk to a friend, or find a therapist, therapy isn’t just for heavy duty problems, sometime a few sessions can help to reorganize and reenergize your thoughts.
Posted in Draw Me A ........ Tagged Anxiety, calm, difficulty, gratitude, healing, help, hope, liata, memories, overwhelmed, poverty, returninghome, therapy, vacation
When Summer lacks those Disney Moments
Looking through Facebook or hearing other Mothers or Grandmothers’ talk about summer, I am convinced everyone but me is having a Disney Summer. “ Disney Summers” are filled with sun drenched smiles, laughter and meaningful moments that can only be achieved on an expensive vacation or in a lavish beach house. I think the expectations for a Norman Rockwell summer are on par with our expectations for The Holidays and Christmas. The pressure to create summer memories and stimulating educational experiences for our children is another wieghty task on our todo list. Parenting has never been more challenging or complex, the expectation of a meaningful summer can be overwhelming.
Those picture perfect moments make you feel great as a parent, yet they do very little for your childs self esteem and development. Those moments are wonderfully reassuring for parents, as they can look at a photo and be convinced that this moment represented good parenting. Good parenting is much simpler than attempting to purchase an idealized moment.
Good parenting happens in tiny moments. It happens when your child is bored on the sofa and is allowed to daydream, complain, and then create an experience for themselves. Creativity needs time to blossom and this will happen naturally if a child is given unstructured time and space. This does not happen at camps where every moment is carefully managed or a vaction where there is constant stimulation. It often happens at home, on the sofa, in the kitchen or their bedroom, a safe, comfortable place is the fertile ground for mental growth and creativity. The vacations and the camps have there place. But also allow time for boredom and downtime. Providing paper and crayons, markers, and color pencils is a great place to start. Make sure the kids have access to the outdoors, limit screen time to allow for other pursuits. Overstimulation inhibits creativity and self awareness.
Posted in Draw Me A ........ Tagged creativity, Disney, fun, happy, Healthy Living, hope, kids, overstimulation, scree, summer, vacation
Lets Talk about Depression
How do you know if you are depressed?
Not sleeping at night?
Loss of intrest in things you enjoy?
Change in appetite?
How do you know if all of the above is a normal reaction to life in general or something more.?
As a therapist I love the phrase “Joyfully Engaged in the World”. I want all of my clients to get to this point where they can honestly say that they feel this way. To feel connected, to both people and life. To embrace a lightness rather than a heaviness. I hear you saying to yourself “ She doesnt know my situation… its not possible for me to feel light in my life. I have weighty issues that I must shoulder and bear.”
I can assure you that I bear witness everyday to stories that seem impossible to overcome. Yest I have seen thses same people find moments of joy and a way to connect.
Personally I feel that art is one of the most powerful ways to re-engage and sort through feelings of sorrow. It reaches the essence of our humanity.
I know I am simplifying the issue yet I have seen so many people, walk around in despair and suffering and not reach out for help. They may think they are “handling it” and everyone around them can see the pain the work so despertely to hide. Flashes of anger, constant sighing, withdrawing, lack of optimism, complaining, vuneralbility to illness. and a general joylessness.
So Now What?
Try this…. change one thing in your morning or evening routine. Something simple, start small, A journal entry a day. Think of it as documenting your life in this moment or a gratitude list.
Try engaging with one person in a small way, it could be the mail person or a neighbor walking their dog.
Think of something small you can do for someone else.. Look for things you can do for another person. Bringing in your neighbors newspaper or mail. Picking up trash in your neighborhood.
Try coloring in a coloring book, they are becoming increasing popular with adults. There are a variety of books available from complex to whimsical.
Take a walk everyday, look around, say hello to one person you pass. Give yourself a reward at the end.
If you are not able to any of these suggestions, and are still feeling low, it may be time to call a therapist, he or she may have other ideas, many times a therapist can quickly get you over the bump in the road and back on track. Back to you old self, being joyfully engaged in the world!
Posted in Draw Me A ........ Tagged Anxiety, couldIbedepressed, Depression, hope, joy, live, Loss, notsleeping, reachout, sandess, why
This is Tara and her son Cam… Tara took care of my Mother in the final six years of her life. She watched her slowly move from one stage to the next in her struggle with Alzheimers Although I was around, it was Tara who daily fed, bathed, and cared for her. Tara really seemed to understand that I was not strong enough to spend hours and hours with my Mom and she never judged me. I would breeze in and out of the house in those last few years unable to watch what was happening. It was a slow agonizing process seeing my once vibrant, funny, snarky Mom, end up bedridden and completely helpless the last two years of her life. It was too much for me to bear. I hear my clients stories all day long and can be strong for them, yet this situation was heartbreaking for me, a slow moving film unbearable to watch. I thank God for Tara. It is significant that this photograph is an image of her and her son. Tara spent time with my Mother that she could have been spending with her son. She loyally and faithfully showed up every day, till my Mothers death, assuring me she would be with her till the end.
I have never properly thanked her.
Thank you for caring for my Mother in a way I would have never been able to do. Thank you for being patient, loving and compassionate. Thank you for being gentle and kind, and for taking care of all the details when I was too overwhelmed. Thank you for tolerating the choas that at times my family created. Thank you for holding her hand when she was scared and lonely, something I was unable to do. I am so grateful that it was you, that was there in my Mothers moment of passing. You have been a Blessing beyond words, one of the final gifts that my Mother gave me was bringing you into my life.
This transition for my Mother was lengthy and cruel. It was heartbreaking and harsh. I am grateful that we had Tara as a solid loving presence. Transitions of any kind can be head spinning even if they are slow moving. That state of flux can be frightening. I often think of what I tell my clients in times of stress and chaos : “look for the helpers in your life”. Sometimes we have to remember to lean on one another. Friends, therapists, spiritual leaders, can be lifesaving in a time like this, Tara was my helper, the person I heavily leaned on, and I am eternally grateful she was there.
Posted in Draw Me A ........, Random Thoughts Tagged Alzheimer's, art, cargiver, child, disease, helper, hero, hope, Sadness, struggle, transition