Sunday, December 15, 2019

Helping Teens Journey Through Grief
Published in News To Friends  @ HopeWest, Nov. 2019

The unique needs of adolescents and their development call for a variety of levels of creative, flexible and individualized support. This particular life stage is difficult enough for most adolescents with regard to identity, self-sufficiency, and independence. But, when a teen experiences a profound loss, their ideas about life are frequently shattered.

During this time, adolescents are searching for independence and focusing on relationships with their peers and less on their family. The primary developmental tasks of adolescence include: establishing individual identity, moving from concrete to abstract thinking, identifying meaningful moral standards, values and belief systems as well as developing increased autonomy.  Although adolescents understand the concept of death, they have not learned that every major loss causes deep and life-altering changes in them.

Therefore, the death of a parent, family member, or friend can throw the teen into an unknown, lonely, and painful place. If this happens the teen may not know how or where they fit in anymore.   For most teens, “fitting in” is very important and while working through grief, it is common to feel isolated and different. This dissonance is very uncomfortable. Feelings of helplessness, fear, anger, guilt, and vulnerability are common for teens that have lost a loved one.

Just as children have a tendency to regress while grieving; younger teens may revert to behaviors that they had previously outgrown and may search for a safer or less painful period in their development. Many older teens exhibit symptoms of grief that are similar to an adult, but may feel childlike on the inside. Teens may try to assume adult roles, even turning to and relying on peers for support while withdrawing from parents or other adults.

Coping with a major loss profoundly impacts teens and how they see themselves and their connectedness with the world.  Teens may need to be given permission to grieve or be encouraged to take time for fun and pleasure.  Allowing teens to fully express their feelings, including anger and hostility, and listening closely to their concerns and thoughts, is one of the best ways to support them through their grief.
HopeWest Kids includes aspects of support, including art therapy, that address the unique needs of teens.   Art therapy is a form of communication that is accepted by adolescents; it is successful for many reasons.  
  • The teen is in greater control of their communication; non-verbal communication is often more comfortable than putting ambivalent feeling   to words. 
  • The pleasure and newness of the activity and “speaking in their own voice” often reduces resistance to the therapeutic process.    
  • Adolescence is a time of rapid change and artwork provides assessment and clarification of developmental stages.  The teen’s changes are often mirrored through their imagery. 
  • When creating art, teens can problem solve “through the advantage of externalizing problems and taking a fresh view of them from a distance” (p.144).  Teens can experiment with a change symbolically on a creative project, before they make real–life changes.   
Riley, S. (1999).  Contemporary Art Therapy with Adolescents.   London, Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

     In honor of the American Art Therapy Association’s 50th, here is a photo of the envelope I keep from 1994-

 the year I wrote, snail-mail style, to AATA to inquire about a graduate degree in art therapy and program requirements with that offering.  I knew when I completed my undergrad in Social Work (a field I love and to which am called) that I would pursue art therapy.  I also knew that pursuit would wait for the ‘right’ time.
     I’ve shared this before: the field is a beautiful, and at times seemingly perfect, albeit challenging, pairing of two deep interests: psychology and art.
     I remember a conversation with my uncle, an MFA, in which we both wondered aloud how coming out of a lower middle class family with our influences, we ended up in the arts.  Both of us being told by my grandad, his father, that we couldn’t make a living in the arts.  We both found our way: he an art center director, me a social worker- turned therapist combining visual arts and counseling.
     Every day I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to work in a field of dreams.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

One of my profession-related dreams came true this year: I had the privilege of supervising my first
(and I say first as I believe that and plan for others to follow) art therapy graduate student for practicum.  I got a call ‘out of the blue’ this Spring: a student taking a ‘long-shot’ to inquire about the possibility of completing an art therapy practicum with us at HopeWest Kids.  She went further to say she was in a program in IN, which turned out to be where I attended graduate school, St. Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC ).  At this point in my career, to take on the responsibility and really inspiring duty of ‘leading’ someone into this profession is one of its privileges.   A bit of synchronicity was at work here as I had just taken my national exam for board-certification as an art therapist.  The ATR-BC is an attractive credential for graduate programs and their students.  It is now required for supervision in this profession.

Looking forward to this Spring semester with our first art therapy graduate intern!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Art Therapy and Creative Writing Groups in the
 Department of Youth Corrections Setting

 Art Therapy with Juvenile Offenders

     Teens in this setting typically have limited family support and often have a history of substance abuse, which complicates their bereavement experience.  Their losses, in general, are more complicated and often occur under less than ideal or even violent circumstances.  The group members often can make direct connections between their losses and their initial offense or crime.  The grief over the loss of their loved one is compounded by the losses associated with incarceration: freedom, independence,  choices, contact with friends and family as well as identity.  Establishing identity is a major developmental task for adolescents and art making provides a creative exploration and support the development of emerging positive identity of the teens.

     My involvement with Department of Youth Corrections has consisted of providing eight week groups focused on bereavement support.  Art therapy and creative writing directives have been utilized with this population in an effort to provide meaningful expression to the experience of losing a loved one and the resulting behavioral responses that are often connected to incarceration.  The creative process itself is healing and encourages a sense of integrity and autonomy.  Topics for group sessions included grief education, feelings, story of the loved one, coping skills and memorializing.

     Typical art directives may include collage work to illustrate the story of their loved one, creating a coat-of-arms to introduce them and their loved one to the group,
or mask painting to facilitate expression of feelings related to grief.

Benefits of Art Therapy

1.  Provides a form of non-verbal communication for teens that do not have a      
     good mastery of verbal communication.
2.  Acts as a bridge between client and therapist, especially where the subject
     matter is too embarrassing to talk about.
3.  Helps release feelings such as anger and aggression that are so common in juvenile   
4.  Enables a teen to process traumatic loss on a sensory level where it is initially  
    Riley, S. (1999). Contemporary Art Therapy with Adolescents.  London, Jessica Kingsley Publishers.     
     For example, creative writing was co-facilitated with a trained volunteer who is a professional writer.  Directives for free writing were given after a prompt was read which included poetry, topic discussion or song lyrics.  Teens were given a set period of time to “free write” a response.  Each group member was given the opportunity to read their work aloud to the group.  The writing exercise provided a way for teens to express their thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental atmosphere and to develop and form vocabulary for their experience. 
     One group worked to choose writing selections to compile in booklet form which several students illustrated.  A copy was given to each group member and the work was shared with the facility program director and others.  The creation of the booklet provided acknowledgment and value to their creative work and gave the teens a forum in which to relate the powerful experiences of loss and change.   

Thursday, July 27, 2017

ArtLight Therapy & Studios was selected by Feedspot as one of the Top 30 Art Therapy Blogs on the web!

Very honored to be on this list.  I'm in good company.  Thank you Feedspot!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Colored Pencil-  Student    Summer/Autumn 2013  (previous publication)

     “A meeting of the world inside and the world outside” is how art therapy pioneer Eleanor Ulman described her profession.  Art therapy is a way of looking to and through experiences using imagery and the creative process to find healing.  It brings our internal experiences into the light.
     Art therapists complete a master’s level training and education in psychology, human development and visual arts.  They use art in assessment and treatment in many settings including private practice and open studios.  Many formal elements of drawings provide developmental, emotional and cognitive information to the trained therapist.  The creative process can access places in our brain that verbal processing alone may not be able to reach.
     Art making has always been a part of my life.  In early childhood, I loved to draw, often focusing on pictures of animals or nature scenes.  My mom once sent me to a day workshop for artists at the Denver Zoo.  I was the youngest “student” that memorable day of sketching giraffes, monkeys and bears!
     This early pleasure in art lead to many hours of drawing, painting and looking at other artist’s work.  The process of illustrating and creating provided comfort and ‘companionship’ through both normal life transitions and the difficult experiences of moving, changing friendships, the divorce of my parents, illness and loss.  At high school graduation, I was awarded two small scholarships to study commercial art at West Texas A & M.  I added undergraduate psychology courses that piqued my interest in that profession as well.  Ultimately, I decided to complete my bachelor’s degree in Social Work.  This led to a part-time position at a state psycho-social rehabilitation center for chronically mentally ill adults where I offered drawing and painting classes as well as life skills training.  About this time, my interest in art therapy developed; I remember sending off a request for more information to the American Art Therapy Association.  The profession seemed like a beautiful partnering of my interests in psychology and art and my desire to help others- to somehow address the suffering I could see among this exquisitely beautiful world.  So, in the fall of 2004 I began my graduate work in art therapy, traveling to Indiana three times a year to complete graduate residencies.  In January 2008, I graduated from St. Mary-of-the-Woods College with a Master of Arts in Art Therapy and obtained my license as a professional counselor in 2012.
     Art making is the central focus of my counseling work.  Our images are forms of communication; they are meaningful responses to the world around us.  They are expressions that go beyond words and often show us things about our circumstances and ourselves that words are not able to articulate.  Making art enhances perceptual acuity, increases cognitive functioning, allows integration of the senses and activates our creative center.  All of these aspects are therapeutic.
     Colored pencils are a wonderful media to use in therapy.  They are portable, anyone can use them and sometimes they are needed as an expressive tool that allows colorful, emotional response that is easily controlled.  In terms of the Media Properties Continuum, colored pencil is in the resistive media range, compared to a fluid media like watercolor, which is on the other end of the spectrum.   It requires varied levels of pressure to make marks on the page.  Pencil tends to facilitate more cognitive processing rather than emotional or affective therapeutic work.  Using pencil can assist a client with problem solving, organizing thoughts, focusing on detail and containing emotion.
     I currently see children, adolescents and women in my private practice, ArtLight Therapy & Studios.  My work at the studio also includes free-lance illustration and fine art.  My part-time counseling position with Hospice & Palliative Care of Western Colorado, where I have worked for twelve years, provides many opportunities for working with kids and teens using art directives like: ‘Draw your family doing something together.’

     Drawing still provides a necessary creative outlet for me as I respond to the inspiring and challenging work that I do.  Making art provides a way for me to know myself better.  It can be a meditative activity that illuminates a path to healing- a window to the inside world.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

the new Meditation

Why making art is the new meditation:

•Art is a vehicle for meditation and self-connection

•Art provides a feeling of flow and freedom

•Art allows for true self-expression

•Art helps us become steady and centered
                  Washington Post ,  Aug. 26, 2015