Lisa Mitchell

Get instant access to The Creative Advantage!

A FREE Video Series to help you bring your imagination to work and supercharge your problem-solving.

Learn 9 new ways to apply the creative process to your practice and begin integrating an artistic approach into everything you do.



You will also receive notifications about new blog posts and upcoming events!!

Becoming Yourself in Life and in Therapy: What Yalom Teaches Us Once Again

Nov 14, 2017 | 4 comments

Teaching therapists about relationship

Aside from what my clients have taught me, I’ve learned more about being a therapist from Irv Yalom than from anyone else. The teaching stories in his books are told with a voice of deep respect and real love for his clients and for the process.  He keeps close tabs on his internal processes and often shows up from behind the analyst’s veil to self-disclose in a deeply vulnerable way.  Yalom has guided me, through his books, to invent therapy anew for each client and to be courageous in this act.

While his newest, and self-proclaimed last book is a memoir– not a book of therapy stories–it is indeed a touching act of self-disclosure.  In Becoming Myself, he does for us, as he does for his clients.  He makes himself real.  This is a gift he’s given us. We get to see inside his family history, his mind as he developed radical new ways of teaching young therapists, and to hear his few life regrets and thoughts on dying. Read More… »

When Therapy Stalls Use ART!

Oct 29, 2017 | 1 comment

The key to good therapy

Clients have difficulties with parent-child relationships, spousal relationships, work relationships, internal relationships between aspects of self, relationships to depression or anxiety or trauma, relationships to personal or cultural history….the list is long.  There is one relationship that often gets left off of the list.  The therapeutic relationship.  The very relationship that is the vehicle for working through the other relationship.  It is also the one that we seldom explicitly address in sessions.  Sure, we focus on establishing and maintaining rapport.  Sure, we diligently sort through countertransference issues.  Sure, we gauge our own experience of connection or presence. However, Scott Miller’s research points to a big problem. Our assessment about the therapeutic relationship is often incorrect.  He says, “If we think we know and we aren’t checking with our clients, then we probably don’t know.”  This is not only problematic when things aren’t going well in therapy.  Even when things are going well, clients still report greater satisfaction when they are allowed to provide their input on what they like and what they don’t.  But, with our field’s over-emphasis on technique, seldom do we spend time asking our clients about their experience of the therapist client relationship.  This is so important that I designed an entire online course about it.   Read More… »

Writing from the Art

Oct 22, 2017 | 13 comments

What I learned at a week-long writing retreat

 

It’s been a 6 days since my return from a week-long writing retreat with Laura Davis in Bolinas, CA.  I gathered with 20 other brave writers to face grief, uncertainty, and transition and to share our words that captured the raw experience of our pain and struggle.  The week was profound in many ways.  I want to share some of my experience here, with you, because I think it could be inspiring and useful for all therapists.

Here are my two big take-aways, plus one smaller one.

 

ONE

Writing from the Art

On the registration questionnaire for the retreat, in response to the question, “What do you hope to work on during the retreat?”  I responded, “I want to use the time to explore the relationship between my art and my writing.  I want time and space to do this.  I want to discover what it is about the two creative acts, joined together as one, that is so profound.”  This wasn’t a typical response, so Laura called me up and asked me to explain.  I told her about my latest therapist retreats and how powerful this integration of art and writing was for the participants.  I told her about the individual sessions with clients and how when I had started to bring writing into session (in addition to the art) I felt like I was on another plane with clients.  That what came out of those sessions was more intimate, deeper, more from a place of truth—realness—wholeness than I’d ever witnessed when just one modality was with us.  And, I told Laura, I felt I needed to do it more—for myself—not just facilitating it for others. I wanted to know the relationship between my writing and my art from the inside out.  She got excited for me and couldn’t wait for me to share my experience.

So, every day at the retreat, in addition to writing for 7 hours a day, I painted.  I took my sketch pad with my Golden acrylics to the bench overlooking the ocean or to the front porch of the Commonweal building or on my makeshift table made from my suitcase in my room.  And I painted.  Each painting had a direct relationship to my writing.  I linked together a series.  Painting, writing about the painting, writing about my writing, painting in response to my writing, painting in response to a sand tray, writing about the painting in response to the sand tray…..each prompt led to another related creative response.  I wove and integrated while I followed the breadcrumbs which led me further along this knowing:  When I plug into my creative expressions and let them relate to one another as collective guides in an intentional way, I get to a place I could never have predicted.

Read More… »

How to Find MOTIVATION for Art and Creative Expression

Aug 24, 2017 | 2 comments

 

What’s the number one question I hear from clients?

It’s not, “What’s wrong with me?” or “Can you help me?” or even, “Will things get better?”.

The number one question I hear from clients is, “How can I get myself motivated?”

Art therapy sessions are full of colorful expression.  Sometimes clients paint, sometimes they write, sometimes they assemble mixed media into meaningful collages.  No matter what kind of creativity my clients use to heal in session, the experience of creative expression in a safe therapeutic environment leaves them with the sense that more art would be a good thing.

In fact, research supports this.   Tamlin Connor (2016) found that subjects who were creative on one day experienced more flourishing and positive emotions like energy, enthusiasm, and excitement the next day.  Connor’s research concluded that engaging in small daily acts of creativity may influence overall well-being rather than simply making us feel good in the moment.

In session, as part of my role of therapist, I supply the motivation for my clients to create.  I carefully craft invitations that both peak my clients’ curiosity and feel manageable or safe enough.  If my client is unable to begin, I supply the gentle compassion that is a carefully calibrated on-ramp to their creative activity.  I’m a cheerleader, a coach, a nurturer, and a space holder.  It might not look like much from the outside, but clients feel it and are enormously appreciative.  And, like I said, they end the session by asking, “How can I find the motivation to make art at home?  It just doesn’t feel the same as it does here in session?”

A few clients should NOT be making art alone.  For these folks, emotional safety is a very tricky issue.  Their art can trigger them to dissociate or become overwhelmed with despair or hopelessness.  It is not a matter of motivation for these clients.  Their defense against these states is wise and protective.  I tell these clients that they should not force it.  They should not judge themselves.  They can find other ways to use their hands to safely create—like handwork (knitting, crochet, embroidery) or gardening.

For those clients that art making is not a trigger and is a safe, healthy activity, I recommend they do more.  And, I let them know that discipline is NOT the whole answer.  Instead, I have a 5 step motivation recipe.

I’d like to share it here for both therapists and clients—we could all use more art and creative expression in our lives.

If you lack motivation, here’s what to do.

Motivation to make art requires the following:

Care:  You must be caring for and about yourself.  This means basic self-care like rest, nutrition, and hygiene.  Understand that self-care is always a work in progress—not something to perfect.  If it is not something you are working on, it will be very hard to find motivation to make art.

Curiosity: You are hardwired for curiosity.  The brain seeks novelty and this fuels your search for things that spark your interest. Many clients are numb to the sensation of curiosity.  They need help identifying what it feels like when they become interested in something new.

Courage: You don’t need much—but there is a leap that art asks us to take.  When clients go from blank page to a mark on the page I acknowledge it as courage.  Practice and recognition boosts courage to do this leap over and over again.

Compassion: Creating a criticism free zone around art making can be achieved through a commitment to self-compassion.

Here are the 5 steps to motivation that I teach my clients:

  1. Make a pros and cons list. What are the costs of NOT making art? What is the worst that can happen? What do I stand to gain? Etc.
  2. Learn to recognize curiosity. “No’s” feel flat and unresponsive. “Yes’” have fireworks.  “Maybe’s have sparklers.”  Rather than ask, “WHY am I curious?” just do #3.
  3. Just do it for 2 minutes. Tell yourself you only have to start and nothing more. Renew this every day instead of committing to a long term regimen.
  4. Slather on encouragement—even if you have to say it out loud and don’t really believe it. Use positive statements that affirm your start. Acknowledge the feelings that you have surrounding art making.  Exercise empathy and compassion for those feelings.
  5. Celebrate! Notice your act of creative expression as a beneficial experience. Be your own best cheerleader.

 

When I teach these steps to clients in session, they can apply them outside of session when it is time to approach their art making.  It is exciting to hear the benefits that clients report as a result of implementing these steps and using the recipe.

I hope this recipe helps you and your clients to find the motivation to create over and over again!

 

Source: Conner, Tamlin. “Everyday creativity as a path to flourishing”,Journal of Positive Psychology, Nov. 2016 (online),www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17439760.2016.1257049?scroll=top&needAccess=true&journalCode=rpos20

 

This is how clients really change.

Aug 3, 2017 | 2 comments

Sometimes it appears that change happens overnight.  Like there is a flip of a switch and in an instant Winter has turned to Spring.  Or a client’s outlook makes a 180 and turns from unshakable despair to undeniable hope.  Or the moment appears when anger dissolves and acceptance arrives and you blink wildly because you didn’t expect it and you still don’t know what you did to help your client get there.  But change isn’t really a lightning bolt of transformation.  It is a slow process that requires space and time and sustained effort.

Creativity is the basis for change.

When we look at the idea of change in clients, we have to give considerable credit to creativity. Creativity allows us and our clients to see new possibilities. When we think creatively, we unhook from what is already known and only then can we cultivate novel ideas. Creativity is what feeds a different story, a different experience, a different sense of self.

Poet Mary Oliver explains what creativity needs in her book, Upstream. “Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in, and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy, then. A place apart — to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again.”

Creative thinking is part of our brain’s default mode network.  In order to light up this part of our brain, we need to step away from the information overload and noise of our daily modern lives.  Engaging creatively requires carving space in our sessions for imagining, daydreaming, or just waiting to see what comes in the silence.

So, you see change requires creativity and creativity requires space.  If we want to help clients change, we need to create space.  Space to create.  Space to think creativity.  Space to see new possibilities.

Do you create enough space for change?

I have been watching for opportunities to create more space for my clients.  It’s a really beautiful shift for me as a therapist.  It slows things down.  It invites me to collaborate from a more creative space.  And, I’m seeing some exciting and magical things happen.

Space during session:

If we go to fast, talk too much, implement a jam packed agenda we are not creating space during session.  We need to allow for silent moments and spontaneous discoveries.

How to create space during session:

  • Invite art making.  Each time a client faces a blank piece of paper or canvas, they are literally experiencing space.  Some clients find this very challenging.  The anxiety of the unknown or the “how to do it right” floods in.  If we enter the space with them and gently invite ideas, possibilities,  and reassurance we are creating space in session.
  • Invite further exploration with art.  When a client finishes their art making in session, I have found that this is a crucial moment. It is tempting to dive into discussion or explanation.  Our clients want to make contact with us and their art—to try to understand it.  But, if we create space here—in this already ripe with creativity moment—we are suspending linear thinking and inviting even more creativity.  I like to ask, “Is there anything more your art needs?”  Or I often say, “Let’s just sit with your art for a moment and feel into it a bit.”

Space for imaginative linkage between session and day-to-day life:

When a client has a new insight in session, it is not enough to simply acknowledge this novel experience.  We need to help our clients link the newness to their day-to-day lives.  We can do this by inviting them to use their creativity and imagine what the changes will look like.

How to create linkage:

  • Ask the client to imagine the new insight or skill in a variety of situations.  This can feel repetitive and slow, but it is so very helpful.  You are literally asking a client to create space in their day-to-day lives for the new skill.  If they are able to rehearse it happening in a variety of circumstances with their imagination, it is more likely to happen.
  • Ask questions instead of inform.  For example, you’ve been working with a young client to develop assertiveness and he’s been able to represent assertiveness in his art and with physical movement during session.  He’s embraced the new skill well.  Rather than inform him how this new experience could change his relationships with peers, ask an open ended question.  “How do you think this assertiveness stuff is going to impact your daily life?”  When you ask that question, you are once again, creating space for his imagination to swoop in and link his session experience to his day-to-day life experience.

Space in real life:

We need to help clients find space in their lives for change.  Creative space 50 minutes a week is great, but carving out space in daily life is a challenge that needs support.

How to create space in real life:

  • Recommend a get-away.  Summer camps, retreats, a new club are all environments that create literal space from daily life. When clients get the chance to interact with new people in new environments, they have greater permission to be different from their “back at home” selves.   I’ve had several teens return from their summer camp experiences with amazing reports.  Prior to their camp weeks, we focused on reviewing the new skills they’d acquired in therapy that they’d like to be aware of at camp.  Because the context was so different and they were free from the relationships at home that didn’t give them space to change, they had space and time to experience themselves differently.
  • Identify a specific time and space.  I’ve been asking clients to identify a time and space during their week when they could reliably allow their brains to relax into default network mode.  This might involve art making, but it doesn’t have to.  Many of my clients use the last few minutes of the day, right before they fall asleep, to imagine a video of themselves painting a relaxed, safe, or soothing canvas.

 

Our offices are havens of space in a crowded world.  When we see the role of space as it relates to creativity and change we have the privileged position of providing unique opportunities for our clients.

[Video] Use Color to Boost Your Mood

Jun 16, 2017 | 6 comments

 

Color can be a powerful resource for resilience and happiness.  When you access your resource color, you boost your mood and brighten your well-being.  These kinds of activities are vital for therapists and clients alike.  Rather than spending session after session slogging through dysfunction and what’s gone wrong, why not spend a session (or two or three or four) activating resources?

Here’s a fun activity to start with.

Use Color to Boost Your Mood:  Access Your Resource Palette

1. Pick a color you love and write about it.  Write for 5-10 solid minutes in a brainstorm, free form fashion.  Write about why you love it, what it reminds you of, the qualities of the color.

Here’s an excerpt from my yellow art activity:

   “I love yellow.  I love the blinding sun light that sneaks through my closed eyelids and warms the inside of my brain.  I love yellow’s fresh lemon zest and how it wakes me up even when I’m slogged and far away.  I love yellow with its hope and promised reminder that signals the inevitability of morning, a new day, a fresh start. Yellow pierces through darkness and floods it with light.  It tingles and tells me I’ve alive.”

2. Glue collage papers in various tones and hues of your color onto a heavy piece of paper.  Do this spontaneously and randomly.  You don’t need a plan.  Just working with the color is the art.

3. Add paint of various tones and hues of your color.  Again, let this morph as it wants to.  You don’t need to know what it is going to look like in the end.  You just need to stay with the color and your celebration of that color. Let dry.

4. Using other drawing materials like oil pastels, water soluble crayons, permanent markers, colored pencils add to your painting.  Adopt a playful attitude and just get curious about what you’d like to add with these materials.  Spend a moment sitting with your completed art.

5. Now write some more.  Take 5-10 minutes to write about your painting using the stem sentence, “The color __________ boosts my mood because____________________.”  Let the ideas emerge spontaneously, write what comes to mind.

Here’s an excerpt from my yellow art activity:

  “Yellow boosts my mood because it has an energy all its own.  It wants to radiate and be set free to spin.  If you let it, it will grow and reach and permeate places still dark.  It wants to dance.  Yellow boosts my mood because it is playful and wants me to jump in and giggle.  It is simultaneously warming and invigorating—like the lemon zest in a tangy cocktail invented for a special summer occasion.  It’s celebratory, but not in a way that asks for fanfare.  Just in its yellowness—it can’t help but say, “Yes, yay, yippee. For me, the spinning is the finishing touch. (Watch the video to see for yourself!)  When I close my eyes and watch yellow spin—playful rays shooting outward, growing itself into more light—it makes me smile and feel all the possibility in the world.”

 

I hope you try this Boost Your Mood With Color art activity.  I’ve found that the combination of resource based art activities and writing is incredibly powerful.  Share it with your client!  Let us know how it goes!

If you are interested in a very special opportunity to experience the powerfully healing combination of writing and art you might want to join me in my Sacramento studio for Artspace starting in September 2017.  We will be practicing and refining “Collab—Art—wrITE” which is the process of cultivating a relationship between painting and prose.  When you cultivate the art-write relationship your creative expression has the kind of depth and breadth that inspires great healing and inspiration.

 

Visual Listening: Can you hear your client’s art?

Jun 7, 2017 | 1 comment

Do you know how to listen to your client’s art?

Active and reflective listening are crucial elements to every effective therapeutic conversation.  When we bring art into the therapy session, we must add visual listening to the list of important components that support the therapeutic relationship and encourage our client’s self discovery.

I remember learning active and reflective listening in my pre-counseling class.  It was a bit painstaking and I felt a bit robotic.  We were instructed to pair up and role play.  It went something like this:

Therapist: “What would you like to talk about?”

Client: “I could talk about how awkward I feel in this role play.”

Therapist: “So, what I hear you saying is, you’d like to talk about how awkward you feel in this role play?”

Client: “Yes that’s what I said.”

Therapist: “Can you tell me more?”

Client: “That’s the problem, I feel awkward because I really don’t know what to say.”

Therapist: “So you feel awkward and don’t know what to say.  That must be difficult.”

Client: “Yes, it is.”

Therapist: “Can you tell me more?”

Client: “Not really, I’m not sure what else to say.”

 

It was slow and methodical–and yes a bit robotic.  But we learned building blocks of an empathic conversation that are now second nature.  And, since we were able to practice so early on in our education, we got good enough to add in more–be a bit improvisational and reflective of our personal styles.

 

As an art therapist, I also learned visual listening as a crucial element to every effective therapeutic conversation.  Basically, when I think of visual listening I imagine that the client’s art is an additional being, worthy of being heard.  I also listen very closely to my clients’ visual descriptions of their art and work to reflect these ideas in my therapeutic dialogue.

 

Sometimes when I train therapists to begin to use basic art invitations in their work with clients, this visual listening feels as robotic and basic as active and reflective listening did in pre-counseling class.  It takes practice to achieve a rhythm that sounds natural and feels authentic.

 

It can go something like this:

Therapist: “How was that for you to paint?”

Client: “It felt really free, I love the cool colors I used.”

Therapist: “So those cool blues and greens are colors you love and when you were using them if felt really free?”

Client: “Yes, like water flowing.” (Moves hands in wave motion.)

Therapist: (Moving hands to mirror wave motion) “I can see that flowing, free feeling. Can you tell me more?  How is it to see that water flowing in your painting?”

Client: “I love it.  I don’t feel that enough.  It takes me to the beach and the vast ocean.” (Closes eyes for a second in a relaxed repose.)

Therapist: “Your painting really embodies something you love and crave.  I can see how relaxed it is for you.”

 

Here are a few small hints to work with when practicing visual listening:

  1. Reflect/mirror physical movements that your clients makes when talking about the art.
  2. When reflecting for your client, use the identical words that your client used when referring/describing the art. Don’t translate or interpret.
  3. Don’t ask a new question without reflecting your clients answer to the prior question.
  4. Stick with the art, keep bringing the conversation back to the art, don’t abandon the art–its a worthy being in the room with you.
  5. Try to really experience your client’s art–not the story, not your interpretation–from your client’s point to view.
  6. Look at your dialogue as your art–you are co-creating a beautiful moment with your client.
  7. Relax–creative questions come from your curious, relaxed mind.

 

A good rhythm structure to think about:

  1. Question from therapist
  2. Answer from client
  3. Reflection, validation, empathic comment from therapist
  4. Question from therapist
  5. Repeat

 

Once you practice visual listening, it becomes a beautiful, collaborative piece of therapeutic work.  It’s worth it–for both you and your client.

If you’d like to learn more about bringing art into your work, I have two great options for you!  Artfix teaches you to partner with your creativity and see therapy as your art form.  CreateFest gives you 12 wonderful creative activities to try and bring into session.   Both are online courses that you can begin at any time and finish at your own pace.

Bring writing into an art therapy session and be amazed

Apr 20, 2017 | 1 comment

The combination of writing and art in a session is more powerful than either activity alone. 

I’m an art therapist, and I use art in therapy.  Art making is an experience that my clients rely on to make sense out of that which is not easily translated into words.  I “speak” art and teach my clients to do the same.  Art is powerful and so very transformative.  It’s what I’ve used as a healing modality for the last 20 years.

As a result of my writing adventure in Bali with Laura Davis, I realized how invaluable writing can be as a healing experience. The power of the written word is not unfamiliar to me.  I am faithful to my journal.  I sort through thoughts and new ideas with my keyboard.  I sometimes write letters to figure out what it is I truly want to say. Writing is important to my ability to understand and communicate.  But in Bali, I connected with the experience of writing in a new way.  Writing became, for me, another creative process that, when shared with others, is a vehicle for meaningful connection. 

Since I’ve returned from Bali, I’ve been inspired to bring writing into my work with clients.  What I’ve discovered is profound.   When I integrate writing into an art therapy session, my clients’ find that their creative expressions (both the writing and the art) have greater impact.  The writing solidifies the art.  The art informs and inspires the writing.  There is a reciprocal relationship between the expressive word and the non-verbal art.  It’s as if the writing voice allows those thoughts that can’t quite be uttered out loud to appear on the page. Which then paves the way for sharing those very quiet and personal thoughts to be shared.

I have also been incredibly moved by the writing and art integration my Artspace Therapists’ Group is doing.  The deepening that writing invites makes such a difference.  It’s like adding that all important bass line to a jazz piece.  The tune was great, but with the steady driving bass, it becomes rich and compelling.  Something really worth listening to.

Here are some ways to integrate writing and art into session:

Read More… »

Do you really SEE your clients? Or are you just LOOKing?

Mar 16, 2017 | 3 comments

“We do a lot of looking: We look through lenses, telescopes, televisions…Our looking is perfected every day—but we SEE less and less.  Never has it been more urgent to speak of SEEING.”  Frederick Franck

Frederick Franck wrote these lines in his handwritten book, The Zen of Seeing, dated 1973.  I have the page dog-eared and these words underlined.  They were important 4 decades ago and they are important now.

It turns out, there is a huge difference between LOOKING and SEEING.

Looking is for survival and coping.  It is a quick glance to assess the situation, to size up what’s in front of us.  It works for triage and fast decisions.  To figure out whether the stick on the trail is actually a snake or the stranger really only wants directions.  As we come to rely on our looking skills for these kinds of situations, we start to think looking can be used for all kinds of other situations.

We end up looking at art or people or clients and making fast decisions that rob us of the experience of SEEING.  We label good or bad and any other label we think fits.  And, sometimes, once we LOOK and LABEL, we stick to our conclusion like it’s fact rather than SEEING anew every single time.  When we SEE each time we encounter art or people or clients we have a chance to refine our ideas, our conclusions, and even our own sense of experience in the world.

If you are doing a lot of looking, you could be missing out.  Your clients might be missing out, too. Read More… »

3 Art Therapy Activities to Boost Resilience

Feb 21, 2017 | 3 comments

Art therapy activities that link a negative experience with a beneficial experience boost resilience and make it easier to recover from difficulties.  Here are three art therapy activities in a step-by-step video designed to provide this kind of helpful linkage experience.

I’ve had some fun being creative and coming up with new ways to use art in session to help clients use beneficial experiences to boost resilience (especially in relationship to painful or difficult experiences).  With the research that neuroscience provides, we now understand the importance of creating mismatch experience to assist clients in overcoming trauma.  We also understand the necessity of nurturing, enriching, and absorbing beneficial experiences so that our neuropathways are primed with good feeling options.

Here is the step-by-step video I made to demonstrate the three activities.  And, yes, I tried to use Dollar Store materials because I don’t think art and art therapy should require that we have a fully stocked studio!

Read More… »

© Copyright Inner Canvas 2017

All Rights Reserved.

Designed by Solamar Agency

Featuring Recent Posts WordPress Widget development by YD