Lisa Mitchell

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Susan Orr (1941-2018)–Art Therapist and Mentor. Her trust in art lives on.

Sep 15, 2018 | 19 comments

When someone so passionate and creative and beautiful believes in you, it means everything.

Susan was my professor first, and then my art therapist.  In class she handed a thin strip of paper to each of us.  She held the strips fanned out in her hand and walked around the classroom to personally deliver the message.  I read my strip.  It said, “Try Trusting the Art” in a fancy font printed in all caps on a dot matrix printer.  She could have said it directly with words, but it was powerful and special to receive Susan’s hand delivered, four word poem.  It’s been 27 years, but I still have that strip of paper. It’s thick with the scotch tape layers I’ve used to post it on every desk I’ve used since the day I pulled it from the group of gathered strips in her hand.

Her therapy room was filled to the brim with supplies.  She was frugal and conscientious about waste, so the paper was mostly found paper—cardboard boxes, backs of paper pads, miscellaneous piles of mulberry and vellum probably scored at a garage sale.  She was a curious and non-directive art therapist.  She watched with caring eyes; so attentive, non-judgemental, mostly silent.  In my workshops people always ask, “What do you say or do while your client is making art?”  My answer is always, “Listen and Watch.”  And then I say, “If you’ve never had someone attend to your art making in silence with full non-judgemental presence, it’s hard to imagine.  But the experience is profound.”  And I’m talking about how Susan did that for me.  I had heard people criticize her for going too slow in her work with clients.  Her pace was perfect for me.  Her confrontations were nudges in the form of an art invitation.  She didn’t psycho-educate or intervene or give homework. She let the work unfold.  She trusted the art implicity.

Those days I was caring for my 12 month old and grieving my father’s early and tragic death.  I was fresh out of graduate school and my internship was intense. On one of my visits I was frazzled and made the comment that I just couldn’t stand being cooped up inside.  Susan suggested we have our session outside in her courtyard.  We brought the paint out and a large piece of paper and I felt myself expand while my art breathed in the open air.  Spontaneously, I divided the paper with a representation that depicted two parts of me.  One side was the organized, competent mother and intern part of me.  The other side was the emotionally distraught, depressed, traumatized part of me.  I was trying to make the case that these parts had to stay separate and that no one could know about the distressed part.  I told this to Susan.  “I can’t let people know how messed up I am.” Susan wondered aloud, “What would it look like if you connected the two parts?”  I did.  Actually, the colors did it themselves.  I felt like her invitation was magic.  Something inside chinked together like granules of sand being compacted neatly.  Each facet turned to fit with the neighboring granule’s edge. The moment was a turning point for me.  I felt integrated.  I felt the possibility that I didn’t have to cover up or hide.  I felt known and seen.  I felt the power of art to do all of that without needing words to explain it.

There’s another moment that I replay sometimes.  It’s not as nice a scene as the patio art therapy moment.  Susan had a show at one of the galleries in the R street Foundry.  It was many years after she was my therapist—maybe 7 or more.  My husband and I had gone to a cocktail party at one of his colleague’s houses in midtown.  They lived in one of those Victorians with a front porch as big as a living room and a back kitchen that still had the original black and white tile on the counters.  They were midtown chic and happy and collected art.  It was a regular event to go to Second Saturday.  They fixed appletinis.  I’d never had them before and loved the sweet tart liquor.  I was fairly drunk when we arrived at the gallery.  Susan’s show was stunning.  She had used oil pastels to layer textured cloud formations onto wood panel.  Each piece was a representation of a Rilke poem.  I’d never seen texture made with oil pastels in this way before—it was almost like a clay relief.  And her colors were vivid.  And she’d typed out the poems to stand with each piece.  I would have liked to read and absorb and admire them,  but I was drunk. And then when she noticed me and we hugged, I was still drunk.  I garbled something to her that was a congratulations for her show, but it meant nothing because I was too far gone to make a heart connection.  She turned to greet others and do her hosting.  I felt ashamed.  Like I hadn’t come in an honoring state. Several months later I went to her open studio and did spend time with her oil pastel works.  I am happy I got to take them in there in a sober state.  She was gracious and spent time explaining her method of crushing up the oil pastels and then layering them to form the textures. Whenever I remember that gallery moment, I feel like a child who failed a parent in some visceral way.  But she didn’t hold it against me.

Fast forward another several years, and I’m in Susan’s backyard studio choosing jars full of miscellaneous art supplies to take with me to Wind Youth Services.  She was closing her art therapy studio doors and wanted me to have as much as I could take.  I took her jar of corks and her sand, and her artichoke jar full of thread.  I took a rectangular basket full of vellum—I think it was the same vellum that we used sometimes in therapy at her other office by McKinley park.  I took a large collection of clay tools—dirty and well used.  I took a sheet of homemade paper that measured about 3 feet by 3 feet.  I took more jars and a collection of oil pastels and chalk. I took two ceramic bowls that she’d made that held shells and washers.  Part of this gifted collection went to Wind and part to my own studio.  I felt like it was a sourdough starter that had been grown and nurtured for years and was now my responsibility to keep alive.  I felt as if her supplies fueled the growth of my studio and my practice with just the right energy or sentiment or wisdom—or all of that.  Later she mailed me a hand painted card wishing me the very best in my new place and practice.  I keep it, along with the bowls as some of my cherished possessions.

I wrote a piece about Susan in my book.  It credits her with teaching me to trust the art.  What it doesn’t say is that this learning reaches for deeper than the art.  She trusted me in my work.  She sent me clients, she gave me supplies, she told people how good I was.  She saw the crumbled, depressed me and still trusted me.  She believed in me which helped me believe in myself.  I occasionally had thoughts about needing to go to coffee with her or to tell her what she meant to me.  When I left Sacramento I thought I might say goodbye to her and thank her.  I never did.  And I don’t regret that part, because i am certain she knew.  She held me just like I held her.  She didn’t need to know her role in my life because that’s just who she was.  A believer, a truster, a teacher of deep levels.  I won’t’ miss her because I figure ours was an ongoing relationship without having any contact.  And now that she’s dead, that won’t change.  But I do honor her today.  And I hope I have done her sourdough starter justice.  I hope that I have passed on the leftover art supply collection to good people so that it will live and thrive the way she deserves it to.  I will nurture the thread that I still keep and soon it will emerge into something new and powerful and full.  It will embody the trust that she taught me to hold—on a strip of paper, in my art, in life.

Goodbye Susan Orr.  Thank you for your belief in me.  It made all the difference in the world.

“Goodbye private practice”–My recipe for a GOOD goodbye

Jun 26, 2018 | 22 comments

 

Closing my doors

After 16 years in private practice I’ve closed my doors.  From my initial decision — to the months of transition — and now the actual closure, it’s been a profound process. (If you missed my initial announcement, you can read more about my transition here and here and here.

Historically, I’ve been terrible at goodbyes.  I’m the person who doesn’t show up for last sessions.  I’m the person who will say, “We’ll see each other again, so this is not goodbye.” I was tempted to pretend that my last therapist group was just the final week of an eight week series.  I wanted to shoo everyone out the door and tell them not to be sad. But I didn’t.   And I think I got this last goodbye right.  I want to share it, because in the process I’ve come up with a simple, magic recipe for a GOOD goodbye.

Here’s my recipe for a GOOD goodbye:

  1. Write to this prompt then share. Today marks the end of…………..
  2. Write to this prompt then share. Today marks the beginning of…………
  3. Give stuff away or receive the stuff—depending on what side of ending you are on.

 

We did this during the last therapist groups I facilitated at my art therapy studio.  Like I said, it turned out to be the magic recipe.

Step one: Write about what is ending.

When we acknowledge the ending of something, I now know that it really helps if we can articulate what is ending.  This goes beyond the usual expression of emotion—the sadness, the grief, the disappointment.  This has us say in our writing (and then out loud) what it is that will no longer be.

Here’s a sampling of what I wrote and read for the groups.

Today marks the end……

Today marks the end of the door chime that announces the arrival of an open-faced, open-hearted beauty who is ready—ready to dive in, express, explore, create.

It’s the end of sitting around the painted on, glued on, cut into Ikea tables—the lousy chairs whose pillows slide and many end up using them as back rests instead of seat cushions.  No more sitting around, checking in, “finding the thread” as I’ve come to call it—so that the last meeting slides into the present–into our current experience and we add on, more unity, more expression, more art.

It’s the end of the shelves crammed full of art junk and art mediums.  The stacks of oil pastels that are now stumps, broken and peeled.  The jars of matchsticks and broken windshield glass and old buttons from my grandmothers’ collection are no longer necessary for the creative chaos that they lend to the décor.  No longer needed for the inspiration.  Not even for that last finishing touch on an altered shoe or book or doll. 

Today marks the end of guessing which lotion someone used during their trip to the bathroom.  And the gratitude I feel when they re-enter our creative circle, freshened, massaging the fresh scent of lemon or sage or lavender into the hands that have been only moments before immersed in paint or chalk or glue.  It’s the kind of gratitude that puts me in touch with love for that person, so visceral, and for the moment of gathering and willingness to “go there” with me.  The gratitude that says thank you to something greater that has coached me here—to a place where these gatherings can happen and others can love themselves, their art, the expressions the way I do.

Tonight I will set the alarm like always.  I will lock the door behind me.  And I will marvel at what we’ve done here.  Today marks the end of The Art Therapy Studio.  The end of 7985 Park Drive.  But I guarantee, it is not a dead end.  I will carry it with me.  And you will carry it with you.  And in that way—our creative process, our love, our willingness to dive in will go on and on and on.

Step Two: Write about what is beginning.

There’s a band called Seminsonics whose song, “Closing Time” is quoted all over the internet.  The lyric goes, “Every new beginning is some other beginnings end.” When I realized how true this is, that you can’t have an ending without a beginning just like you can’t have day without night, I knew I had to add this to my goodbye recipe.  Even if there is a transition period after the end, where you don’t know what’s coming for sure, there is a new and different something.  A beginning (no matter how unclear) starts the moment the ending happens.  So we wrote about the beginning.

Here’s a sampling of what I wrote and read for the groups:

I hear, that in Japan, they use the term second spring to describe when you feel foolish and childish and do things your responsible adult you wouldn’t do.  For me, it’s when you shut down your life work in order to start something new—without knowing what that new thing is, without knowing where it will take you, without knowing much of anything.  The perfect example of a second spring is buying a herd of guanaco and not knowing the first thing about handling or caring for wild, exotic animals.  But I’ve done it.  Today marks the beginning of fully embracing my second spring.

Today marks the beginning of packing up the studio, taking down the art, finally emptying the tea basket and calling it good.  It’s the beginning of a long haul—a month of moving boxes and pets and the herd to another state.  The trailer might not be bought yet, but the movers are on stand by.  They know about beginnings—from the inside out—all that personal stuff crammed into one small area, hauled long distances without the owners.

Today marks the beginning of a relationship with my rhythm to create that I’ve never been able to fully live.  It’s the beginning of mornings that begin with a question, “What do you want to make today?” It’s the beginning of finding my thread and sticking to it—because I’m curious or because it feels good or because I know there is something there that I just can’t let go of.  It’s the beginning of learning my style again, hearing the words that want to line up on the page freely—all at a pace that feels right, internally calibrated, luxuriously earned.

I remember a time between high school and college where I marveled at the idea that I didn’t have any project with a deadline. I felt free and completely untethered.  I could think thoughts that didn’t have to relate to the topic or the research or the problem I was trying to solve for my professor.  I could think thoughts that were random and happy and follow them without aim, without discipline, without dictation.  I’ve been happy in my life—alot.  But when my thoughts were free in that gap year—I think I was happiest. 

And so today marks the beginning of thinking my own thoughts—not for a client or a class or a book or a blog post. It’s the beginning of knowing myself from a new perspective—like from the fingertips on up to the hands and so on.  It’s also the beginning of having time to notice those fingertips and how it feels to touch luxury fiber as it spins itself into yarn. Or how the computer keyboard feels after days and days of writing for my own curiosity. Or how my muscles feel after the longest farm work day I can stand.

Today marks the beginning of a life change.  A second spring, as they say.  It’s the beginning of something wonderful.  I’m all in.

Step Three: Give stuff away and/or receive

I thought I was complete with the writing and sharing.  But it turned out that the recipe required another step.  I wanted to share pieces of my studio.  And all the lovely people came and picked up art supplies by the bag load.  Shelley picked out all kinds of mixed media stuff for her Project Flourish group to make collage.  Gloria hauled away the butcher block art table and chairs.  Jamie took the painting panels.  Barbara found a ceramic bowl I’d made in graduate school and held it to her breast, she will cherish it.  Lyla has the life-size frame for a photo booth prop and a lot of other good junk.  Renee took the broken windshield glass and divided up the acrylic paints with Colleen.  And Kim brought her daughter Lily who picked out her very own hole puncher.

I felt like parts of the magic were dispersed like dandelion seeds in the wind.  And that feels right.  Others will continue the work with clients, in their home studios, maybe even with each other.

I read this John O’Donahue poem as send off.  It’s one I have read to myself and to clients forever.  I hope it inspires you for your new beginning…whatever that may be.

Blessing for a New Beginning

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

–John O’Donohue

Business advise from the end of a successful practice.

May 14, 2018 | 29 comments

 

We can learn from people at the end.

When people are at the end—end of life, end of a relationship, end of a long hard project—they have a unique viewpoint that can only be gained from having lived through it to the very end. I’ve always listened a bit harder to the folks who are generous enough to share their view from their last stop.  When we pay attention to their wisdom, we benefit. So, since I’m at the end of a successful private practice, I want to share something that only now, 2 weeks away from closing my doors, I have come to understand clearly. (If you missed my initial announcement, you can read more about my transition here and here.)

I didn’t come to this understanding all by myself.  As is often the case these days, the combination of art and writing helped me arrive at this beautiful conclusion.  I want to share it with you in hopes that it inspires you to build your work-life so that it feeds you, heals you, and sustains you. Just like mine did for decades. Read More… »

Wisdom from the trenches of transition: Ending a Series

Apr 5, 2018 | 25 comments

The other day, at coffee, Hannah reminded me that artists work in series.  She was talking about her own work—completing a couple of big commissions and her show at the Pence Gallery that I was about to see.  She was in-between projects and inspiration.  She knew it and was trying to tolerate the patience with oneself it requires to incubate the next thing—the next series.  She can feel it changing, but she doesn’t yet know how.

 

As a therapist, my art has been with clients and they’ve come in a series. For I really do believe that therapists are artists and therapy is an art form. Foster kids, families, juvenile sex offenders, teens, therapists…..each time I began a new job or focused my work on a specific population, I was starting a new series.

 

It all sounds really creative and full of flow.  From one job to another, one client population to the next.  Each series building on the last.  New learning, new excitement, a path of curiosity fulfilled.

 

That’s not how it feels.  As Hannah described her own struggles with allowing herself to incubate instead of forcing her next series to come, I had the flash of recognition in my own life.  I’m packing up my office, my home, everything I own, and moving across state lines.  This series has ended—the one that took me all over the country to train therapists to use art in their work, the one that allowed me to work with those difficult teens who spoke through their art like they’d never spoken to a therapist before, the one that brought me groups of passionate therapists who wanted to excavate their souls and share because their well-being depended on it.  I’m closing up shop.  And, like Hannah, I know I have to give room for the next thing to show up.  There’s another series out there for me, but there is no menu from which I can pick ‘what looks good tonight’.  It needs to incubate inside me.  I need to wait for the idea.

 

People ask me, “What are you going to do once you get moved?”  They want to hear about my next idea, my next endeavor, my next series.  They know I am a manifester.  I create things and invite people to participate and it is wonderful.  They want more from me.  They can’t wait.

 

When I can only answer, “I really don’t know.”  I feel my disappointment roll into theirs—and we are a ball of impatience together.

 

Artists don’t stop working when they are in between series.  Their creative mind is always searching and trying out and there’s even actual engagement in the work itself.  They still go to the studio and work.  Sometimes it is just to clean a brush, other times it is to rearrange the workspace.  To outsiders, we may look as if we are doing the same things as always.  We are still creating or seeing clients or writing.  On the inside we are wringing our hands, scrunching our hair from our head, pacing back and forth—waiting.

 

I’ve learned that when I’m incubating, I have to be nice to myself.  I used to obsess about new ideas.  I have old lists of possible groups or classes to teach.  I have half-baked art invitations.  Names and taglines for courses fill notebooks.  In the past, I established a disciplined approach that included an optimal routine for inspiration.  I had to wake early, take my dog for a long walk in nature, do yoga, take a shower, then sit on my bed and download the ideas that I had seemingly plucked out of the river on my walk that morning.  I could incubate and find inspiration about the clients I was going to see that day or classes that I wanted to teach or a blog post I was going to write. The routine was my creativity template.  It worked well then.  But now I see, I was actually in a series.  I had my overall endeavor so well dialed in, that I was in flow and all I needed to do was stay in.  It worked beautifully.  I loved most of it.  Sometimes I was even able to be nice to myself.

 

Now, I’m no longer in that routine.  I don’t need to be and don’t want to be.  I have completed that series, and am waiting for the next.  So when I walk my dog on the river my thoughts are blank and I listen to  the birdsong and the sound of my shoes on the dirt.  I still sit down to write, but not as often, and only to see if there is anything there yet.  It’s kinda like knocking on the door to see if anyone is home, even when you know they are on vacation.  That’s where being nice to myself comes in.  I reassure myself, “You don’t have to know where this sentence will take you.”  I try to relax my breathing and tell myself, “It will come. You don’t have to know, right now, sweetheart.”

 

My coach, Andrea Lee, used to tell me that once we find the stream, all we have to do is stay in the boat and follow it.  The work was in noticing the moment in which the current began to carry us.  I used to joke back and tell her that it felt like the work was in trusting that there was actually a stream like the one she described.  It took so much work to walk around on rocks and follow dead end paths all the while lugging the heavy boat in hopes to catch a whiff of the right waterway.  Now, I know there is that stream.  Actually, I know there are many streams.  But right now, in this transition from California to Washington, from a well developed career series to the unknown, I am floating on an inner tube in the middle of the ocean.

 

It’s not that bad really.  Maybe it’s not exactly an inner tube,  but more like a nice fishing boat with a bedroom below and a little art studio set up on deck.  Nevertheless, I’m floating.  It’s not a passive float, like I’m helpless or a victim of circumstance.  It’s an expectant, kind, midwife-y kind of float.  Where I’m looking for signs of going into labor.  I’m reading the horizon for clues.  I’m engaged, alive, happy—with only an occasional bout of hand wringing or hair scrunching.

 

Are you working on a series?  What is it and how are you keeping it going?

Or are you incubating like Hannah and I?  What can you do to allow this for yourself?  How do you tolerate the in-between?

 

Transition: The Ultimate Creative Challenge

Jan 21, 2018 | 84 comments

I’m facing my biggest creative project ever!

I’m moving.  As in, moving my whole life.  Not just to the office next door or to the house down the street (which is what I did 7 years ago).  I’m really and truly packing everything up and sending it across 2 state lines in stacked pods on a truck bed.  There’s a ferry ride at the end which involves breathing through the flood of bliss that always comes when I see the beauty of the Puget Sound.  And there will be the cedars and Douglas firs that wait for us.  They guard our property with ancient solidity. They are home to the eagles and the other birds I have yet to meet.  I’m aware that the isolation could wreak havoc on my relationship seeking psyche from which I’ve formed my therapist identity, but since a part of me already lives there, I’m certain this new life is what I want.

That’s right, my husband and I are packing up our lives here in Sacramento and moving to an island in the Puget Sound.  It sounds crazy and romantic and cliché.  We are those people.  Those people who have decided to get out of the bad air and the concrete and the cars and the speed of life as we know it and move to a farm.  The original idea came from our need to save my husband’s lungs (the Sacramento ozone is literally killing him).  Now, I’ve come to look at it as saving our hearts and our minds—our souls. Read More… »

Art in Therapy? What you call it matters!

Dec 20, 2017 | 3 comments

In a therapy session, the details are everything

To a therapist, just like an artist, the little details are everything.  When we sit with a client we track physiological responses, posture, eye contact, tone of voice, reactivity, activation, our own responses—the list is practically inexhaustible.  Most of us are naturals at this and are just putting our sensitivity to work.  I love the feeling of being highly present and attuned to my client.  I feel alive and curious and connected.

This particular detail is super important

One of the details that I like to pay particular attention to in an art therapy session, is how I refer to an art activity with my client.  The fields of art therapy and expressive arts therapy use various names to refer to the therapeutic application of art in a session.  The two most common terms are “Art Intervention” and “Art Directive”.  My clients and I are most familiar with the term I use, “Art Invitation”.  After a conversation with Shaun McNiff about my book, Creativity as Co-Therapist, I realized that the term “Art Invitation” was unique.  His enthusiasm for this term was wonderful and he joked that The Art Invitation should be the title of my next book!  I’d like to share with you some thoughts about each of these terms so that you can add “how you talk about an art activity” to your list of details to consider in a session.  There is a time and place for all three terms, for sure.  Giving careful consideration to the subtle (and not so subtle) differences is crucial. Read More… »

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

 

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