Lisa Mitchell

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Election Art: Beauty from the ruins

Nov 11, 2016 | 13 comments

Election Art 2: Beauty from the Ruins

In times of fear and uncertainty, before I coax myself to embrace the unknown, I go back to what I know for sure.  It’s always same three things: my basics–the things I am certain I can do no matter what.  On Tuesday, Election Day 2016, I found myself clinging to and then landing in these three things. It was good.  Very good.  I want to share them.  Perhaps they will inspire you and your clients.

In know I can teach.

I can teach people to squeeze hot glue onto buttons and sea glass and to use formerly meaningless objects to make something life affirming.  I can teach people to throw paint onto paper and create an experience of complete freedom.  I can teach people to mesmerize themselves with rhythmic knitting, their needles, yarn and hands becoming a relaxed collaboration.  I can even teach people to love themselves—though sometimes that takes a very long time.

I know I can love.

My love is a comforting constant. I love my clients, my pets, my friends, and my family. I love my coffee.  I can share my fierce heart easily because it is strong and real.  If it ever wavers, I can go out in nature and feel love the instant I look at tree bark or hear water flowing.

I know there is beauty in the ruins and I can always find it.

As therapists, we are highly trained for this type of activity. Every day, in every session, we must delve into another’s state of ruin—the failed marriages, the tragic deaths, the self-loathing and self-abuse, and the abyss of despair. We face it with our clients like archaeologists excavating a dig site.  With our compassion and love, we comb over every detail searching for the beauty.  We are a committed bunch, dogged in our search to find what we so passionately believe.  That there is beauty there—somewhere, under all of the shit and darkness.  Sometimes, all we have to do once we find it, is point to it.  “Look!  There’s beauty here in this tear falling from your cheek.  It’s a diamond. “ Read More… »

What the Balinese do for anxiety.

Aug 18, 2016 | 7 comments

My 2 week writing retreat in Bali with Laura Davis was an adventure, a vacation, and a profound education. I’m certain I will have many things to share as my experience becomes more integrated. But one big take away from Bali cries out to be told, honored, and even implemented here in the States.

The Balinese practice Bali Hinduism which is a unique mix of Hinduism and Buddhism. They bring strong beliefs in animism and naturism to their daily practices and make it a priority to relate to all things and beings as one. The Balinese are stunningly beautiful people. Their faces aren’t pinched with worry. Their attention isn’t a mile ahead or on what’s next. They are engaged in the moment and their wrinkles are smile lines and crows’ feet mixed with the evidence of living in nature—fully, every day. Yes, the Balinese have struggles. I heard stories of domestic violence, gambling addiction, conflict between tradition and contemporary values, and inhumane treatment of the mentally ill. But, their daily offerings practice gives me ideas about what’s missing in our culture when it comes to coping with anxiety. Read More… »

Finding Beauty in the Ruins: Why August Can be a Great Month for Therapists

Aug 12, 2015 | 4 comments

Finding Beauty in the RuinsWhen I was a teen my favorite book was Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard.  I read Dillard’s poetic account of the nature she studied every day for a year while living alone in a cabin on Tinker Creek.  She recorded her astute witnessing of even the smallest of animals with whom she co-inhabited the woods.  She was present, engaged, and maintained a level of seeing that wasn’t diminished by routine or familiarity.

I used to take walks along my own creek, Little Sewickley Creek, and try to see the water bugs skate along the water’s surface in the way the Annie had described in her book.  I wanted to be peaceful and absorb my surroundings through her lens.  Much of the time I was able to.  Some of the time my creek was just a creek—the same old one I’d walked along for a decade.

During this long hot August, I’ve pulled my heavily worn and underlined copy of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek off the book shelf in hopes of getting reminded of the exquisite view that Annie Dillard’s sustained attention can inspire.

You see, it’s a drought out here in Sacramento.  Things are crispy and brown.  The landscape, the lawns, the trees are mostly dead.  It’s not pretty.  It’s not inspiring.  I’m really not tempted to make a practice of gazing peacefully on the impossible-to-escape-fact that we need water.  Nevertheless, my dogs need walked. So, I continue to take them to the river, fox tails and all.


Grounding is good. But, is flying better? In celebration of Wings.

Oct 2, 2014 | 5 comments


In celebration of wingsGrounding is important.  To know how to ground yourself is to have the capacity to regulate, stay present, and sustain engagement.  I’ve helped many clients use the very same breathing and visualization techniques that I use when I need to center myself or get calm inside my skin.  I rely on my ability to ground every hour of every day.  It’s necessary, it’s useful, it’s healthy.

But, lately, I’ve been thinking about flying. 

8 lessons from the trail that apply to art, therapy…..and life.

Jun 27, 2014 | 9 comments

Mt. Tallac TrailWilfred Mitchell was a bull of a man. He was a psychologist and a professor and had the emotional intensity required to be good at this kind of work.  Many have described him as gruff and angry, and had the misfortune to be on the receiving end of his unrealistic expectations.  I knew him as Grampa Bill. To me he was a silver back gorilla who took all of his physical strength and melted it into tender and loving protection.

Grampa Bill was the one who taught me about hiking and white water rafting and the great outdoors.  As a teenager, on those amazing summertime adventures, I loved spending time with him.  I loved the mountain air and chili out of a can.  I have always said that Grampa Bill taught me to love nature, but only recently have I realized those trips taught me so much more about life and art and even therapy.

At the end of July, I’ll be climbing Mt. Whitney (the highest peak in the lower 48 states at 14, 505 ft. elevation) as a way of walking in my Grampa Bill’s footsteps.  (He impressed all of us by climbing Mt. Whitney in his 70’s.)  I’ve been training for this big climb, and the lessons I’m gleaning from the trail are invaluable.  Read More… »

A love letter to artful work…and you.

Feb 14, 2014 | 5 comments


heart 4 copyOn this 2014 Valentine’s Day, I am moved to declare my love for our profession and for each one of you who participates in this work with a whole heart. 

My friends say they like it when I get mushy–so here goes.



 I love you because:

You invite me to be the best human being possible.

You humble me.

You touch me–deeply–in endlessly surprising ways.

Your determination to make a difference is superhuman and seemingly fueled by an endless supply of compassion.

You help to create change and transformation that ripples through families in both subtle and monumental ways.

You inspire me to look for new ideas, in new layers, from new perspectives all day and all night. 

You continue to show me how resilient humans really are.

hearts heart2


You are a continually beautiful  reminder of the imperfection in our human condition. 

You work hard with your heart.

You ask me to keep my  heart open.

Every day you give me a reminder of what really matters.

This love thing is no joke…..this is a profession that requires us to have a huge capacity to love. 

Here’s to feeling the love, showing our love in many different ways, and to staying whole hearted in our love filled work.

heart3Happy Valentine’s Day!

Want to fall in love with your work even more?????  Check out this post about Therapeutic Use of Self.

Creativity and Hope: The magic combo for starting back to work after the holidays.

Jan 2, 2014 | 4 comments


Tree SketchI’ve stepped away from it all for a week or so.  Instead of art directives and treatment goals, I thought about king tides and the seals barking in the bay.  I walked long stretches of California beach and watched junky Netflix movies at night curled up in front of the wood stove.  Getting away is wonderful.  Coming back is sometimes hard.

But this year, I’m deciding to hitch a ride on hope and creativity.  With the New Year, this seems to be just the thing to remember.  That with each client, with each beginning, the act of engaging requires two things:  Hope and Creativity. Read More… »

what you can learn from an open studio tour

May 28, 2013 | 1 comment

What does your studio say about you? Even in the smallest ways, how do you manage to create a space that conveys an endless invitation to be creative—even if you don’t use art materials with clients?


Yesterday, we returned to our favorite artist’s space.  It was no more than a shed with windows.  But Eleanor had infused her whimsy into her yellow doors and sunny approach to ceramics.  While I sat on the deck, fantasizing about inhabiting her space—one day, my way, some day—I wondered what it would be like to make magic in a forest meadow dollhouse.  Building and artist being so closely matched they probably share a heartbeat. Read More… »

the art of incubating, the defeat of procrastination

Apr 11, 2013 | 3 comments

On Monday, I found an abandoned goose egg.  None of the squawking sentinels at the pond beat their wings aggressively when I reached down to rescue the egg from its poor excuse of a nest on in the sand.  That’s how I know it was abandoned.   It’s big and beautiful.  For the rest of my walk, I began to hatch plans to borrow a friend’s dremel tool and use the egg to make these really cool oval frames I’d seen at a recent craft fair.  My daughter and husband had different plans for the egg.  Into their makeshift incubator the egg went.


On Tuesday, I found another abandoned goose egg.  Once again, no dog sized bird came a-claimin’.  This time it was at the water’s edge–too cold for any sweet pre-baby to be happy.  But, into the “incubator” it went.


Monday’s egg represents incubation.  Tuesday’s egg represents procrastination.  Same object, same symbol, probably same goose mama—yet I have a totally different relationship with each. Read More… »

beauty witness

Feb 27, 2013 | 7 comments

The following is a glimpse at the early roots of my private practice…..

I slide down the wall outside the padded room and I find a seat on the cold linoleum, desperately trying to send soothing thoughts to the crazed captive within.  All I can hear are animal growls, agonizing wails, and violent thumps as they migrate through the cracked seal that locks the cell door.  He doesn’t know I’m here at the hospital.  Or that I’m on duty as the mental health investigator.  He probably doesn’t even know where he is or why he’s been 5150’ed.  The nurses explained he’d been walking all night and was picked up by the police after refusing to leave the median strip that divided the busy street in front of the concert hall. Read More… »

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