Friday, December 31, 2010

Resolutions and Professional Responsibility

I'm a day behind on blogging and still trying to figure out where I want to go with this today. I have a schedule of things to write about in my mind and today/yesterday is a blank page. I feel like I should be writing about resolutions of some sort, but the mood strikes me not.

I am not a New Year Resolver. I see it as a set up for failure and disappointment. I am, however, a Birthday Intenter, which has worked well for me. Unfortunately, I have been forgetting to do that the past two or three years, because of this grad school thing. It's like a 3-year resolution that consumes all other goals and possibilities... a little... possibly... okay maybe not... it's really just been an excuse. I am still perfectly capable of other improvements. I forgot to set intents this last birthday too, but since it wasn't that long ago, perhaps a New Year Intent would be an okay exception.

And for visual appeal purposes, here are some randomly placed photos of an old expressive therapy class assignment about being/doing/understanding expressive therapy.

Here's how this relates to my art therapy journey. I firmly believe that all therapists have a duty to practice what they preach. And art therapists have an additional responsibility to also regularly feed their creative sides. I would not want to go to a medical doctor who smokes, never exercises and eats chili fries and valium everyday for breakfast, because if that doctor said, "Hey you really should consider blah blah blah for your health," I'd think something along the lines of "You're a stupid hypocrite" and that sort of thinking just doesn't foster a good doctor patient relationship. The same goes for being a therapist. If one is telling others how to care for their mental health and find fulfillment in life, one must be doing the same work. Along those lines, I often review anything that could possibly be lacking in my own self care and adjust as necessary.

But self care improvements make bad birthday/new year intentions, because they're not especially awesome. In fact, they're just plain BORING! Intentions are most possible when they are something you want to do anyway. Birthday intentions got me into yoga teacher training, riding my bike 150 miles for MS, taking drum lessons and even buying a house. They were things I already wanted to do, but might have put off without setting the intention. None of those things were necessary; they just made my year extra cool. Happy birthday to me.

As mentioned earlier, I believe art therapists have the additional responsibility to also practice regular creative expression. We're living The Dream after all. So today I ask myself, "Self, in what way will you be living The Dream in 2011?"

It's important to also keep in mind that I am graduating soon and hopefully (fingers crossed) getting a job, so my dream has to be doable and not of the buying-a-house caliber this year. So, five ways to live the dream this year...

1. Take a class at the junior college, adult continuing ed. group or somewhere in either ceramics or painting, because I've never had professional training in either and they're classics.

2. Restart my etsy store, because it helps keep me artistically active and provides minimal income (extremely minimal!).

3. Participate in this, because I just wanna.

4. Donate one quilt, because I just noticed these all sound really selfish and a little balance is in order.

5. Go on a trapeze, because Jung said, "What did you do as a child that made the hours pass like minutes? Here is the key to your earthly pursuits." I miss the swing set.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Collage? Eh, I don't know.

At the AATA Conference in Sacramento, Seena B. Frost, creator of SoulCollage was was one of the keynote speakers. Seena is not an art therapist, but some art therapists are into SoulCollage and it has an art therapy feel to it. I enjoyed Seena's presentation, was curious about collaging cards and ordered her newest book SoulCollage Evolving which I received two or three weeks ago.

So far, I have mixed feelings. First, if I'm being honest, I don't especially like collage. It's too rigid for my creative tastes. Mixing and matching the images of others feels creepy to me. Plus, my undergrad degree is in photography and electronic design, so I'm pretty picky about how these sorts of things should look and fit together. However, one thing that I missed in my own work at times was the lack of actually touching a product. I could create an image, a book, a poster or whatever and it was all just glowing pixels until someone else printed it. Although I put a lot of time and thought into it, I never touched any materials during the creative process most of the time. So collage allows for a little more dirty work. Touching stuff is fun. Add that with my search for combining easy with looks good and collage is worth a try.

Secondly, I take issue with spiritually-sounding language in my psychology. In one paragraph of this new book, I pick out these four words, "mysterious, holy, Oneness and mystical." I prefer charts and diagrams to mysteries and holiness.

Third, the cards are like tarot cards you make and read yourself. This also makes me feel pretty weird and I can't imagine using these with anyone in seriousness.

And now that I have dogged it, allow me to show the two cards I made so far.

This is my Source Card. Apparently, it is supposed to "point to the infinite reservoir of the possible." It's actually a carnivorous plant image I found in the National Geographic, but it looks really alive, colorful, active. I was going solely on appearances for this choice.

This is my SoulEssence Card. It's my own personal potential or "that spark of Source that was in [my] individual soul from birth."

So now that I've said what I don't like about SoulCollage, here are the pros... it's simple and possibly fast, depending how long it takes to figure out what images you like. There is lots of training available. It's a social activity that involves people getting together in groups and using their cards as catalysts for deep conversation, which is probably pretty healing in itself most of the time. Also, although it's very Jungian and kinda hippy sounding (this is published in Santa Cruz, CA, by the way, which may explain some things if you've ever hung out there), it looks like the intent for the questions and answers really come from the people who make the cards, which is not very tarot cardy at all. Also, I like the cards I made, even though it didn't feel like doing much and I have trouble taking credit for making some choices and using scissors.

I will give this a deeper try and consider adaptions, before I make an official decision. The jury is still out.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Knit, Purl, Philosophize

I've heard that many people get into this profession to work on their own stuff, but I got into it because I like art and psychology. However, it turned out to be a parallel process because since I put together my portfolio and applied to the program, I lost my brother and both parents. Most things about experiencing a lot of deaths are terrible, but there are some parts that aren't so bad... or maybe they are also pretty horrendous, but really important lessons.

I became aware of this impermanence train that is life earlier than some. Did you ever regret not knowing at the moment how awesome it was to be a kid and get to color in school, take piano lessons every week and spend three months a year in a swimming pool and on roller skates? Instead you probably spent your kid time thinking about how great it would be to grow up, have your own money and never have to listen to a single teacher again. Sometimes I feel like that kid, except I know how totally radical it is to be living this life right now every single moment. When you lose a lot of people, especially a sibling or maybe a friend around your age, you might think, holy crap life is short. What am I gonna do with this thing to make it meaningful? At least that's what I thought about.

In spite of life opening a can of whoop ass on me the last three years, I feel that overall, I'm extremely lucky. I'm lucky I was trying to get into this profession when I started, because when I thought about what makes my life meaningful, the perfect career was simultaneously falling in my lap.

Here's what I want out of life... Even though we're small and insignificant in the universe, I want the world to be a little better while I'm in it. If I can make something just a tiny bit prettier and someone a little happier, I consider my life well lived. I don't expect perfection, but an overall higher score in the gee-it-was-great-you-existed column.

That being said, allow me to get to the knitting portion of this post. Here's some handmade/hand-dyed yarn I was knitting today which sent me spinning on this whole thing...

The last thing my mother taught me was how to knit. She had taught me when I was little, but it didn't take, so she taught me again as she was dying. After she died, I knit. A lot. I knit so much I didn't even know what to do with the stuff. I donated some of it. My favorite organization is Spirit Jump. It works like this: you sign up, you get emails about people who have cancer and feel down, you make or buy them something, you send it. The receivers get a surprise (or probably a series of surprises) in the mail and the senders get major feelgood points.

Know what makes me feel even better? Anonymous giving. Sneak-up-on-someone-who-never-sees-it-coming-giving. Stealthy-ninja giving. Making-people-feel-good-without-seeing-a-result-or-even-getting-thanks giving. Know why? Because it's fun and way more real.

And what does this have to do with art therapy? Tons! We often work with people who have lost their way and are traveling on the what's-the-point-of-all-this-pain train. They need help finding the transfer station. Challenge people to make something and send it to someone. Help them knit some squares and combine them to create a blanket for a homeless shelter or nursing home. Get them to make some origami and drop it in strangers' purses (in a safe way and place -- no need to go around getting patients slapped).

It can be the season of giving all year.

Here's a related video someone shared with me yesterday...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

ATC (Artist Trading Cards) & Zentangles

This is what's in my mailbox right now!

This week I got a couple of Zentangle books for my birthday (Thanks Debbie) and simultaneously got curious about Artist Trading Cards (ATC) Exchange. Coincidentally, I found an online black & white Zentangles ATC exchange! I haven't had my fortune read or investigated my horoscope lately, but if I did it would have said I was destined to exchange some Zentangles I guess.

Right now, you may be asking yourself two questions: 1. What is Zentagle and 2. What is an ATC Exchange?

Okay... here we go...


According to their website (here),

Zentangle is an easy to learn method of creating beautiful images from repetitive patterns. It is a fascinating new art form that is fun and relaxing. It increases focus and creativity. Zentangle provides artistic satisfaction and an increased sense of personal well being. Zentangle is enjoyed by a wide range of skills and ages and is used in many fields of interest.

We believe that life is an art form and that Zentangle is an elegant metaphor for deliberate artistry in life.
I want to see some research on the increased focus, creativity and relaxation, but it sounds highly possible. What makes it cool is there is no talent required. It's a guide to doodling for the doodle-challenged. Simple.

On an A.T. side note, one could offer a quick lesson in Zentangle and do a pre and post stress measurement. Or have a chat on why creativity is scary and adults forget how to play and introduce Zentangle. Or talk about mindfulness and Zentangle. Or how to deal with mistakes and Zentangle. The directives are endless. Oh, I should probably mention Zentangle is registered and they have their own workshops, so don't go acting like you invented it.


ATCs are trading cards that people make and exchange. There are many ways this can be done. You could have an ATC exchange group or host a party (although let's be honest -- that sounds like a mega nerdfest), but I think it's mostly a mail art sort of deal, which is what I just did.

You can buy over-priced pre-cut cards or slice your own. If you google "ATC Exchange" you'll get a list of exchange sites or you can just go to and look around at what sort of exchanges are going on. People make up themes and host exchanges. For example, a host might decide on a theme like "puppies" and people would send a determined amount of cards that represent puppies and a SASE to the host, who would mix the puppy cards up and send everyone back the same amount of cards made by others. I love making stuff and I love getting mail, so this is just all around fun.

On an A.T. note possible directives that come to mind without fully thinking them through are Self as Superhero (but on a trading card), Coping Skill ATC Exchange in group, Art Mystery Gift ATC Exchange, Something I've Always Wanted to Do, But Never Have Exchange or Illustrate Your Favorite Quote Exchange. Probably anything that's positive and of universal interest is good on a therapeutic card and exchangeable, if you're working with people who can handle that.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

So I had this realization...

I recently read Pat B. Allen's Art Is A Way of Knowing for class and to my burned-out-on-school surprise, I read the whole thing in one sitting and felt pretty stoked about the experience.

I've been thinking a lot about what art in/as therapy means to me, as previously mentioned and I realized somehow while reading this (although I'm not quite sure where, when or how that light bulb turned on) that my best art therapy happens when I am not in the role of art therapist and this image popped into my head...

On one side we have the totally exposed art therapist and I wrote down some of the ways I use A.T. in my personal life (blurred out for the web masses) and then I have someone in a burqa to represent not a statement about womanhood but how I have gone about doing art therapy thus far, along with a randomly found quote from one of my group A.T. directive books.

This started sorta coming to me after I made this image.

I was thinking about what I want to give people when being in the role of art therapist. This is an image that just spontaneously came to mind as well and I couldn't figure out what the "magic" is at the time.

I'm thinking now that the magic is what art therapy does for me which isn't something I share when on the job. I have been the veiled woman, the blank slate if you will. Of course, being the completely exposed naked woman isn't quite good therapy either. However, when I am that bare off-the-clock self, that's when my creativity has been most contagious and people I know have been inspired to do their own things, taking some of my energy home. So what I need to find in myself is that place in the middle.

I think I already know that place in the middle. The paper under the nude is a folded up copy of a letter from someone I worked with, but not in a therapeutic role. It's about how talking to me about art inspires him to make some. This wasn't someone I poured my guts out to about personal work (I doubt he even knew my last name), but I did share some of my excitement and ways I work. That's exactly what I'm looking for in my professional identity.

I'm working on directives to give people a glimpse of that, rather than pull directives out of my education, and have gotten off the fence about showing some of my more personal work here. Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Things to Do with Socks

Confession: I hoard socks. I would love to wear them. I fully believe it is an art therapist's right and duty to be a tad eccentric and wearing wild socks would really work for me in that respect. However, I can not/do not/will not wear any of the completely fun, hilarious, downright radical socks in my collection, because I intend to make things or help others make things out of every last one of them. A part of me thinks I should buy two pair of everything, but that's another story...

Gretchen the Group Leader
Sock Monster

I have a thing for making monkeys and monsters and when I was under twelve, I also made dolls out of socks. One can also make all sorts of sock animals. Let your imagination run wild. There's just something about transforming one thing into something else that feels so darn right to me.

Untitled Donation
Sock Monkey

I have also done this with clients in the past: making stuffed sock animal gifts and hiding gratuitous wishes and dreams on slips of paper in the stuffing. (Hint: this is a great thing to do with someone who doesn't do well following through on tasks, because it's different, fun and requires more than a single session).

Dame Shirley Fonteyn de Arias
Sock Monster

I was talking with a fellow therapist about my love of monster-making and my curiosity regarding what it would be like to make a problem or illness into a small monster of clay or socks and she commented on the power of language with even the suckiest of problems. For example, one might say, "I am IN a depression," and it implies a lack of control and rings of being lost, while, "I HAVE depression," gives one power over it in a sense. Yes, I have this "thing" (this monster if you will), but I HAVE it, so I can put it in a box, shove it in my pocket or I can take it out and examine it when I want. I am in charge. I'm not lost in it. I own it. Plus, I think there is something about making your problems, no matter how massive they are, that makes them feel more controllable or provides another way of looking at them.

Archibald MacGroober
Sock Monster Dogish Thing

Here are some of my creations. I like to make them, write about them and sell them should the opportunity arise. Examples with stories follow...

Owen Titus MacGregor
Sock Monkey

Owen loves Camel cigs, cheap beer and hot she-monkeys. He loves to rock out with his buddies all night, play poker and drink tequila shots whenever he gets the chance.

He's looking for a home where he can live out his life in the rockstar lifestyle he has always longed for. He prefers to sleep tucked in beside blonds, but any sexy momma will do.

Owen is child safe and loves kids, but may be a poor influence on your teens.

Amy Argyle
Sock Monkey

Amy's off to college at She Monkey University, a private school for she-monkeys, where she will be studying liberal arts. She is the last monkey you would expect to find at a kegger doing body shots or jumping on the furniture at some frat house. Amy loves broccoli, bagels and brie (although not all together), reading nineteenth century French literature and playing Beethoven sonatas. Amy is a vinyassa yoga champion and has practiced ashtanga with the the best.

For more information on making sock monkeys go here:
I recommend this book on monsters: Stupid Sock Creatures
This book has some good information on making sock animals: Stray Sock Sewing
Sock Dolls: Sock Doll Workshop (I haven't seen this one myself, but it has high ratings.)

Thursday, December 2, 2010


I had today off and spent it holiday shopping of which I am not so much a fan. No time for art, but it is time to go to bed. This all makes me very cranky.

Coincidentally, this is my latest spread in my journal.

I was thinking about a couple of things when I sketched this. The first being how rich and awesome my internship site is and the second how saturated I am with being a student. Learning feels like it takes time away from learning at this point. (If you've ever been about done with grad school, that last sentence might just make some sense to you.) I felt like this image in a yay-I-have-so-much-cool-stuff-going-on way on Tuesday. Today I feel like this in a damn-it-I'm-stuck-standing-here-catching-some-blue-liquid-and-not-doing-what-I-want way.

I wanted to make more postcards. My lesson for today is that not getting my usual scheduled art time makes me feel like shaking my fists toward the heavens and screaming a slew of cuss words.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Art Journal

One consistent assignment throughout several classes in my soon-to-be-finished (whoop! whoop!) graduate program has been the art journal in which we are asked to visually respond to readings and things going on at our internship. I have kept both written and visual journals for years, before I even started the art therapy program, but I have only recently felt inspired about the one I keep for school.

Allow me to introduce you...

This is my art journal.
It is made from a brown cardboard moleskin sketchbook. The outside is based on one of my untested A.T. theories (feel free to explore this for a thesis of your own. Idea theft is encouraged at The Art Therapy Rookie). My theory goes like this: people are more likely to feel a benefit to art-making when they feel competent and like what they made. I could be way off on that, but it's my experience people at least seem to like art therapy more when they learn something new and create something they appreciate. Maybe it's just a good way to get people committed to the work and the hard stuff can come later. I don't really know and I'm getting off track. Anyway, going with that idea, I decorated the cover with paper mosaic, because it requires not a lot of skill, can be adjusted for all ages and can create clean and structured patterns or images. Also, while doing it I discovered the repetition is meditative. For how-to information check out Perfect Paper Mosaics by Susan Seymour. There are several books on paper mosaic, but this one is the best I've seen. Her website is here. A super simple wikihow paper mosaic description is here.

Inside my art journal, I explore whatever is going on in my head, readings and internship site. The latest example is here.

Technically, I tend to use a lot of watercolor, but along the making-art-feel-more-accessible stuff I'm exploring, sometimes I use stamps or other techniques I discover at my local Michaels or Joann Fabric and Craft stores. With this spread I tried flocking for the first time, although it's hard to tell in this scan. Next week my goal is to try sewing stuff in here, since I've had so much fun sewing postcards for the postcard exchange. After I am done with exploring whatever visually, I try to take some time to put some words to the thoughts, which often comes down to writing on top of my work. This spread is about me trying to figure out the role art plays in therapy. I've been chasing that question around my head a lot lately.

In summary, art journals are a good time, allow a space to process stuff as well as try out techniques on self before introducing to others. Get one. Make one. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Video Therapy

Happy Thanksgiving. My household has a Thanksgiving video-making tradition. We ask each other the same 5 questions on film and then review past years' responses to assess how we have changed or review what has happened in our lives previous years.

It got me thinking about ways to use video in therapy. I have used still frame animation in therapy. Here is a YouTube example of someone doing still frame with a white board. I totally want to try this!

You could also use clay, toys, furniture, yourself. Basically it involves moving or changing something in tiny increments, taking a whole lot of photos and putting them together with some basic video editing software. Seems like a good one for working on maintaining focus/attention. I think it could be a fun group project as well.

I also thought about video therapy as a possibility for someone who is physically ill and working on leaving a legacy.

I found video on you tube of a woman using it with patients with Alzheimer's disease. It's a little old, but still useful information.

I read a chapter in Materials & Media in Art Therapy about therapists using video with groups of people who are homeless and HIV positive. I also found this article in Time discussing the use of video to help people gain insight into what they say and how they say it.

Any other thoughts or ideas? Have you used video in your own work?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Coping Skills Box for Baby Art Therapists

This year’s internship is 95 parts group to five parts something else. I am working with adults. Last year’s internship was 20 parts group to 80 parts individual work and I was working with teens. When I started this “new” (not so new anymore) internship, sometimes my supervisor would say something like, “Hey, do you want to lead an art therapy group later today (or in half an hour)” and somewhere inside I would begin to hyperventilate psychologically, because although my favorite population is of the grown up world, figuring out what to do and how to keep this population engaged scared me.

I am still trying to figure out what art therapy means to me personally and where it fits into helping patients/clients/the entire world, but one thing I have noticed in my own corner of art making is that I use art to create what is missing. What was missing when my supervisor used to say, “Wanna lead this one?” was 1. A plan and 2. Familiar tools. Therefore, I made this…

The Art Therapy Coping Skills Box
(So that I can cope with pulling a group out of my back pocket at a moment’s notice)
This is the outside. In time, I hope to completely engulf it in art, but for now I've only done the lid. The quote is from No More Secondhand Art by Peter London. "The artistic process is more than a collection of crafted things, it is more than the process of creating those things. It is the chance to encounter dimensions of our inner being and to discover deep, rewarding patterns of meaning."

The inside looks like this...
I have supplies in here for cards, flags, worry people, mindfulness beads, seed packets, masks, body scans, collage and a stress ball.

Most importantly, I have this!
This is my group notebook. I take this with me to my internship everyday and keep it with me pretty much all of the time. (What is that Marine rhyme? "This is my rifle..." It's like that.) I spend time researching possible group themes and activities and write down everything I think I need to know to run it like I know what I'm talking about. I write down the groups that I watch others do in case I need to repeat them. This makes me feel safe. The spiral binding is additionally awesome, because I can fold the cover over nice and just have this small thing in my hand while I am doing a group. It's like a blanky or binky or thumb sucking for A.T. rookies.

So, anyone need a group leader? Bring it on!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

First Postcards

I've been running over plans for this blog for a few weeks now, organizing my thoughts and writing entries in my mind. I've got a lot coming... in theory. However, since I am starting to send the postcards for the Art Therapy Without Borders Postcard Exchange and added this new blog address right on the front of the cards I better get this blog started.

So without further ado, postcard one for ATWB...

Postcard two is for a classmate from my supervision group last year who happens to be on my postcard exchange list. I have a list of people from all over the world: France, Japan, Australia and one of my favorite grad students from my own school! Mazel tov!

These guys are assembled from my scanned artwork as gel medium transfers on watercolor paper (thanks Maddie) scrapbook paper and stamps glued and machine stitched together.

For more info. on transfers go here
For more on the postcard exchange go here

On a side note I got a mood ring from the biofeedback presentation I went to at the AATA conference in Sacramento which I coincidentally wore as I made these. It was all black before I started, because I was freezing as usual and it was gold when I finished. Also, I felt warm, happy and full of Csíkszentmihályi flow by the time I had to put the supplies away. Evidence that art is good stuff.