Sunday, December 25, 2011

Blog Restart and Updates

One of this year's birthday resolutions was to blog every Sunday and three weeks later, I am making that happen for the first time. One of the tough things about starting over on this blog is organizing my thoughts and having a coherent topic, so screw that. Here are some random updates.

First of all, as my graduation gift to myself, I went to Kripalu for an Art and Yoga Teacher Training with Hari Kirin Kaur Khalsa, which was fantastic. I was initially intimidated by the traditionalness of Kundalini Yoga, but Hari Kirin has a certain glow or an aura or something of welcome and kindness and I loved it: chanting, meditating, yogaing (kundalini is really hard, by the way), singing (!!!) and art-making. On the last day we made our 40 day art and yoga plan which I have tried and often slacked on, but it is in my heart and I will keep working at making art and yoga a regular part of everyday. Expect to read more about this. Here is some artwork...

Painting from the workshop: "A New Relationship"
From my Art and Yoga Sketchbook
Watercolor after a yoga - run - yoga - meditation combo
My art life has been slacking recently and my physical life has been intense. There was a time before grad school that I was pretty hardcore into my physical life and that must be some sort of natural part of who I am, because now that I have the time, it's back. I am training for a half marathon and a trapeze show! Yes, a trapeze show! I am the least experienced person in it, so I feel compelled to work extra hard to get things as right as possible and not look like a big goober. This is not quite getting things right, but it is so fun and freeing and I cannot get enough of swinging and flying. This is my idea of self-care.

Back End Straddle

Work continues to go well. I've had some learning opportunities and successes to share in future posts. Currently, my guys are working on a strengths-based film. We just started, but they seem pretty interested so far, as is my director, so I hope that intervention goes well... More on that later.

I made my resolutions for this year of my life and the list is ridiculous!!! I was looking at past lists and I normally hit almost all my goals each year. I am okay with having intentions that aren't quite reachable, because even if I only get to 50%, I'm still growing. Even as I write this, I am trying to decide how much I should make my goals public, because it's a pretty demanding list I have created.

Alright, this is the gist:
1. Keep space neat.
2. Be proactive about getting things done on time.
3. Organize the basement (I'm still working on that studio space and it is in bad shape right now).
4. Take counseling exam.
5. DBT training (if I can afford it; work doesn't pay for trainings they don't provide).
6. Read at least 20 of the books I own.
7. Practice yoga at least 6 days per week.
8. Get job teaching yoga again.
9. Run 20 miles per week.
10. Art (visual, music or writing) daily.
11. Fly unassisted.
12. Develop a budget.
13. Pay off my credit card.
14. Clean up my etsy shop and try harder to sell stuff.
15. Donate an afghan in my mom's honor.
16. Write in my blog every Sunday.

This was my birthday list and I am making progress so far and feeling good about hacking away at this thing.

If you got this far, thanks for reading my update. Next time I hope to make the post more relevant to art therapy. Please stay tuned.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Life is Good

I haven't posted in awhile out of not having artwork to include. So, without further ado, here are some bracelets I made from some of my beads.

I have been enjoying making beads and jewelry the past two or three weeks, but it's just a relaxation tool and not especially newsworthy. After watching millefiori videos on youtube and reading The Art of Polymer Clay Millefiori Technique by Donna Kato, I have started to try my hand at more elaborate work. This may be hard to believe, but I am not instantly awesome at this. Here is a poorly-produced image of my first attempt...

Artistically, playing with this stuff is what I have been into, but that's not actually what I want to write about, because personally and professionally everything is so incredibly great I can't believe it. I want to give a shout out to life in general.

So allow me to use the remainder of this post to revel in the wonderfulness that is my life right now. 

I really love my job and even though I feel like I am flying by the seat of my pants and don't know what I'm doing almost all of the time, I must have inherited good instincts along the way or am just getting really lucky, because I'm getting lots of positive feedback, making new friends with my coworkers and establishing useful therapeutic connections with my guys. I'm not a believer in fate, but the appropriateness of where I am now and who I am working with based on my life experiences of the last several years is ridiculous. Although this was not what I wanted to do if I had been given the choice in May, it was the right fit and I am reminded of this almost daily with a "no way" sort of moment.

Personally, having been through a rough few years both going through school while working and all of the loss, I feel so free. I've been working on getting myself in order financially with my house improvements soon to follow. I'm trying new things physically and I'm having a lot of fun in my off time: skating and trapezing. I've always lived on the further end of happy while simultaneously feeling a little out of place and awkward. Lately though, it's like all of the pieces came together, even the awkward ones to make everything just right. 

I feel good.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Making Swirly Polymer Beads

This post is not about gender, but it has to be mentioned as something that has surprised me working with adolescent boys. My general approach to working with individuals is to begin with their interests and let the art therapy kinda organically just happen. Unless someone is stuck, I don't suggest or provide directives outside of group work. Interestingly it appears with my guys, creative interests know no gender. Regardless how they identify, no matter how "male" they might appear, they want to try things like knitting and for now beading has been all the rage. I never would have suggested knitting or jewelry making nor did I provide supplies that suggested such pursuits until the guys starting making requests. This week, I have been challenged with figuring out how to do this...

Image stolen from

I'm not there yet, so in the meantime, this is what I made this week, which came from working with the guys. This turned out to be a successful intervention I think.


Swirly Bead
This is a pretty simple technique for bead making. The bare minimum you need is 2 or more polymer colors and something like a toothpick or needle for poking a hole. However, this is some of my clay stuff that I can use for bead making.

pasta machine, bead roller, baking rack and baby oil if clay is old and dry
First, roll some clay around in your hands or through the machine to get it nice and soft. Smash two or more layers together for multicolored beads.

You can twist this around and smash it up a little more. I squished a bead at a time so I got swirls rather than risk over-working it and getting a whole new color.

If you want evenly sized and uniform beads, a bead roller is a good idea (you could shape by hand also if you prefer).

Measuring clay (about the size of a pencil eraser)
Place clay in roller and glide back and forth.
Here's where some of the therapy metaphor may come in: rolling is fun, but if you don't want to stop, the clay crumbles and the bead cracks in half. Granted, it's clay so that's easy to fix, but I have enjoyed watching kids figure this out, especially kids who have trouble with moving from one activity to the next and knowing when to stop. 

Poke a hole through the center.
Bake as suggested.
If you want, you can also paint on a little glossy varnish to make them shiny like so...
Currently, I have one kid working on bead manufacturing and a couple who are into stringing. The manufacturing develops fine motor skills, knowing when to stop and has been building interaction because we are working as a team. The stringers are learning how to slow down and practice mindfulness. Also, these repetitive acts seems to relax the guys so they can open up and we can talk about some of the tougher stuff they're dealing with.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Totika and Things in My Office

Part of what I have been working on the past few weeks is getting into the individual groove, which means things like developing individual plans and having a space conducive to individual work.

Although my guys have had individual therapy, historically it has been based on need and by request rather than by appointment. There are a few problems with that method. One is that a handful of guys will use all of my individual time while others are content with whatever they get out of group. The other problem is that I become the face of immediate crisis intervention for others. While I like working in the moment like that, I also think therapy is helpful when one is in a calm and rationally thinking state of mind. So, in an effort to shake things up a little, I started giving each student equal portions of my time, by appointment, regardless what is going on in their lives, in addition to be available when they need me.

This allows some control to become available to the kids. If all is going well, they have choices of what they want to do with their individual time. That being said, Totika is one of their favorite options and my therapy recommendation of the week. It's like Jenga, but whenever a block is pulled, a therapeutic question may be asked. I have the self-esteem deck of cards, but the guys love this so much, I imagine I will slowly order all of the decks.

And in art news, here is the bulletin board I made for my office.
Click on image for larger view.
This was made from a regular large brown framed cork board from the local office supply store.  I covered it with gesso, oil stick, oil paint and after it dried, oil pastel and fixative. After all was dry (two weeks!!!) I wrapped the frame in torn colored tissue paper and Mod Podge. Then I added images I had around the house and recent experiments like kirigami and paper models. This hangs over my desk.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Living with Intensity

This post is brought to you by serendipity. This weekend I have been thinking about the potential value in living an intentionally dialectic/bipolar life as well as questioning how to give the guys I work with an intense physical outlet for intense emotions. These thoughts are coming together based on a series of conversations, emotions and events.

The past week at work included hearing some tough stories and playing a role in some tough decisions as well as a boost in awareness of the seriousness of my job. While being a kind of "holder of horrors" is by no means boring, it's also not really all that pleasant. By Friday last week, I was toast: burned and a little sad.

Coincidentally, I had an amazing weekend planned that happened to be far outside my normal methods of blowing off steam: pure physicality, adrenaline and a hefty dose of absolute terror. First, I did this...

My First Trapeze Lesson

I was shocked when I saw this video, because this didn't feel like it looks at all. It felt a little awkward and very scary. I shook. I felt dizzy. I thought I might throw up and it was all amazing. I dropped every other stressor I have ever had. There was nothing else in the universe but my body, fear and the rush of pushing through extremes. 

On Sunday I trained with the local roller derby team. The last time I wore quad skates, they had Cabbage Patch Dolls on the sides, so again I was awkward, a little scared and forced to focus on nothing but my body and not smashing my teeth in. It was awesome. I don't actually do roller derby, but what I think is great about it is the release of an alter-ego. One can do her yoga, her human-services job or volunteer during the day, be of a gentle-mind and carry the weight of others' trauma then come derby time become someone named Sadie Masochist, wear a helmet with skulls and blood, elbow other women in the ribs while moving at high speeds, laugh and compare bruises later. We don't get a lot of appropriate outlets for rage and the giant emotions in our culture. Maybe we should... Maybe intense emotions call for intense sensations and it's just a matter of finding something that allows a release without making things worse. Intensity can be a good thing.

Therapy-wise, I have been trying to notice when my guys have the roughest times as well as noticing the intensity of coping tools don't usually match the intensity of an emotion or behavior and therefore really take a whole lot of self-awareness and control, which my guys don't often have, to work. I'm wondering about finding activities, artistic and otherwise, that lend themselves to huge feelings. Something that is safe and doable but big.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Adolescent Group: Failure and Success of the Week

The way groups at my new place of employment work are like this: we have a curriculum that lasts two weeks which covers a single concept. We have groups completely written out for us, but nobody uses them, because we are allowed to wander away from recommendations as long as the kids somehow know how to define the concept at the end of two weeks. At first, I thought two weeks (four groups) for each kid was way too much time to cover a single idea, but I am seeing that my guys do better with repetition, so I am learning to slow down with them.

This past week we started "red flag warning signs." The goal is that the guys will know internal versus external warning signs that precede acting out behavior. I wrote up activities to cover the topic, such as artistic representation of internal warming signs, making comic books of external warning signs, dramatic reenactment and a new version of red light green light. We started with a discussion and artistic representation of internal warning signs... epic failure. I don't know if this is true, but whenever we touch on bodily sensations, my guys claim to have none and give me the blank stare. This could be teens being teens or an honest part of the problem. Bottom line, this was a NO GO. The red light green light was a success with my older guys and okay with the younger group. We took turns naming an internal or external warning sign or neutral experience, not moving if it's a warning or trigger and taking a step forward if it's no problem. Example: "I ride my bike"... everyone who is not triggered by bike-riding steps forward. "Staff yells at me"... nobody moves.

I realized when the guys used my first artistic representation to do something else, look confused and/or refuse all together that I needed to go back and re-plan the rest of my red flag groups. I remembered rule number one about working with teens and realized the problem may have been that I broke it: never ask a teen about himself, especially in a group. Ask about someone else and they'll tell you all you need to know. So, for our next group, we made red flags, gluing red triangles onto sticks and decorating however kids liked (and some of them decorated with actual internal/external triggers, so they did get something from the first group). Then we watched the beginning of Hulk (and will continue to watch for the next week) and held up flags when guys noticed Hulk getting triggered.

I've used The Hulk in therapy before, but this movie is especially great for red flag warnings because he wears a pulse monitor and uses relaxation techniques when he notices his pulse increasing, so the guys can notice internal and external signs in someone else. Most of my guys loved this and did a stellar job noticing and explaining Hulk's warning signs. Also, we talked about why the Hulk doesn't want to lose control (people can get hurt) and there is a great line from Hulk's coach while he is teaching him pranayama, "When we control our body, we control our mind." I think this movie could lead the guys into being more open to learning relaxation techniques beyond deep breathing. Yoga was first developed as a sitting practice for men meant to help one develop super powers and immortality. The guys have a modified yoga practice, but I think if they see Hulk sorta doing it and learn about the history, they might buy into it a little more.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A New Art Journal Begins

For the past several weeks I have intended to be intentional about artistic processing, but that's only been going on in my mind... briefly. Who is this working person who works? Who comes home and sits around? Who feels tired at zumba class, tired at yoga class, tired at Michael's and Joann Fabrics and Ultrecht? This person who works and sits right here in this very seat and sleeps down the hall a few feet away? How quickly routine can make one boring.

Well, maybe it's not routine. I think it's an unbalanced routine. It's the all-work-and-no-play routine. I am a few weeks into a job and missing the routine of past jobs when I included other events in my life rather than being consumed (but happy, make no mistake) at work and then feeling too tired to care about anything else. It's summer and summer is far too brief where I live. It needs to be celebrated, nay worshiped,  before one must wrap oneself away and huddle in front of a space heater for what feels like eternity.

Therefore, this week's artistic processing is about all the things that should be growing in my garden, so to speak. It's intentionally simple, because I just wanted to figure out what is important to me and what fits. After this stage, I also wrote on it, because that is how I roll when I am processing, but that's sorta private, so I leave you to guess what everything represents. I'm not sure what to call it yet.

Also, I have a new "art journal." It's in the form of a little binder so if ever I feel the need to make an artistic response in the moment while working with someone, I can just have one sheet at a time, so I can honor the person I am with and not have all this other stuff connected to it. Plus, adolescents are pretty into getting all up in one's business and having a book of drawings may result in requests to exhibit said book of drawings. Artistic responses may be therapeutic on occasion, whipping out all my business however, not so much.

Sunday, July 31, 2011


Another great week down. I started running groups on my own, did some individual work and wrote my first reports. My days of making up things to do at work are over, which in some ways is too bad, because I occasionally come up with good ideas during moments of invented busywork.

Among my personal missions is the task of decorating my office space. This has been a work in progress for the past week, because as the only art therapist on the premises, a girl has to represent (within guidelines). Although my clients will not spend much time hanging out in my office (I also have my own group room), it needs to have the aura of artsy adolescence to inspire creativity as well as a sense of someone who just might be fun, playful and cool enough to talk to. And, above all else, it has to be cheap, because those student loans (aka the other mortgage) are starting to roll in. Therefore, I am making everything that goes in there. I painted my bulletin board. I made a zentangle quilt for the top of my filing cabinet and I am slowly adding handmade toys to a shelf on my wall.

The experiment of this weekend is kirigami. Like origami, kirigami is folded paper, however, rather than starting with a square, kirigami is cut. The work of this weekend is also in response to a particular student and his power animal.

For more information and kirigami animal patterns like this one, see Kirigami Menagerie by Hiroshi Hayakawa.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Building Relationship

A couple of recent monkeys building their relationship
Wow! It's practically been a month and I am only now just beginning to have somewhat a sense of routine. With that being said, it is my renewed intent to post each weekend, now that I have a mild grasp on my life and career.

For now, this is what it has been like to be a brandy-newbie art therapist... I still have done very little "theraping," which is probably a good thing for any new staff member. Instead, I have been following people around, going to the 942 different types of meetings, reading my caseload files and beginning to write a report on one of my guys based on past reports and interview with his interim therapist. As of Monday, I am the official real deal therapist: I am running my groups, doing individual sessions and that report is due for me to present (!). In my mind, the best way to take advantage of this semi-down time was to plan future groups, read up on the population and theories of working with them and try to help my guys feel more comfortable with me.

The great thing about this week was the students were on vacation from school and therapy, but the rest of the staff was not, which meant it was expected I go to their residence a few hours this week and just hang out. How perfect to just talk to and play games with clients with no underlying goals! And, perfect timing for me! I played catch, brought bocce and a guitar to teach a couple new chords to a kid who likes to play.

The week before their vacation I took the initiative to hold an impromptu group with my guys and ask them what they have done in therapy, what they have liked and what they don't like, so I could organize my plans around keeping them engaged. I also explained to them what art therapy is, asked if they had any questions of me and concerns or hopes for future therapy. I left them with a folder of things to do over their week off during down time. The folder had copies of coloring pages, drawing instructions and paper model cars. It was a big hit! It probably had no less than 50 pages in it and I had to refill it midweek. When I walk in the house now, some of the kids and staff are often busy making something from the folder and my fellow clinician/office mate copied it for her house too, which is pretty good for my self esteem.

So, if you need to invest in something adolescent boys like, these are my recommendations based on their favorites in the folder I made: Paper Cars by Sam Atwal, Gargoyles and Medieval Monsters Coloring Book by A.G. Smith, Hidden Fur by Adam Turner. They also love directions for drawing cartoons etc. and I am still on the lookout for the best drawing resource for them. I noted staff using pages from the Mystical Mandala Coloring Book by Alberta Hutchinson. I love, love, love that staff is using stuff too, because they have a lot of burnout and need their coping tools, it is great modeling for the boys and it sorta helps me feel like I'm creating a relationship with staff, which is really important.

Paper Car
Also, as the first and only art therapist at my facility, requesting supplies was accomplished from my to-do list as well. However, the red tape for a new budget is a process. Luckily, it is back to school time and Target has cheap supplies for pennies. Yesterday I spent $28 on a ton of stuff that will hopefully get me through a month or two.

Here's my new group therapy kit (and there's more!)
Not the quality I would like, but it will do. I don't know if I will get reimbursed, because I kinda went off my own and did this when I noticed the sales, but $28 is a small price to pay for comfort in doing my job.

Monday, July 4, 2011

My First Week

Last week I trained with the residential staff and met my new patients. Next week I will be hanging out with my new supervisor, the director that has been covering my job, the social worker who shares my caseload and the other clinical staff. I will be getting to know my new office space (which I will likely need help finding again tomorrow morning) and reading samples of the reports I will be writing as well as the files of the guys I will be helping. My head is cluttered with my thoughts and feelings about this new professional journey.

Like my last supervisor, my new supervisor is a provider of literature, which is a tactic I appreciate. This weekend's reading has been Parts Work and A Shining Affliction, plus several articles. Both books are definitely worth reading and bring me to the art processing and sense-making of the week.

Parts Work is about Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy, which lends itself really well to guess what... SoulCollage! (See this previous post on previous SoulCollage thoughts -- I was not a fan.) In really poor summary, Parts Work is about making friends with subpersonalities, recognizing their history and purpose and channeling this in ways that help us function at our best. Subpersonalities or "Parts"make more sense as SoulCollage than SoulCollage makes as SoulCollage, so I decided to make a couple based on my own subpersonalities that have been most active this week.

Mr. Ineptitude
Ms. Can-Do-Attitude
In short, this week has been a mix of thoughts like, "I don't know if I can do this," combined with, "Yeah, I am so excited to be doing this!" and a pinch of "I may have been made to do this!" I'm terrified, feeling incompetent, totally stoked and like the fates are smiling down on me and my new patients all at the same time. Good week.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Morning of the First Day!!!

It is the morning before I start my real job and I have over an hour before I leave (45 minutes earlier than I need to) so I thought this would be a good time to get out my last thoughts as a non-working art therapist.

I had a dream this morning that I haven't quite figured out yet, but it's definitely related. I was doing therapy for the first time with a thin dark-haired adolescent boy. He was pretty resistant, either said nothing or that everything was great, like I think it typically goes with adolescents who don't trust their therapists yet. Because it was a dream, part of my job was to walk him home, and of course, he lived in the neighborhood where I also grew up. In fact, he lived at the end of my street. So, we're out of the therapeutic space and we're walking and he tells me he has something he needs to talk about right when we're almost to his house. I know I am supposed to have good boundaries and only see him for an hour, but I ask him if he wants some extra time to talk about it. I'm flattered that this kid seems about to open up, curious about what he has to say and concerned that if I let the moment pass he will clam up again the net time I see him. I ask him if he wants to take some time to talk right then, but he says, "No, next time." He gives me a flower that looks like this one that I just stole from the internet...

and he says "I lied about one of these things." When I take the flower, it has words written on the inside of the petals. I recognize it as something he made with his last therapist (who I know was male, I don't know why that would be relevant, but I'm adding it anyway). Each petal has a single word written in black and the kid pulls out the petal that says, "happy," before he goes back into his home. I know this kid is telling me he isn't the everything-is-great-show he has been putting on and I feel sad for him. I go back to some other old artwork the last therapist left. It is a drawing of his life in black and red marker, but everything is positive sounding and generic. I still don't know him.

This leaves me a few minutes to state my hopes and fears about my new job. My hope is that I love my new patients/clients/residents/kids (I don't know what to call them yet) and am excited about everyday I get to spend with them. I hope I am always motivated to help them and willing to do my homework to learn everything I can to help them come to terms with their lives. I hope the people I work with are friendly and supportive. I hope they're willing to be open to the first art therapist on staff at this facility and offer guidance without squishing me so early in the game. I fear politics and getting used, because I'm eager. Most of all, I'm afraid I won't like my patients/clients/residents/kids and will dread driving into work everyday.

In the meantime, check out what I made this weekend! Not only do these monkeys have faces (painted... a new sock monkey technique for me), but they also have lucky bellies and wings.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Sock Monkey ETC Assessment

This is one of my bags of monkeys in progress. I have piles of monkeys in various stages of assembly which is a very odd way for me to work. At first, I thought I was working several monkeys at a time for etsy store convenience, but then I noticed I have been drawn to my least favorite part of monkey making: cutting, sewing, stuffing and assembling. Usually, I work one sock at a time and I keep my eye on getting to the final touches and figuring out the monkey's story. I'm like a sculptor looking for the monkey in the sock and giving it a voice. I approach sock monkey making on a cognitive level. I know that sounds ridiculous -- I'm talking about SOCKS here, but that's how it is.

This past week, however, I am just a monkey-making machine and not so into thinking. I'm all kinesthetic in the monkey making, just getting into a rhythm of stuffing and stitching and that's all I want to do. I think I have 8 or 9 monkeys sitting around waiting for me to do my favorite things to them, but I haven't had the desire. Instead I grab another empty monkey and stuff some more or reach into my sock stash and start another one. My last supervision teacher would say, "That's diagnostic." I heard her voice in my head today while I was hand stitching a monkey crotch and realized how extra weird it is that I don't know why I am doing this.

It's not narcissism that makes me need to examine myself. I just think it's bizarre that people like me who are trained to make sense of artistic behaviors and have insight into creative choices can have moments of not knowing the meaning of their own need to make a pile of faceless sock monkeys. I don't know if it's just me being a rookie or if it's a necessary part of a therapist's job, but I find myself a great practice patient, because I can't help you if I can't help me and also I get some of my best ideas from experimenting with what works to keep me on target, so to speak. So, this is why I questioned myself about the odd monkey-making behavior today.

So, I am working with repetition and not a lot of thought. This seems to be a self-soothing thing to do, but I don't feel especially anxious even though I am about to start a new job next week. On the same day I start training at my new job, I also volunteered to teach a yoga class for families staying in town while their children receive cancer treatment and somehow that scares me more than anything right now, but not enough to change a lifetime of creative habits. I pondered over myself quite a lot today and as I traced the passing thoughts and emotions that have been running through my mind this week, I think I got why I'm stuck on creative self-soothing.

I just experienced the first father's day without a father, eleven months after my father died. Triggering, but I feel at peace with my father's death somehow. However, in addition to the holiday and anniversary, this time of year has not been my emotional favorite since my mother died; June is a month of regret. The end of June was when my mom received the fatal dose of chemo that destroyed her digestive system and caused her to suffer a long torturous medically-induced death. That wasn't supposed to happen. Her cancer was treatable. Therefore, this is the time of year that things could have gone very differently if only we weren't a family that trusts authority and doctors so easily. If a time machine fell into my yard today I would go to Junes past and save my family. Regret is not one of the most enlightening emotions in grief and it would make sense that self-soothing would be in order. This might also make my fear of teaching yoga to families of kids getting chemo feel a whole lot more scary than it really is. But, I am a facer of fears and experience so far has proven performance nerves are really good liars but poor fortune tellers.

I don't know what good it does me to come to this conclusion about why my sock monkeys have no faces this week. But it does leave me wondering now what? I don't believe in avoiding negative emotions, but rather honoring them. So, Dear Regret, I don't know what to do with you, but I meet you at the door and welcome you with whatever you have to share. For now, Regret and I have some sock monkeys to stitch and stuff.

In the meantime, ETC stands for Expressive Therapies Continuum and if you want to know more, read this: Expressive Therapies Continuum: A Framework for Using Art in Therapy, by Lisa D. Hinz.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Value of Structure

Now that I have a job and a start date, I am overwhelmed with all of the outstanding and amazing things I wanted to do during the months I thought I might be unemployed. I'm so overloaded with potentially super duper fulfilling options, I'm not very effective at any of the things I had in mind. I am trying to do all of them at once or worse, I am wandering around between them just trying to decide where to devote my attention and not actually doing anything at all. Time wasted. That's the unfortunate side of too many interests.

My cure for that is not adderall, but daily writing and it's pretty clear that needs to be a habit I renew real soon... as in the next time I wake up. Last summer I read The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. I didn't like it, but I did attempt some of the exercises just to see what would happen. Cameron suggests keeping your creativity flowing through writing "Morning Pages," as in 3 pages of free writing every morning. So, I did it. What I discovered was not that I was more creative, but that I was more focused and able to set priorities throughout the day if I started my morning writing whatever came to mind.

What comes to mind when I allow myself to hold still are thoughts on what I value, what worries me and all of the awesome things I need to experience in this short little life. That sounds like a longer thought stream than it is. The truth is, I run out of things to think within minutes. Really, if you pay attention, you probably just think a few versions of the same thoughts over and over and it's harder to maintain that pattern if you're writing wherever your thoughts go. So, if I'm writing instead of getting attached to the same little handful of my favorite mind stories, there isn't anywhere reasonable to take that but to break it all down into little manageable chunks that I can actually accomplish in the moment. Day and mind organized with very little effort. Voila. So this is where I need to begin again. Time to dust off the old journal.

It would be nice to start my new life as a real therapist with some structure in my brain.

And along those lines, please direct your gaze to your right and notice the small survey on the side of my blog. Any recommendations for future ramblings?

And for the sake of images, one of the things I have been doing is preparing a new etsy shop. I have piles of monkey parts all over my desk right now. Here is the first one I completed. Shop opens when I hit 10 new monkeys with bios.

Zee, the mohawked tagger

Saturday, June 11, 2011

An Adolescent Group Intervention One

Okay, back to our regular scheduled programming...

A couple of years ago when I was doing my internship with adolescents. My fellow intern and I were co-leading (unsupervised) and had a curriculum to follow (we didn't make it) and it was failing. The kids had been there long enough that many of them had already done it plus they were not ready for the work it involved in the first place or at least they weren't gonna play along on this with 1st year interns (talking about their behaviors, trauma, emotions...) It was pretty much a total nightmare and the rookies running the show (us) were getting eaten alive every single group.  We absolutely could not get to the information of the group, because following the curriculum resulted in chaos and power struggles from the first minute. It was a bad scene.

We talked about it with our supervisors and finally my supervisor (also the director of the program) said, "Drop it. Do something else until they are ready." So we did. This is what we came up with and it was AMAZING. My co-intern and I were doing high fives and body slams after this. (Okay, we didn't really do any body slamming, but I was feeling that Superbowl Sunday pumped and I think she was too.) It was the best group we had all year.

So, here's what happened: we decided we needed to talk about respect, because there wasn't a whole lot of that going on. So, we said it in song. We googled respect lyrics, looking for something other than R.E.S.P.E.C.T and got this from Train:

For reasons I don't know I treated you so cold
I wish I had those times again
Cause something that you said keeps ringing in my head
Someday you're gonna wanna come back and you're gonna wanna treat me fine

Everybody needs a little respect
Everybody needs a little time
Everybody needs a little respect
Everybody needs a little

I watched me push you down in dreams I had of you
And all I remember about those days is I would run around thinking that you'd be alright
But you lost your light along the way
And oh you were right about the things I'd say
Cause if I had it back again I know I'd treat you kind

Everybody needs a little respect
Everybody needs a little time
Everybody needs a little respect
Everybody needs a little time
Everybody got to have somebody
Everybody got to have someone

And all I ever wanted from this play
Was someone to talk to when I get down
It seems you get the things you give along the way
Now all I need is one more chance to make you feel like hanging round

Everybody needs a little
Everybody needs a little
Everybody needs a little respect
Everybody needs a little time
Everybody needs a little respect
Everybody needs a little time
Everybody got to have someone

We gave them all double-sided photocopies. One side had this, the other side had some really simple sentence completion in a poetry format. It was just something we threw together like,

To me respect is ________________________.
I feel respected when people ________________________.
I wish everyone _______________________.

We read the lyrics together and then invited them to either write their own lyrics/poem about respect or fill in the sentences. Then we had a little poetry open mic and discussion about how we all want to be treated. The gods smiled down upon the baby interns and their group that day, because the kids LOVED it. They. Loved. It. THEY LOVED IT! Words cannot express the beauty of this moment I swear to you. If it wouldn't have been poor boundaries, I would have kissed the forehead of every person in the room that day. I got so excited I said, "I am so amazed by how well you guys write (TRUE!). I think we need to make a book with this stuff!" and they thought so too and wanted to bring in more poetry, create art for the book on their own time etc... they lost interest in this later, but I think if we leaders had been a little less rookie and a little more creative, we might have been able to maintain a sense of excitement about that project and worked the curriculum we were supposed to follow into this... maybe.

After reading Contemporary Art Therapy with Adolescents, I think part of the success of this had to do with not only appealing to their interests (they like to write), but also we were not directing this at them. This wasn't about "tell me how you should be respectful and lets review group rules (snore)" but more like, "hey what do you think about respect?" According to Shirley Riley, teens do better when asked about a topic in general terms and don't do so well if asked about their own weaknesses and thoughts due to the natural narcissistic developmental stage.

The kids also noted how great the group had been which allowed us to discuss what they thought had made that happen and how we could have more awesome groups.

Friday, June 10, 2011

I Interrupt The Aforementioned Scheduled Post...

... For an announcement.

I had my first post-grad interview and I GOT A JOB!!!

Worry Person Holding My Work Worries and Working Some Art Therapy Magic!

Not only did I get a job, but I got a full-time Monday-Friday job with a salary (above my expectations) and benefits in a beautiful space with a committed staff. I will be working with adolescent boys who have developmental delays and sexual-reactive behaviors in residential care. This was not my first choice of population, but it's not an unfamiliar one and I feel stoked to take on the challenge, which I think will help me grow into one hardcore bad-ass therapist. Not only that, but they're rewriting the curriculum and wanted an expressive therapist to help with alternative interventions and finding new methods. And they're taking interns for the first time in the fall and they want a couple from my program. It sounds like an exciting time to be coming in.

Not to jinx anything, but I consider myself lucky in many areas of my life and one of them is job-getting. So, now that I scored one, here's what works for me:

First, social psychology has taught us that once a person thinks something, they will look for evidence of what they already believe. People like to be right. So, I take my resume and cover letters pretty seriously, because if I can impress someone before I am interviewed, they will look for ways to remain impressed during the interview and possibly ignore any anxiety or stupidness I might accidentally express. I rewrite portions of every cover letter for every place I send it, noting something about the position and hospital/company/residence and why I would do well there. I also adjust my resume if necessary, stressing some experience more and downplaying other as feels appropriate.

Once I have a call for interview, I research the place I am going and the available position. I brainstorm relevant questions. For this interview, I also read up on working with the population and prepared to respond to questions about how I would work with them.

When I go to my interview, I bring a bag of tricks. I have extra copies of my resume, reference letters, etc. in case the interviewer doesn't have a copy. For this interview, I also brought copies of a group curriculum I wrote for teens at my first internship and small samples of simple/neutral art therapy interventions that I made, just in case there were questions about what art therapy is. However, I am not a salesperson pushing my wares, so these are only backup should questions arise. In this interview, my props stayed in my bag. Just knowing I had them, probably helped me feel more confident though, and that's never a bad thing.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Working with Adolescents Part One

This past week, I have spent some time preparing for an interview to work with adolescents in residential treatment, which is something I have done for work and in my first year internship, so I feel about as okay going to this interview as one can feel going to her first post-grad interview. Behaviorally, I have prepared for this by reading Contemporary Art Therapy with Adolescents by Shirley Riley and I am glad I did, because it's super useful plus it takes a social constructionist view of working with adolescents which I can get behind, plus "social constructivism" is a cool term to throw around to make your friends feel like you are smarter than them.

Mentally, I have been thinking about what I learned from working with this population in the past: assessing what worked and what didn't. My guess is that such a conversation could arise in an interview to work with adolescents.

So, that being said, please stay with me as I organize my thoughts on this topic. Not that I am an expert, but here is my perspective of skills useful for working with this population based on my short experience. If you have other ideas or comments, feel free to post them (especially pre-interview-Thursday).

1. Begin from a person-centered theory and keep it as an umbrella covering every other theory you might employ. Acceptance and positive regard is critical, because teens in care don't get a lot of that and genuineness is even more relevant, because adolescents have a high sensitivity for adult bullshit. 

2. Knowing stuff having nothing to do with therapy is super helpful. For example: card games, gaming systems, super hero characters, slang words for street drugs, how to play basketball, rap music. Staying in touch with your inner 15-year old and the interests of current 15-year-olds can get you places (but remember to stay genuine and don't force it). I don't like professional sports or the Twilight series and I refuse to pretend I do. I do like to play wii and I know who Lil Wayne is, so that works for me.

3. Be easy-going about what you will tolerate and upfront about what you cannot. Be prepared to back it up as fast and calmly as you can. If you allow your toes to be stepped on one minute, you might be trampled to death the next.

4. Be transparent about not knowing all the answers and don't assume you have a clue about how to intervene when you don't. Ask the patient/client. I worked with some pretty tough individual cases and one of the things that surprised me was that they knew what they needed to work on and could name their goals as well as I could, if not better. Sometimes their solutions needed some tweaking and sometimes just support. Remember you're just a  tour guide in the land of options, not a magician.

5. When it comes to groups, be as flexible as possible. Go in with a plan, but if you can get away with turning the group into something relevant to the moment within a minute, do it. That's what makes art therapy awesome, by the way. " Hey, I'm hearing a common theme of feeling 'locked down.' Draw about freedom vs. constraint.".. or whatever.

6. If you do groups, figure out which teen is "the leader" and plan your groups for him/her while allowing for the needs of others. If you can "catch" the leader, it is suddenly super simple to do an amazing group with teens, because at least in my experience, they'll feed off the enthusiasm of the leader.

7. In my teen groups, check-ins at the beginning of group often got out of hand: too long and worse, led to arguments. If given the choice, at least with my particular group, I preferred a specific question to open check-in. What kind of weather pattern would you be right now? Mark and label your degree of whatever mood you're feeling on this thermometer, etc.

Part two will list my favorite directives for this population.

And... as a visual person, I am disappointed by the lack of art to go with this post, so allow me to introduce my latest sock creature:

Real Name -- Janice Finkelstein, Street Name -- Spike
(Her bio will be available on once I get around to re-establishing my shop.)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

20 Things I Did in 1 Week of Unemployment

(Or Welcome to My Neurosis)

1. On the first day, I decided I would spend the week wasting time, so I watched a netflix documentary, Dark Days (It was alright) and started reading the novel A Visit from the Goon Squad (also alright). I wore pajamas or a pajama-like outfit all day. I became aware that I might identify quite strongly with what I do, because I hated every second of this relaxation and felt like a schmuck (side note, I have not been officially unemployed since age 15). So, for the following days...

2. I made almost 30 artist trading cards using various techniques.

3. I decided to host a trading card swap with the theme "octopi."

4. I couldn't stand trying to relax and wait to job search anymore and resolved to send out 4 resumes per day before allowing myself to shower or get dressed.

5. After 1.5 days, I ran out of jobs I wanted, so now I just send to every new appropriate listing every morning and due to the holiday (I hope) it has been slim.

6. I worked in my yard: trimmed hedges, reseeded grass, planted flowers, planted seeds, planted an apple tree, mowed the lawn twice and removed a stump.

7. I "taught" my dogs to swim.

8. I made thank you cards for people I need to thank regarding graduation gifts. They look something like this:

They haven't been mailed yet though, because I don't have envelopes. That's on my list of to-dos today.

9. I started to clean my basement studio again, because it became a disaster since I last mentioned it.

10. I bought more $1 socks to use for creature-making. I also decided to try a sock idea I've had in mind for awhile, but it's really elaborate for socks, so I haven't wanted to go much further than imagining myself doing it yet.

11. I wondered if I should have been a social worker instead.

12. I spent $240 on the study guide for the LMHC exam (which is possibly the all time biggest waste of my money, because it is a stack of photocopies that appears to have been made and bound at Kinkos -- I just better kick-ass after studying it for 6 months is all I have to say).

13. I started working on a new sketchbook which I purchased from the Art House Co-op to go in the Sketch Book 2012 tour, because what do I need with all these journals and sketchbooks for anyway? I chose the theme, "Ask me how I can help," because it seemed most relevant to this period of my life. I am rebinding it with pages torn out of a children's anthology of stories. A blank spread looks like this:

The spread I am working on looks like this:

It opens horizontally. I plan to sew the pages in when it's complete.

14. I planned out reopening my etsy shop in my head.

15. I started reading Existential Art Therapy: The Canvas Mirror by Bruce Moon.

16. I printed the application for the LMHC exam.

17. I drove around with my top down.

18. I thought about what sort of artist I am and began to contemplate combining media (sewing and photography/print-making).

19. I contemplated researching book-binding techniques. Maybe that's a natural fit.

20. I got an appointment for my first interview and instantly felt a little better about not being a social worker!

This first interview is for working with adolescent boys, so in my next 2 posts, I plan to tell you what I have learned about working with adolescents and how I prepare for an interview. I am hoping to write something relevant for my fellow rookies.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Now That I am Graduated...

... it's time to reassess what the heck I am doing with my life. It's in these transitory moments that we may find ourselves saying to ourselves, "What's the plan Stan?"

Of course, the job search is beginning and I know exactly where I want to work and with whom, but whether or not that will happen isn't entirely in my hands. I'm choosing to pursue it full force anyway and investigate other options while waiting.

But there is more to graduating than finding a job I think. I'm also changing a way of life. I just got my spare time handed back to me along with that graduation leather-bound certificate that says, "your degree is in the mail sucker." It's like I got a new life back or a change in identity. It's weird. I'm inspired and confused by all this new time on my hands. So, first I checked my old resolution post and realized I'm missing a few things on the list that I will get to. No problem; that's easy, ready-made. The harder task is I need to replace my big-picture goal now that the degree thing is off the list. I have that degree. I will have that job, but I am not content without my eye on a distant prize. I'm not one to go for the hocus pocus, but in that single sense, I am a true Sagittarius, always aiming someplace. I have a hard time walking around without an arrow pointed.

One of the recent yoga class explorations has been "the false self." People define themselves by what they do, who they love, what they own, what others think of them... etc. but the true self is tat tvam asi. As a westerner, I have a hard time with just this, so I'm going with I am what I dream. I am where I point my arrow. Philosophically, I know that can get me into trouble, but watch how much I care... as in not at all.

This post is boring and self-centered, probably better for my private journal, but I'm posting it anyway for two reasons. The first is that I am more organized with my thoughts if someone else reads them and the second is that putting it out there makes me more responsible for my ambition. My brother was recently talking to me about keeping a dream board, which sounds like a The Secret sort of thing, which I think is pretty lame, but the dream board is a little bit genius.

It works like this, you write down your dreams where you can see and imagine them daily. Then they kinda become a part of your consciousness and you make shit happen.

My short term "professional" dream board would include:
  • get an art therapist/counselor job (duh)
  • take the licensure exam
  • know DBT like nobody's business
  • be a yoga teacher again
  • refresh my Spanish skills, so I can call myself bilingual again and work with more people
  • renew my membership to the local art museum and research my favorite pieces to increase art knowledge
  • be able to respond to the question "What kind of artwork do you do?" with something more definite than "Everything, because I am a big art whore." In other words, I would like to feel I can do one thing well, even if I will continue to sleaze around with any medium.
  • Keep writing
My long-term professional dream board would say
  • work independently
  • invest in a local space and make it into a wellness center including office space for holistic professional semi-hippy types like myself: expressive therapists, holistic counselors, etc. including a small yoga studio and gallery space. 
That's pretty ambitious for a struggling A.T. I think, because we're pretty ghetto with the cash, but since I need a challenge to feel alive, there it is. Bam. Out into the universe/blogosphere. I double-dog-dare you to publicly announce your dreams and see what happens. (Hmmm, that could be a blog in itself I think.)

Thanks for listening. Here's some art from the inside back cover of my journal... the folder will enclose a sort of dream board.

Fiction Project Page Fourteen