Category Archives: Adult Development

How Art Making Nurtures Resilience

 Resilience is a bit of a buzzword right now

 And there are good reasons for that. Focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses has a great track record of bringing people to healthier, happier lives after trauma. This focus isn’t meant to deny the pain or woundedness of our lives, however. Resilience is the characteristic of being able to bounce back after stress or injury. Like a rubber band, we don’t know if it’s working until we’re tested – stretched – by adversity. How can we work on increasing our natural resilience?

Art making is a natural resilience booster.

Art is a place where we can make mistakes that don’t have earth-shattering consequences. We can practice problem solving and decision making in a piece of art. We can try new things and experiment. We can see our situations or our histories and possibly even ourselves in new ways. Art lets us put the intangible and tangled thoughts and feelings of our inner lives into a visible form where we can attend to them compassionately. We can view our habitual reactions to frustration or  success, and learn new ways to reflect and respond thoughtfully. Art can do all these things, and more …

 … as long as it’s supported by a safe container.

Resilience
Resilience

To make art in the pursuit of healing – in the pursuit of higher resilience – the artist needs to feel emotionally safe. A number of factors play into emotional safety.

Freedom from judgment or punishment. Art making to deal with pain, loss, or trauma should be done in a place that is sheltered from the curiosity of those who do not know how to react in a healing way. Art made in this spirit is not to be shared lightly, nor observed out of mere curiosity, or subjected to critique.

Freedom from inner sabotage. Sometimes the danger of judgment comes from the artist’s inner critical self as well. It’s helpful in such cases if the artist is able to rely on someone else’s voice of acceptance and compassion. A supportive therapist can be that voice. So can the knowledge that there are others who have been down the same road and battled the same inner discouragement, and that those inner self-shaming voices are only the voices of fear, not truth.

Respect for the limits of emotional tolerance. One of the more subtle boundaries that need to be maintained around the creation of art as a healing modality is the level of emotional intensity that an individual can tolerate before either shutting down or becoming overanxious. Neurobiology has taught us that only in a state of relaxed alertness does new learning take place. This is different for each one of us depending on character and personal history, and can vary from day to day or minute to minute. For those who have suffered trauma it is an especially delicate balance to maintain. It takes care and skill to create a comfort zone that allows for challenge without boomeranging into deeper trauma. There always needs to be permission to back off, clear grounding techniques to help you do so, and confident encouragement to try again another day.

Next time I’ll write more about some useful grounding techniques to help you find moments of peace during challenging times.

Taking the Time for Grief and Change in an Age of Impatience

It takes our human minds and bodies time to integrate change.

Taking the Time for grief and change When the change involves painful feelings – and make no mistake, most changes do, even the most positive ones – we often need more time. But we bring so much impatience to our experience of change and grief – we want so badly to skip over the in-between time, the time that lies between what we used to be or have, and what we are becoming. We worry that we’re taking too much time, or too much of our friends’ and family’s attention, and we try to compress our adjustment period into a socially acceptable month, or six months if we’re lucky.

We live in a culture of extreme impatience and intolerance for the ordinary discomforts of waiting. We experience our desires for instant gratification as a need, practically as a matter of life or death. Unsurprising, in an age that sees 140 character Tweets as sufficient to address political truths, and that believes that 30 seconds is too long to wait for a web page to load.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a believer in grieving forever, and it is possible to get stuck in the process. What “stuck” looks like, however, is different for different people, and can’t be dictated by a tidy, one-size-fits-all timeline. Determining whether (and where) you are stuck is a gentle and sensitive process that takes due consideration of your strengths and skills, your situation, and your needs.

Growth and healing after a loss or major change require both protection and expansiveness.

Our shell keeps us safe... until it's too small and we need to change.
Our shell keeps us safe… until it’s too small.

Protection, however, doesn’t mean protection from your pain. I mean protection from expectations and judgement. It requires a degree of courage, to feel exactly what you are feeling, in the present moment, especially when that doesn’t match other people’s (or your own) expectations or wishes. And what do I mean by expansiveness? Our hermit-crab soul has grown out of its shell (or had it forcibly taken away by circumstances) and is fragile, naked, and afraid. To stay in the shell would constrict our growth, so we need the space to explore and expand. To stay safe while we do so we need to be in an environment that encourages bravery and experimentation, and offers acceptance of the messiness that comes with it.

Make no mistake, it’s a tough balancing act. And one of the best ways to find both protection and expansiveness is in TIME. Deliberate setting aside of time – preferably just a little bit longer that you’d really like to, or think you can “afford” – to be as present to yourself and your reality as you can be. It might look like thinking time, journalling, prayer, or staring at the ceiling. It might involve something active or creative like hiking, art, movement, gardening, or music. The requirement is that it involves you attending to your current, present, inner life and experience, and not to what you think those ought to be.

Playing with the edges of what you’re comfortable with is going to be how you grow, how you find your strength, and eventually where you will find your energy and joy again. And it’s worth the time.

If I can be of assistance in helping you determine if you’re stuck in a grief or change process, please don’t hesitate to contact me. You can book a free consultation by clicking here.

 

 

Three Pieces of Art

 

There are always three pieces of art being created when you are making art as a way to heal.

The first is the one that came to life in your imagination. This is the image, symbol, or even just the feeling that arose in your mind that was full-blown all at once. It often becomes the piece of art that you end up trying to recreate, in “real life,” with your brushes and paints or clay. This first artwork is done the moment that it has been imagined. We might call it the inspiration, or just an idea or feeling, but I believe it has an energy of its own. Anyone who has agonized over their work, trying to make it look or sound like the painting or symphony that happened in their heads, or to make it match the emotion inside them, will know what I’m talking about.

            The second piece of art is the one that I ask you to allow to take physical shape during an art therapy session. This kind of art happens when I invite you to look and feel within yourself (to allow the first type of art to arise), and then to capture something of what you find there and put it into form with art materials. You go from a moment of inspiration to your paper or canvas and you try to get down the original idea, the original feeling, in its raw form. This is the pure expression, straight from your heart or your gut through your hands. You might not be satisfied with it as “a work of art” just yet, but it is one nonetheless.

            While these two pieces are being created, there is always another work of art emerging. This is you. And not just “you in your role as artist” – but YOU, your Self. You are growing and developing in the way that you approach the task of creation. You appear with more and more clarity each time you allow the first and second forms of art to emerge, uncensored. You become more yourself each time that you find it in you to accept, and even eventually to love what comes forth, whatever it looks like. With compassion for your fledgling images, you find compassion for your authentic self. When you can meet your authentic self with compassion instead of the defensiveness of ego or self-hatred, you are well on the way towards true healing.

For thoughts on what can happen with your art beyond the session, my next blog post is about the fourth piece of art: what happens when we share our art!

Therapy – Am I Too Old?

Art Therapy: Stops Along the Journey
“Stops Along the Journey” 2013, Wool

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mostly, I just want to jump up and down yelling “NO! Of course not!! Never! No No No!” when I hear this question, but I know that’s not really helpful, and probably wouldn’t come across as very professional either, what with all the jumping and everything. Maybe what would help is a quick discussion of what therapy really is (regardless of whether it’s the talking kind or the art kind).

What’s the Point of Therapy Anyway?

Do you feel like you’ve done what you wanted to do with your life? Have you been who and what you wanted to be? Do you believe that human beings are not only capable of growing and learning for their whole lifetime, but actually meant to do so?

Therapy is all about Growth, Learning, and Positive Change!

You’ve probably heard of several theories about stages of growth and development. But in all likelihood, you’ve associated them with childhood and adolescence, and haven’t thought of what happens after that. The reality is, we  don’t stop changing! Certainly, some of the changes associated with aging are in the category of loss, but that’s only part of the story.

We are developing (and that means AGING!) from the moment we are born!

A young adult struggles with defining themselves as separate from their parents, with finding a vocation, and possibly seeking a romantic adult relationship. The middle years of maturity may revolve around the dual roles of providing for one’s family (of whatever composition or size) and caring for children. From mid-life on, you may  be  preoccupied with efforts around your “peak earning years” at your job, possibly with launching children as adults, and increasingly with attending to the needs of an aging parent or other family member. Issues of identity and meaning come up again and again through each of these stages, especially if, along the way, you experience losses (of job, marriage, health, or from a move) that make a re-negotiation necessary. What often gets ignored are the continuing changes past what we think of as “retirement” age, which include concerns with spirituality, legacy, mentorship, integrity, and reminiscence.

Changing priorities and developmental transition can be daunting at any age.

In  my view, good therapy takes the whole person into account: their body, mind, heart, soul, community, culture, and environment. Keeping your eye on all those things isn’t easy, either for a client or for the therapist, but it’s vital to at least be open to information from all those areas. Willingness to be a witness to “the whole story” is something I see as a really important part of my job. Being truly seen and heard is something deeply needed, and deeply yearned for by many people during times of transition. Only by knowing our needs can we meet them. Only by knowing where we are can we choose our next direction.

Therapy is meant to be a safe space in which a person – of any age or stage – can freely explore their journey thus far, taking the time to find its fruits and heal the wounds incurred on the way. At its best, therapy can be experienced as a protected and sacred moment, outside of “ordinary” time, in which a person can meet themselves anew, with fresh eyes. The goal of this exploration, of this sacred moment, will be very different for different people.  It may be moving on to new plans and adventures; it may be the consolidation of your learning and wisdom. It will certainly be to create your best possible present, regardless of your age.

If you do find yourself on the older end of the developmental spectrum, here are a couple of links to sites that deal specifically with positive aging:

DISCLAIMER: This information is not a substitute for professional psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content provided by Frances Bryant-Scott, RSW, BCATR is intended for general information purposes only. Never disregard professional medical or psychological advice or delay seeking treatment because of something you read in this blog (or any blog for that matter!)