Art Therapy and ME

Recently I wrote a blog that gave readers a glimpse into my inner life. It took me out of the realm of theoretical, into the organic feeling states within which I reside. As an extension of telling my own story, I will describe some of the paths that led me to art therapy as a vocation. There are definite twists and turns in these paths; some dead ended, others joined with more mainstream routes, and others, have come full circle, to a holistic finale of art, and writing, movement, and more.

I wrote poems.

A young girl, needing to get out some of the feelings that seemed inexplicable to me at the time- fear, anger, and a bit of hate; I wrote poems. I had no understanding of any potential therapeutic value I was getting from the practice. I just did it. I wrote poems.

Then I hid them between the mattress and box spring of my bed. I never wanted to see them again, but I sensed they were important. Surprisingly, some of those poems survived, and I was able to retrieve many years later. They bore witness to my denials of my experience.

I continued the practice of writing poems for many years, and doodled images beside them in the margins. They expressed the pain and confusion that rattled within me throughout the years. My poems were vivid in their imagery, reflecting the movies that ran ‘on the inside of my eyelids’. They lived on in me along with the doodles of women and girls dancing in indigo across the pages; releasing the torment they encountered, as pleas to whoever could see me dance, and hear my silent screams.

And then, the dancers trailed off, such that they couldn’t find their way to paper any more. They were the subject of a poem I wrote in 1991, called Indigo Dreams. And, I fell into the belief that many people have, that I am not an artist.

As my healing journey brought me closer to the place I am now; living with intention, in the fullness of who I am (mostly), I felt the need to “be of service”. Said another way: I felt the need to “give back”.

Like many people who have survived complex trauma, my choices seemed unclear to me. As humans, we are actually not able to choose a different path until it is clear that there is one, and also that it will be safe enough for us to follow it. I have been led down many rabbit holes, in search of the way to move forward. I believed that providing therapy was destiny (although I didn’t believe myself capable for many years). My long- time therapist framed many of his statements for years: “when you are a therapist…” I knew that I had the ability to get through the academics, I had the lived experience of ‘post- traumatic growth’, and I had so much compassion. Studying at the graduate level in the field of psychology, I kept hitting a wall. There was always the question of philosophy; it simply didn’t fit for me to think of therapy as entailing diagnosis, a prescriptive therapy, and sessions based on what insurance the other person can afford (my experience of what I was being taught,). It seemed to me that the approach of mainstream psychology lacked a place for the essence of the other person, it had no space for soul.

As a yoga teacher, I began to understand the nature of non- duality. I understood that mind/ body/ spirit could not be separated into categories, to be treated as unrelated aspects of the self. I understood that changes in mood affect body, and loss of spirit affected everything. And, in the best way possible, I learned what is meant by the saying: when the student is ready, the teacher appears. I found my way into a studio art therapy class, and before long, was transferring all my graduate level courses to the program in art therapy that exists in my city.

Simple, right?

(REALLY, it wasn’t.)

My study of art therapy brought all the elements that I had been drawn to into a comprehensive, focused approach to healing. Art therapy addresses mind/ body/ spirit in a natural, non- prescriptive manner. I found the experiential, focus on felt- sense, way of working to be liberating for me. I saw how naturally I began to regain, first my sense of movement and colour, and then my ability to draw my past, and create a new story.

And I love, that I can help others find the same.

I love that people don’t need to be artists to benefit from art therapy. I love that art therapy takes the intellectualization out of the picture, and brings authentic communication to the table. I love the playful quality of art therapy. I love the experience of lightness that art therapy can bring to people

I love being an art therapist

This piece above had an interesting evolution. It is an excellent example of the phrase “to give form to the formless”. I was outside, working hard at something, and felt ‘the spin’ coming on. There are times when I don’t feel the pull of the downward spiral soon enough, and I descend into the abyss, falling with a thud. This time, I caught the perceptual changes that happen to me as I am being pulled away. I used all my ‘tools’: painting in an organic way, without filters- colour, mixed media, and texture. When the paint was on the board, I left it, and had a very hot shower, and some food. All tools that I use to stay grounded and present. Later that evening, I saw that an owl was peeking out. I pulled the owl out even more, and I’m waiting…

Before long, I’m certain the owl will tell me what it wants to say.

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