As I mentioned in my previous blog, The Art Of Processing Unresolved Grief, I attended a wonderful Summit (or Zoomit if you will), on expressive therapies. The second of three workshops I attended focused on “Painting From the Source”. Like the previous workshop, the focus was essentially on laying color on paper, without any preconceived thoughts of where to begin, and to begin in the moment, just like a child does. A child’s inspiration comes from within, without much pre-thought, and it flows through them in a stream of consciousness so to speak.
In preparation for the course, I had spent a good amount of time reading the text by the presenter Aviva Gold, MFA, CSW, ATR. The day before taking the course, I watched as my five-year-old took a stubby piece of pink chalk, and while singing proceeded to walk around the front yard drawing on a large rock. She then waltzed to the sidewalk where she continued her masterpiece. It was pure and free expression; I watched in awe as she illustrated my textbook before my eyes. At five she possessed what I had lost a long time ago; something I now had to glean from a book. This is another example of how children have so much to teach us “adults”.
For my summit canvas, I had collected some packaging cardboard that I had held onto, in hopes of finding a creative use. I took one and brought it to the training session. As I began using oil and chalk pastels, I found myself irritated by the honeycomb pattern that emerged from the board, made more obvious by the oil pastels. Had it been paint this wouldn’t have been so noticeable. I thought I should switch canvasses, but something felt like I should continue, as the topic seemed to call for me to continue in my discomfort, as this too is part of the process. The colors came on in a beautiful way, I played around with them and again I ventured into the soft pastels. Some spirals also found their way in as well, and the honeycomb seemed like an extension of this for whatever reason. The colors were so beautiful that I thought I should probably be venturing into something deeper and darker, but here is where the painting remained. So that is where I remained.
Eventually curves found their way in and I found myself drawing the profile of a pregnant body. I worked somewhat on proportion but knew to stay away to some degree, as I was “painting from the source” and it required me not to worry about anatomy. Given my skill level this was just fine with me. But I did focus on the breast, and some scrutiny required my inner self to make it heavier and more real. Then I drew in the milk, as if making the milk glands. Then I focused on the curve within the body. I did finish a few minutes ahead of the cut off time, unusual for me, but it felt done.
I wondered about what I had to birth, figuratively. Then I wondered if the womb was empty, or if it was full. If full, what was it full of? Upon further reflection, it seemed to be more developing versus empty or full. I wondered why I had drawn this, but I really liked it. I really liked the colors, and in the end the honeycomb shape seemed to fit her. She was obviously out of proportion, and that did pull at me. The soft colors helped make up for that. I wondered about what may still need to be nurtured. Or was it symbolic of my maternal self as a mother, but also as a nurturer to my clients. I feel my clients are these wonderful people who just don’t yet see it, and I feel I am able to hold their light, as I work to bring them to it.
In essence, art has the power to bring things to awareness that are waiting to be seen; and are waiting to be heard. This project elicited a lot of questions for me to explore; and brought my awareness to the many possibilities available to me, as well as to the awareness that something was taking form. I looked forward to seeing what that may be.
I recently attended an Expressive Therapies Summit, which was to be held in New York. Like all things pandemic, there was a change of plans. Fortunately, it was far enough into the pandemic to allow for and adequately plan a successful transfer to Zoom, verses a Summit, a Zoomit if you will. In all seriousness, I was drawn to a class that used a divination deck to explore and process what may be emotionally affecting us. A divination deck, sometimes called oracle cards, simply put are a variation of the tarot deck.
I’m not a tarot card reader, but I do find them interesting for their history and immense symbolism. They certainly have a place in the psyche from a historical and symbolic perspective, as they go back hundreds of years. In this training by Abbe Miller, MS, ATR-BC, LPC, we explored her deck, the Soror Mystica deck. We ventured into taking two cards, personally selected, and using these to begin artwork that was free flowing. We were to begin just by putting color down on paper. As we did this, from an open place, we were to see what emerged and go with that.
I thought as I began writing this blog, how on earth do I put my experience of art into words? But this is a fair question as we really do feel this way about our inner pain, and our inner struggle. How on earth do you put that into words? This is where the struggle resides, and therefore a perfect illustration of the limitation of talk therapy. How do you, when language is such a limited resource? This is the power of expressive therapy; it goes deeper than words.
As directed, I began with a symbol. I chose the spiral. As I added to the colors my intuition carried me to the next piece, the next color. I used oil pastels and the blending looked very pretty. In the midst of this free stream of color blending and feeling positive about the soft nature of my work, it suddenly shifted, and I didn’t really want to go there, but this is what the work required. I knew this in my bones.
And so the black emerged. The blackness of the womb, of the son who had passed shortly after leaving my body. I certainly did not come to this training to go there. But this is where it went.
He emerged, there in my spiral. He emerged surrounded by gray matter. It obstructed the balance of my artwork, as the loss obstructed the balance of our lives. On the other side, more black was needing to be expressed, the darkness and curve emerged of the open arms which were only able to hold him for a brief part of his short ten days. The empty womb, the empty arms. The mother suffering a fatal loss. It was here that it dropped me, in all its truth it dropped me. I thought, well this is quite resolved, I did years of therapy on this.
I did meaningful work and meaningful therapy. I have been able to survive and thrive. But as every mother knows, and is told, the loss of a child stays with you for a lifetime. It definitely waxes and wanes, and unlike the cycle of the moon, the cycles do get longer and longer apart, even duller and duller. But they last, and when they emerge, they truly hurt. And it emerged. Sometimes clients can be fearful of “going there”. I want to say that I was able to go there without destruction, instead of wrecking me it helped lead me through another of those cycles. This is the power of using art in therapy.
These initial entries were completely relevant and necessary, it was an easy start. Since then, I have been stuck on what to write. Partly because it seems that there are a million and one blogs in the world and I wasn’t too sure what I could possibly add to an already well covered conversation. Today, my starting point finally emerged with an idea that felt authentic and not contrived; something that feels new, versus old and used.
Yesterday, I had a fun time speaking to a group of future counselors who will be graduating soon, my job was to answer questions they had about the field. They were a smart group from my alma matter and the idea really began with the nature of questions I was asked. There was a lot of curiosity regarding what the type of therapy I do actually looks like, as it’s so different from what is taught in school, and most continuing education trainings. I realized that if it’s tough for fellow counselors to envision, then surely it will definitely seem foreign to non-therapists. Hence my idea was born. How do I explain what I do in a way that lays it out more clearly and makes it more tangible, while attempting to convey the power of expressive approaches.
Thus, this is my starting point for the next five blogs. The first three will be regarding my experience in trainings that I recently participated in, which focused on incorporating art into my work with clients. I will use my own art to demonstrate, and I will explain the powerfulness of this for myself, and thus for clients that would like to work with me. In my fourth blog I will connect these three different pieces of art, explain the personal meaning, but more importantly how this fits within the larger cultural context of what is happening in America. Although my blog will not be political, it will relate to the larger themes at work playing out in the political arena. This may turn into two separate blogs, a personal and cultural collective.
Lastly, I will explore a scene from Maleficent, which connects to blog three, a training on using monsters and folklore in therapy. Since I work with many survivors of rape and sexual assault, I will use this to further explore trauma using this form of art: cinema. This will provide more insight to rape and trauma. I am excited that I have finally figured out a worthy start that brings something new to the world of blogs. I look forward to sharing my insights with you, and I’m hopeful this will better define the immensity of the healing power of therapy, particularly as we delve into deeper realms using less verbal and cerebral methods.
Thank you for your interest, and let’s get started!