Saturday, November 17, 2012

Coiling


This is an image of my experience with anger.

Holding the Raw

We as art therapists hold intense content and raw affect as it manifests in our clients' words, postures, movements, actions, and art. When a client or a group is processing something particularly painful, it can touch into our own vulnerable places and elicit a strong and sometimes unexpected response from us as therapists or group facilitators.

I was recently directing a small team of art therapists to lead group art processes for teenage girls in conflict. At times I was facilitating the art directives myself, and at other times I was supporting and coaching my team in facilitation. Throughout this process I was present, participating, and absorbing the anger of the group in a way that I don't normally experience. I have a history of absorbing the grief of groups, and I am comfortable with this: anger, on the other hand, is a trickier animal for me. I found myself wriggling with the intensity and unpredictability of carrying raw anger. It is hotter, faster; it is an outward force, requiring movement. Carrying it so fully challenged fundamental judgments around anger that I was indoctrinated with throughout my childhood and which were reinforced by society. I judged myself a lot at first, then laughed at myself and admired myself for carrying the anger. In holding it and being moved by it, I found myself coming to a greater understanding of anger. I found it can be a friend  when all feels hopeless. Anger can disprove helplessness in the face of injustice. Anger can be like jet fuel when I've been running on puddle water. Anger is not war.

These teenage girls we were guiding have experienced violence and injustice at a level that I can only imagine - genocide, terrorism, extreme loss facilitated by each other's relatives. Of course their anger is palpable. And if that anger can be transformed into a friend and into fuel to resolve a decades-long conflict, then what can they not accomplish?

It is our job to metabolize the raw affect of our clients and resolve it somewhat in ourselves: if we cannot do this, how can we guide others to do the same. The challenge is in the process, in our courage and willingness to step into the fire with our clients.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Back Again: Vulnerability

After many intense months, I finally have the time to rest and reflect.
Work. Refugee youth are one of the most vulnerable client populations a therapist can work with. This has become more evident to me in the past three months than it has ever been in my five years working with this group.
In the past three months I have:
-Supported four young clients in gaining out of home placements.
-Listened to stories of immense cruelty that have occurred in this country, at this time.
- Supported the language interpreters themselves as they reacted with outrage to the story content.
-Got to know the local authorities pretty well.
-Struggled to find a place in my ever-widening worldview for these stories.

How do we as therapists and caring people process the terrible situations that our clients report to us, particularly when they are still occurring?

I have stumbled my way through this quandary as if I had never done so before. All of my usual coping strategies have been only minimally helpful: supervision, rest, art, mindfulness, time with partner and friends, etc. This time around I found I literally needed regular bodywork, a vacation without phone or email at all, and ultimately to leave one of my work environments that was not taking threats to my personal safety seriously.
I have  incredibly high tolerance for difficult content in client stories; even so, when the worst stories I've ever heard intersect with a greater community that is not able to insure the safety of my very vulnerable clients and myself, I meet my limits. We all have different limits, and most of us won't know what those limits are until we hit them.
I'm sure I'll have more to share as I metabolize this experience further and come to greater understanding. For now, I feel it is important to share this process midway - to reflect with honesty the raw impact this work can have on us as human beings. It's tough and brutal and incredibly moving. I feel simultaneously heartbroken and richer for what I've experienced.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Occupy Art Therapy - blog

I have just started an Occupy Art Therapy blog to complement the facebook page. Check it out at: www.occupyarttherapy.blogspot.com .
www.occupyarttherapy.blogspot.com

Friday, December 9, 2011

Occupy Art Therapy

After getting the juices flowing during a discussion on LinkedIn, I decided to start up a public forum where supporters and practitioners of Art Therapy could meet, brainstorm, and mobilize for the promotion of Art Therapy as a field and a profession. It's called Occupy Art Therapy, and its home is on facebook:  www.facebook.com/OccupyArtTherapy
It originally arose out of frustration with the little that the American Art Therapy Association appears to be doing for Art Therapy. I'm still frustrated with them, but even more excited by the great ideas and positive energy coming out of this new creature. Please feel free to check it out!