Art Therapy Interview: Amy Maricle

‘I love when conversations and energy just flow.
Not forced.
Not coerced. Just present.’
– Dau Voire

A few weeks back I had the pleasure of having artist and art therapist Amy Maricle over for an artist’s date.

We spent the day up in my studio talking about art, art therapy, our careers so far, being moms, and many other things. The day flew by and we are eagerly anticipating our next artist’s date.

I am inspired by Amy’s warmth, creativity, and experience in the field. Her interests and focus on mindfulness, spirituality, and client-centered collaboration resonate with me on a deep level.

During out time together we decided to interview one another so that our blog followers could get a taste of our conversation and hopefully draw some inspiration from it like we did.
Amy posted her interview with me recently on her blog:

Art Therapy Podcast: Sara Roizen

Now I’m excited to share my interview of Amy (audio below). Amy talked about the path that led her to becoming an art therapist, what she loves about art therapy, and her experiences in private practice. I think that listeners will be especially interested to hear some of her tips and encouragement for anyone interested in taking the leap and starting a private practice.

To find out even more about Amy’s therapy work you can visit her site:

Amy Maricle Counseling ~ Foxboro Art Therapy

Be sure to enjoy her blog as well, which is packed with video tutorials, guided practices, and inspiration about creative self-care, managing anxiety, and many other topics.

Enjoy the interview and we’d love to hear your thoughts and comments!
ūüôā

 

 

 

Art Therapy Podcast

‘A painting is never finished – it simply stops in interesting places.’¬†
~ Paul Gardner

Like the painting that ‘simply stops in interesting places,’ my recent artist’s date and afternoon of conversation with art therapist Amy Maricle of Foxboro Art Therapy could have kept going on without ever feeling finished. There is just so much to talk about and share when it comes to our experiences as artists and art therapists.

We thought it could be interesting and inspiring to record part of our dialogue in order to share it with our readers. We took turns interviewing each other about our experiences as artists, art therapists, and what drew us to the field of art therapy. We are excited to continue meeting, collaborating, and hopefully sharing an ongoing open-ended conversation about the field.

Here is a link to Amy’s blog where you can listen to my interview:

Art Therapy Podcast ~ Sara Roizen: The Beauty of Being An Art Therapist

Please check back soon to read more about our artist’s date and hear Amy’s interview. I will be posting more in depth about our time together! In the meantime, enjoy exploring Amy’s blog and head over to her Facebook page to stay up to date with the latest posts, shared articles, and inspiration!

Site: Foxboro Art Therapy

Facebook: Maricle Counseling

 

Our art journals side by side ~ on their own artist date!

 

Removing Barriers in the Studio

A glimpse of my growing studio inspiration wall

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.’
~ Rumi

This Rumi quote hangs to the right of the painting easel in my new studio. It’s one of my favorite quotes because it resonates on so many levels. For me, art is love expressing itself in visual form.¬†Like love, the art needs to find a way out, but I am no stranger to building barriers within myself in unconscious attempts to slow the flow of art energy. I’ve written about this in many posts and find that it’s important to acknowledge the ebb and flow of my own creative process. It’s part of why I am able to sit with an art therapy client and nod understandingly while they list ten reasons for not wanting to make art that day. I get it. I really do. I also understand how deeply freeing it can be to acknowledge those barriers and then gently (or brazenly) push through them sometimes.

I’ve lived in many places and carved out areas to make art in all of them. Sometimes I’d set up at a kitchen table, a (slightly mildewy) basement, or on the floor of my bedroom. I took over the second bedroom in our Queens apartment for my studio for a number of years, until the birth of our first son. My fantasies about painting in the same room while he napped are amusing in¬†retrospect.¬†Still, I dutifully set up shop on our small kitchen table for a little while or worked on a smaller scale in my mandala journal while he crawled around next to me.

returning to my mandala journal

In September my family made the big move from NYC to the ‘burbs’ in Massachusetts. It’s an area that we know and love, with the ocean close by, trees, space, and a slightly slower pace of life. The transition was emotional for me, even though it was a change that I was craving. Transitions are always challenging. Each day took on a dream-like quality as I found myself busy with unpacking and getting oriented to our new home and area. In addition, I was in my first trimester of pregnancy and a bit preoccupied with queasiness and fatigue!

One of the most amazing things about our new home is that I once again have a room that I can claim as my studio space. The attic was converted into a beautiful light filled room by the previous owners. It was the most amazing space I could imagine for a studio and yet I avoided it for a few months – even after the boxes of art supplies were unpacked and I could have started using it. I experienced a sense of guilt and also longing every time I contemplated heading upstairs to my studio. It was as if the space was too perfect for me to use. Perhaps a part of me was struggling to feel worthy enough to fully inhabit the studio. The litany of doubts and self-critical thoughts slowly marched throughout my head. This has been a pattern of mine for as long as I can remember. I put the barriers in place (as in the Rumi quote) and they are all of the reasons why art should not be a priority for me. Then, when the pain of being trapped behind those self-imposed barriers becomes too great, I get back to my art! A morning art-making session with an artist and art therapist that I recently met was exactly what I needed to start removing my art barriers again in our new home. We sat in the studio and just chatted while working on our own art projects. After she left, I spent the rest of the afternoon in my studio making art. It felt incredible. It was like coming home to myself.

a corner of my studio

In the first paragraph of Art Is A Way of Knowing, artist and art therapist Pat Allen writes:

‘Images take me apart; images put me back together again, new, enlarged, with breathing room. For twenty years I have kept a record of my inner life in images, paintings, drawings, and words – sometimes haphazardly, sometimes more diligently, but continuously throughout my days as an art student, art therapist, teacher, wife, mother, and artist. My existence was marginal, uncompelling, because my feelings, necessary for a sense of meaning, were missing. Art making is my way of bringing soul back into my life. Soul is the place where the messiness of life is tolerated, where feelings animate the narration of life, where story exists. Soul is the place where I am replenished and can experience both gardens and graveyards. Art is my way of knowing who I am.’

so much painting storage space!

Pat Allen’s description of the role of art in her life resonates with me. Art embraces the messiness and the beauty of our existence. It takes courage to sit in front of a blank canvas without the distractions of everyday life. I realized that part of me was afraid to sit down and provide space for all of the recent feelings and experiences to find their way out through the art. It seems easier to keep pushing them down sometimes. But the first brushstroke has a way of clearing the way for the next, and the next, and so on.

Today during my art therapy group at an assisted living facility we all sat before blank surfaces. The acrylic paint was already beginning to form a slight crust on top from sitting out in the air. I could feel some of the anxiety and hesitancy of the group members to begin, even though they had all come to my art therapy groups before. The familiar mantras at the beginning of group, ‘I’m not an artist,’ ‘I don’t have a clue what I’m doing,’ ‘What should I do?’ ‘Does this look ok?’ I sit there and breathe in all of the insecurity. I encourage them to do the same. Then I say, ‘Let’s begin. Somewhere…anywhere. I promise you that brushstroke following brushstroke will lead you somewhere interesting.’ They begin and after an hour it¬†suddenly¬†seems like there isn’t enough time. Art has a way of suspending time, slowly drawing us away from self-critical thoughts, and revealing pieces of the self. I am inspired by the courage of my group members to trust me and the process enough to dive in each time. In turn, their willingness to create something from nothing has me heading back into my studio at the end of the day – eager to see where the art takes me.

On that note, I’ll leave you with one more inspirational quote. It’s about reframing our¬†relationship¬†to fear and a seemingly¬†subtle shift in perception can make all the difference:

‘Replace fear of the¬†unknown¬†with¬†curiosity.’ (unknown)

So, what are you curious about today?

a new small painting in progress

The Art of Tantrums

‘Hungry Ghost II’ ~ Sara Roizen

 

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
~ Winston Churchill

I’m typing this as my crying and flailing (almost) 2 year old throws the fourth tantrum in a row this morning. I’m not even halfway through my cup of coffee.

I remember when he was an infant other parents would tell me, ‘enjoy this stage because before you know it he’ll be in the terrible twos.’ I would smile and commiserate about this future stage, but inwardly I would think smugly ‘not my son.’ Surely, there must be some children that skip this stage altogether and he could be one of them.

Zoom back to present moment. (Always good advice right?) I remember our pediatrician’s advice and our own recent method of working with tantrums.

1) Make sure he understands he’s safe and that I’m not leaving the room.
2) Go about my business as calmly as possible in his general vicinity.
3) When the tantrum eventually ends, continue doing whatever we were doing beforehand together without praising or scolding him.

There’s a lot about this way of approaching tantrums that made the object relations trained therapist in me protest. To oversimplify, the object relations psychoanalytic school of thought is based on the idea that our early experiences with caregivers (mom, dad, etc.) largely shape the way we develop and interact with the world and others. Our earliest interactions from infancy and into childhood impact the way we view situations throughout our lifetime and therefore impacts our behavior and relationships as adults. With this background in mind, I wondered if ignoring a tantrum would result in my son feeling invalidated and abandoned?

I had to do some inner searching based on my own experiences with tantrums. Perhaps I don’t fall to the floor kicking and screaming, but I have my own versions as an adult. I think about the times when indescribable anger, sadness, or¬†hopelessness¬†flood my entire being. These are the times that I cannot trace the experience to anything specific. It’s more like my entire body and mind is temporarily hijacked and I just have to ride it out for as long as it takes. It’s like a contraction during labor that seems like it will never end. You just have to be¬†fully¬†in it because there’s nowhere else to go. Whether it’s the pain of a contraction or the emotional pain of an emotional ‘tantrum’ – my experience has always been that I need to be with it alone. In fact, my husband, a friend, or any other well-meaning loved one can’t reach me during those times. I’ve had to learn this the long and hard way. All they can do is sit beside me or let me know they are nearby. When I’m ready, I know they are there. They are not invalidating my experience, but rather giving me the respect and psychic space for me to be in.

The often confusing distinction between a tantrum and a different type of emotional time becomes clearer with practice and observation. I am learning when my son truly needs me to step in with a hug, words, and more hands-on attention. During those moments, my interactions with him help rather than hurt. During a true tantrum, I am learning to give him the space and respect he needs to let those gigantic waves of feeling and energy out. Both ways of reacting are validating. One validates through closeness and respect, and the other validates his experience through space and respect.

 

‘Eye of the Storm’ ~ Sara Roizen

So how does my toddler’s temper tantrums relate to art therapy, mindfulness, and life in general? I think it is like this: We will all experience our own ‘tantrums.’ Our therapy clients will have them too. You know the client in the group that sits there with arms crossed and refuses to make art? Or the client that throws a cup of paint water across the room? (True story). They are speaking to you loud and clear and they deserve a form of validation. Often this might be me saying, ‘I’m glad you’re here and you don’t have to make art. We are happy to have you sit with us while we make art. Do what feels best for you today.’ Then I continue to lead the art therapy group. Or for the paint water throwing client – ‘wow, I see you’re feeling out of control right now. We need this group to remain safe for everyone. This staff person is going to bring you to the lobby where you can sit and feel safe alone for as long as you need. I will check in on you after group.’

These sound like overly simplistic scenarios or reactions, but in my experience the calm reaction is often so unexpected that it can be effective. Most of my past clients were not used to having the option for space. They were used to punitive actions and an escalation of emotions all around. Space can be a gift when given from a place of compassion and awareness. I think one of the hardest lessons for me as a therapist is remembering that my job is not to ‘fix’ anyone. I can’t micromanage how my clients feel. I can’t make them feel good about the art and work they are doing with me. I can’t take away their pain, anxiety, or any other feelings. That’s not what therapy is about. Sometimes therapy is about taking an active and engaging approach with my clients in the moment. Sometimes it’s about being the quiet and aware presence next to them while they rage. It’s trusting that deep down they have the ability to move through the emotional ‘tantrum’ and that fully experiencing these waves is actually healthy.

The end to my morning toddler tantrum story is that he did eventually stop flailing around on the floor and screaming. I sat reading on the couch. He walked over to the tissue box and then calmly handed me a tissue so that I could help wipe his nose. All of this as if nothing had happened. I marveled at his ability to experience such big feelings and was almost envious of the way he let them take over and then let them go completely. My little toddler Zen master…always testing my mindfulness and ability to sit with what is.

When framed that way, even a tantrum is a gift – even though unwrapping the gift isn’t always pleasant.

 

Inspiration vs. Stagnation

photo: Sara Roizen

“If I stay long enough in the studio, just stay with the work even if it doesn’t feel great or seem satisfying or directional or conclusive, if I just stay to tend and garden, then my mind gradually yields control to the more automatic labor of painting, and with that comes a sweet spot in the process further down, a worn groove, a sense of ease.”

– Anna Schuleit

Let me paint a picture for you. (And stop me if it sounds familiar):

You’ve been meaning to get back to your creative project. Perhaps it’s a painting you started months ago that is staring at you from across the room. A recipe you’ve been meaning to try but are a little intimidated by. Making a handmade thank you card for your great aunt. Planting some new flowers in your garden. Dusting off your vinyl collection and actually sitting down to listen to an entire album uninterrupted. Writing a blog post. (Is it obvious that I’m also writing about myself here?) 

Here are a few things that might happen instead of jumping right into that creative project:

– You hop on to Pinterest just to grab a little inspiration and 2 hours later realize you’re still following link after link and looking at other people’s amazing projects. Oh, and your toddler just woke up from a nap so no time today for art!

– You decide that the pile of dishes or the toys on the floor are the top priority in the next hour.

– You have a ‘to do’ list, but the thing you are most passionate about doing today somehow ended up at the bottom of the list.

– It seems like too much fuss to gather your art supplies (substitute writing supplies, gardening, cooking, or any other word) and so you switch on the TV to gather a half hour of mindless but (you suppose) relaxation.

I’m just describing a pattern that I often find myself in. And to be clear, none of the above behaviors are bad. For me, it’s more about balance and if I’m honest with myself I can tell when I’m in a period of stagnation brought about by procrastination. There is something to be said for slowing down and doing less. This happens with the seasons, especially here in the Northeast. Nature slows down right about now and with less daylight hours most of us go into mini-hibernations of our own. 

Of course there are cycles of intense creativity and productivity to balance these times of stagnation. However, it seems almost too easy to fall into a habit of not creating. Creating can be anything at all and I don’t place a time value on it. Sometimes it’s ten minutes of doodling or even creating a rock sculpture in the backyard with my son. Or it could be marching up to my studio, cracking open my paints, and facing that gigantic blank canvas in the corner. 

Paint galore…

The inner therapist in me is getting curious and wondering about my resistance to creating. It’s certainly a theme that I continually explore with my art therapy clients. I think there are different reasons that pop up depending on the situation. Some of my themes are: not feeling worthy of making the time and space to create, being intimidated by the process, and placing a higher value on getting other things (like chores) done. Creating can feel like a luxury rather than a necessity. Sometimes I can almost delude myself into thinking that is true. But it’s not. I know this because if I am not making art or being creative in some way, my emotional and even physical self suffers. It doesn’t happen all at once, but I will gradually start to notice that something is ‘off.’ In my mind, it’s like taking a daily vitamin. You don’t realize how much it helps and also enhances your life until you stop taking it for a while. 

Getting back to my Pinterest example…
We all benefit from absorbing inspiration, whether it’s perusing Pinterest, taking a long walk, flipping through magazines, or strolling through a museum. The question is are we spending every second on gathering inspiration but avoiding getting down to our own creations? At this time in history we are surrounded by (and often bombarded) by a constant stream of images, opinions, and advertising. It seems to be increasingly difficult to unplug and go within. I will admit that when I’m in my studio I often feel an urge to hop into my iPhone and pull up a few more images for inspiration rather than sitting with myself in the uncertainty of creation. However, when I can sit in that uncomfortable place for a little while the anxiety is almost always replaced with excitement. It’s interesting how closely related anxiety and excitement can be isn’t it? The amount of energy that I am able to nurture and release when I make art is profound and deeply healing. All it takes is pushing past the stagnation. Doing that is simple, but not always easy. 

There is a humorous quote that many of us can probably relate to from Gene Fowler. He said about his creative process: “Writing is easy: all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead.” 

So while we’re on the subject of writing, here are four of my favorite books on nurturing and making space for our creative pursuits. Each book also addresses the obstacles to creating from a personal perspective. I hope that you check one or all of them out and let me know if they help spark your own creative process. Just remember – read a chapter at a time but create in between! ūüôā

Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go, Shaun McNiff
Art is a Way of Knowing, Pat B. Allen
Studio Art Therapy, Catherine Hyland Moon
Art & Fear, David Bayles & Ted Orland

Books to inspire your creative process

The Body in Art

Body silhouette example ~ Sara Roizen

‘Each body has it’s art…’
~ Gwendolyn Brooks

A few months ago during our Happiness Art Therapy Group with veterans we used a session to explore mind/body connection. I believe that art therapy automatically lends itself to the physical and bodily realm; the tactile exploration of art materials and the way our hands, arms, and posture all inform the creative process.

A reoccurring theme for many of the veterans I have worked with is a sense of loss in the physical realm. Most of these men and women were at the peak of their health during active service between training, drills, and everyday duties. This was required of them and many of my group members shared great pride in what they were able to accomplish during service. They often reminisced about surviving boot camp and being surprised by how hard they were able to push themselves and their bodies when necessary.

We began this particular art therapy group by exploring how the group members currently felt about their bodies. Were they at odds with their bodies or at peace with them? Which parts continued to serve them well and were there any parts that seemed to be failing them? Many of the members were currently dealing with chronic health issues, recovering from surgeries, and being treated for substance abuse or in recovery.

As we continued to talk about our bodies I handed each veteran a piece of paper with a pre-drawn body silhouette on it. I asked them to imagine that their body had a voice and was speaking to them right now. We then used drawing materials to fill in the silhouette with colors, shapes, and forms that symbolized how the body felt at this moment. I encouraged them to add words to represent the voice of the body. What advice did the body have? Which parts spoke up the most?

‘A-Part’ mixed media ~ Sara Roizen

I decided to create my own body silhouette (top image). Some of my body’s messages included ‘remember to keep my heart open,’ ‘remember to breathe,’ and ‘stretch.’ I also included ‘make more art’ because my body and mind feel it when I have not been creating for a while. Creating art both relaxes and rejuvenates my body and mind.

We finished the group by sharing each finished body silhouette. The veterans expressed surprise by some of the body parts that had ‘spoken up.’ I asked if they sensed any shift in body awareness or attitudes toward their bodies. Several group members said that they were realizing how often they were ‘at war’ with their own bodies instead of being kind to themselves. Some body parts and feelings just needed gentle attention and patience instead of being ignored or punished. Each member took the finished piece with them, to serve as a reminder for tuning into their bodies at least once a day.

A few years ago I led an art therapy group called Body Positive with HIV positive men. We traced each person’s body onto large paper and then they explored the physical and emotional sides of living with HIV through filling in the silhouettes. You can read about that group here:¬†Art Therapy & Body Image

Mandala Journal Evolution

1/29/14 mandala pages ~ Sara Roizen
6/7/14 mandala page ~ Sara Roizen

 

‚ÄúMy mandalas were cryptograms concerning the state of the self which was presented to me anew each day‚ĶI guarded them like precious pearls‚Ķ.It became increasingly plain to me that the mandala is the center. It is the exponent of all paths. It is the path to the center, to individuation.‚ÄĚ

~ Carl Jung

My 16 month old son is sleeping in the next room as I create this new blog post about my continued mandala journal. While re-reading my last blog post I realized that he was only six months old at that time of writing. Ten months later and this current mandala journal keeps growing, but it is almost at the end of the available pages. Time to get a new little art journal, yet I feel incredibly attached to this one. How apt, is it not? As my son grows I reminisce longingly when I see photographs or think about the first few months of his life and my life as a new mother. Yet I am enthralled with his current state of being as well as mine. This is the dialectic of creation as well as parenthood I suppose – looking back with an aching heart, soaking up the present moment, and being curious about the next phase all at once.

1/28/14 mandala page ~ Sara Roizen

My old studio space in our two bedroom apartment is now our toddler’s room. I create at our kitchen table, on the couch, or on the train ride to work. For now I create in little snippets such as my mandala journal, rather than in series of paintings on canvas. Returning to painting on a larger scale is in my near future, but for now I am reminded of how important it is to carve out these small pieces of time and space. I am reminded to ‘practice what I preach’ when I tell my art therapy clients that all it takes is a quick doodle here or there or even stopping on a familiar walk to snap a picture of a previously overlooked scene or object.
It is all of the little moments stitched together that create texture and depth in our lives. So I keep opening up to my process, one circle at a time.

5/28/14 mandala page ~ Sara Roizen
5/25/14 mandala page ~ Sara Roizen
5/7/14 mandala page ~ Sara Roizen
7/9/14 mandala page ~ Sara Roizen

Leaves On A Stream

“Japanese Garden” ~ acrylic on wood ~ 36″ x 65″ ~ Sara Roizen

I have often found it useful to offer a short guided visualization or breathing practice before my art therapy groups. In the beginning I offered these exercises a bit timidly, wondering how my clients would react to engaging in some quiet time. Although each person is different, I am finding that for the most part these small carved out practices are embraced.

Most of the places where I work are fairly chaotic at times. The buildings themselves are in challenging neighborhoods and the residents that come to my groups are usually trying to find a balance between engaging in the outside world but also protecting their inner needs and space.

There are not always private and quiet spaces to conduct my groups in and so we work with what we have. We enfold the sounds of people shuffling in and out, the occasional arguments outside, and other everyday interruptions into our work together.

Let Go…
One of the visualizations that I sometimes guide my art therapy clients in:

Imagine you are sitting quietly by the side of a stream. It’s Fall and there are beautiful bright leaves in reds, oranges, yellows, and golds floating downstream. As you become aware of your thoughts, try placing each thought on a leaf and watch as it floats away from you down the stream. There is no need to chase the leaf as it floats further away. Simply breathe in out and place another thought on the next leaf. Observe that there is no shortage of thoughts, for that is what the mind does – it creates thoughts. Thoughts are not a problem. See that the water is always moving and flowing, just as your thoughts and feelings are never still. Relax into the process of letting each thought arise and then let it go.

ink & watercolor on rice paper ~ Sara Roizen

This visualization can be expanded upon utilizing art. You can use real leaves and have the clients write a thought or feeling that they are trying to release on the leaf. Metallic and black sharpies work nicely as would paint or even oil pastel. If there is a moving body of water nearby then group members could actually release the leaves and watch them float away. An alternative is to cut-out leaves on watercolor paper and have everyone write their thoughts on the leaves in washable marker or paint words on with watercolor. After the leaves are completed, submerge the cut-out leaves in a pan or bowl of water and watch as the words slowly dissolve and wash away…

For those of you who incorporate guided mindful practices into your work, do you have any favorites? How might they translate into the art process?

Resist(ance) & Watercolor

oil pastel & watercolor ~ Sara Roizen
¬†“It’s easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.”
~ Leonardo Da Vinci
It was pouring rain as I headed deep into Brooklyn to lead one of my art therapy groups at a residential building for adults living with chronic mental illness. It seemed fitting that I had packed watercolor for the group that day, as well as oil pastels. My thinking was that instead of fighting the rainy day, perhaps we could glean some inspiration from the puddles, soaked clothing, and failed attempts to stay dry.
As I walked to the building, there was a little doubting voice in my head that wondered whether or not the simple watercolor and oil pastel materials would be enough to entice the residents during group. As an art therapist I often find myself wondering if my ‘buffet’ of art materials will feed a hungry group or if they will find my offerings lacking. Each group is completely different and I always remind myself to do the same thing that I encourage my clients to do…trust the process.
As it turned out, this particular group ended up being one of the most attended and lively art therapy groups I had led in a while. My enthusiasm for the process quickly spread throughout the entire group. I did a quick demonstration by showing the clients how to create doodles with the white crayon on the white paper. Once the drawing was done, I showed how layers of watercolor could be added to reveal the white crayon lines underneath. This technique works because oil and water don’t mix – hence the beautiful resist paintings that emerge.
oil pastel & watercolor ~ Sara Roizen
One of the new group members began hesitantly and at first expressed frustration that the art was not matching the vision in his mind. A few of my more seasoned group members gently encouraged him to keep going and not worry so much about the finished product. (Always amazing when a group is in the flow and seems to run itself!) As he started a second resist painting he mentioned that he hadn’t picked up an art material in years. I asked him if he remembered the last time and¬†he said, “when I joined the army I traded my drawing pencil for a rifle.” There was a collective silence and a few head nods from other group members that were veterans.

As this client continued to create, we all noticed that his pieces were becoming less self-conscious and much more fluid. His last piece was an abstract geometrical square pattern and the shapes seemed to leap from the paper. I helped him explore the idea of muscle memory and asked him if he could retrain himself in the practice of art as a parallel to his experience of training for and serving in the army. The connection between the two seemed to appeal to him and I pointed out that in only an hour and a half he had gone from a reluctant group participant to an engaged and more self-assured creator.

Quick crayon & watercolor resist tips:

White crayon on white paper leads to the most striking visual results, but adding other color crayon lines adds very interesting effects!
  • To create a solid and clear line, make sure to press down pretty hard on the crayon. I always tell my clients not worry if the crayon breaks! Having a few extra white crayons in your supply bin can help too.
  • The more pigment/watercolor on the brush = deeper and less transparent layers. To create a crisp visual edge, load that brush up with pigment. For more subtle washes and soft effects, use more water.
  • Many of my group members are not sure what to draw so to warm them up I encourage doodling with eyes closed, picking a shape and repeating it, or having someone else draw and then have them add the watercolor.
oil pastel & watercolor mandala journal pages ~ Sara Roizen
  • This activity appeals to the inner child as well as actual children. I have used this technique in the children’s hospital with patients and parents. The adult can write a ‘secret’ message or create a drawing in white crayon on the paper, and then the child reveals it by adding watercolor, and plenty of opportunity to switch roles too! A beautiful and simple collaborative method.
    ¬†Enjoy this technique! It’s one of the most relaxing and simple techniques I have found and always leads to amazing discoveries.

Happiness Group & The Art of Forgiveness

Beginning a forgiveness box with a quote

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.

~ Lewis B. Smedes

The holidays tend to bring up complex feelings for many people. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, New Years, and other holidays seem to blend together during this time of year and there is a palpable energy in the chilly air.

This is also a time of year when my art therapy groups tend to get smaller for a few weeks. The holidays are especially triggering for many of the individuals that I work with – bringing up complex feelings and memories. I think part of what makes it¬†challenging¬†is a feeling that this time of year ‘should’ be joyful even if it’s not¬†for everyone. Drug and alcohol relapses as well as hospitalizations tend to increase with my clients and many other tend to isolate in their apartments if they have no friends or relatives to be with. This is part of why I find it important to continue the groups, even if attendance is lower. There are usually at least a few people that make their way to the group and find some benefit and comfort in participating.

In my continuing work with veterans living in supportive housing, my co-therapist and I started a new group called the ‘Happiness Group.’ One of the interesting challenges inherent in working with individuals in¬†permanent¬†housing is finding ways to keep groups interesting. My past work has focused on working with people in crisis and living in emergency transitional shelters. Although the art therapy groups were challenging, I could expect a constantly changing group of clients. In contrast, the groups offered in permanent housing facilities are less transient but the risk of group repetition and lack of interest increase. With this in mind, my co-therapist and I began to brainstorm a new group that might be of interest. Drawing from positive psychology and our own interests, we designed a new curriculum and group called the ‘Happiness Group.’

So far the residents have been drawn to our new Happiness Group and are very engaged. I always highlight the fact that ‘being happy’ is not a pre-requisite for coming to the group. In fact, the group flyers that I created include this description:

We all want more happiness in life. But
how do we create happiness when there are so many challenges and hard
situations we face? This group will give you ideas and tools for creating more
happiness in your daily life, no matter what you are facing. 

Forgiveness box in progress

Our group last week focused on the theme of forgiveness. Forgiveness and happiness might seem like strange companions, yet they are directly linked. Much of our emotional and physical energy can become tied up in feelings of anger and past resentment. Although it’s a long and challenging process, working with forgiveness can free up energy that can be channeled into cultivating more happiness.

In group we spent time talking about what forgiveness might entail and why forgiveness does not mean forgetting or saying that something hurtful was ok and acceptable. Alice Miller said,¬†“Genuine forgiveness does not deny anger but faces it head-on,” and I think this is a good way of understanding forgiveness.

Forgiveness Boxes
Group members shared the people and experiences that they were struggling to forgive. We also explored self-forgiveness, since sometimes we are the ones in most need of forgiveness. My co-leader encouraged the clients to write a letter to someone they wanted to forgive. The letter would not be mailed to the person, but could be used as a cathartic method for addressing and processing feelings of anger, hurt, and disappointment.

For the art therapy piece of the group I set up paint trays, acrylic, brushes, collage materials, markers, and mod podge. I then handed each person a small paper mache box. I asked the group to decorate the boxes on the inside and outside while thinking about a person or a few people that they would like to work on forgiving. The gold and copper paint were a popular paint color and the metallic paint helped imbue the boxes with a certain beauty. While working on the boxes, group members began to open up about past experiences with the people they were working to forgive.

I reminded the group that forgiveness was a process like most everything in life. Feelings about the person might ebb and flow like ocean waves and re-surface even after there seemed to be some emotional resolution. For this reason I encouraged the clients to look at the box as an object that can be opened and closed and therefore visited and put aside depending on their needs.

The last step was writing the name of one or more people (could include self) on a small piece of paper and placing it inside the box. The name could stay in there for a long time, or be taken out and replaced with another name. In this way the names and the box could become part of a small ritual. The safe containing space of the box could hold the desire to forgive and be opened when it felt appropriate. One of the clients shared that she would place her forgiveness box on a small altar in her apartment where she kept a beautiful candle. Her idea was to create a ritual with her daughter of putting in names and taking them out while lighting a candle each day, as a way of processing past family experiences and moving in the direction of forgiveness and healing.

closed forgiveness box

Further Thoughts
When working with individuals who have experienced trauma I find the idea of objects that can close and be opened very useful. Working in this way can help an individual explore past experiences slowly and avoid the chance of emotional flooding. Altered books (future post) are another idea along these lines. Any material and object that creates a containing space and can hold a smaller object are wonderful to work with. If I could get my hands on some nesting dolls to alter that would be very interesting too!

Creating art objects that can be used repeatedly in a personal ritual adds another opportunity for healing by engaging in the creative process. Individuals can make visual reminders that inhabit their living space.

Check back in the coming weeks for more posts and ideas from my art therapy groups, and as always please feel free to share your own thoughts and experiences here.