Can ART Really be THERAPY?

art

By Tiffany Pan

The calculator has just spit it out: 40.7 percent.  That’s the proportion of my life that I’ve spent with a mental health diagnosis.  Almost eleven years of wondering if I qualify as having a disability for various forms, of waiting for people to react to the word ‘bipolar’, of scheduling appointments, and counting out medications. It is a slog, a constant Grouse Grind, to keep myself functional.

The list of things I can do to keep myself healthy is long.  Medication. Meditation, and the varieties thereof: yoga, breathing, visualization, and so on.  Counselling, individual or group.  Exercise.  Diet.  Sleep. Self-help books.  Religion or spirituality.  Socialization.  Coping skills, like journaling, setting up emergency plans, distracting yourself, etc.  Treatments and therapies.  In my mind, I must be inordinately vigilant – the mental equivalent of a rigid soldier on laughable alert outside Buckingham Palace – so that my mood doesn’t slide in worrying directions. Keeping myself well takes much upkeep and mental discipline; self-care has almost always been work for me, and never fun.

And then I tried art therapy through MDA.  I’ve always been curious about art therapy, mainly based on enjoying art classes in high school and having occasional creative phases where I scrapbook, or knit, or draw for an hour here or there.  But art as restorative, art as healing, art as something other than pure diversion has never been properly articulated in my mind.

I will not say that art therapy has been a cure-all.  However, it has given me something that I had not even thought to ask for.  There is finally a method of self-care which does not feel like a chore to me, a practice whose value comes from its ability to make me forget that I’m even doing therapy.  It doesn’t feel like work to colour, and it’s strangely mesmerizing to create a mandala.  The tangible evidence of whatever I feel on a page is validating, and freeing in the sense that my inner world is no longer just inside.  I experience a sense of creation, which counteracts the way mental illness can destroy and chip away at my life.  The wonderful facilitators of my group have also emphasized the need to let go of creating ‘good’ art, to not adhere to what good art is supposed to look like.

The immediacy of putting pen to page can be amazing.  For example, I can scribble hard, angular marks to represent frustration.  And all of a sudden, I am better able to visualize my inner tension, and I have also simultaneously let go of my angst.  Sometimes the pieces have clear symbolic meaning to my life, and I’m surprised that I was actually able to express visually the ill-defined emotions in my mind.  Then there are art pieces that seem to have no meaning, random colours and lines that were the only things that I could think of to put on the page.  But that’s been a good lesson too – to just do something and not judge its outcome.

In other words, I finally realize that there are ways of keeping healthy available to me that I can actually enjoy and look forward to and which help me to feel more grounded, productive, and well.

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The Art of Gratitude

morning sun

By Polly Guetta

Cultivating gratitude has long been recognized as a key approach to experiencing deeper levels of happiness, fulfillment, and well-being. In the seventeenth century, Dutch philosopher Rabbi Baruch Spinoza suggested that in order to develop a practice of gratitude that becomes second nature we commit to answering the following questions every day for a month:

Who or what inspired me today?
What brought me happiness today?
What brought me comfort and deep peace today?

By answering these questions daily in a journal, you can start to take more notice of the beauty and joy in life and this can lead to a meaningful change in your general outlook.  As you write down your thoughts, try to have original entries every day – this will challenge you to take note of the little things that brightened your day, touched your heart, or made you smile.

To help get you started on a daily gratitude practice, I asked some of MDABC staff and supporters to share their answers to one or more of the questions. Here are some of their entries:

From Lisa Kleiman, MDABC Support Group Facilitator:
What brought me happiness today?

I am so grateful for every single day. For sitting in my favourite coffee shop. Meeting friends, seeing family, working, volunteering, facilitating. I take nothing for granted. This time last year I was very sick and in hospital. Thinking I will never see wellness again. It was so scary to think there was no hope for recovery. I feel so blessed to have my mental health back. I am able to attend MDABC workshops to help me get even stronger. I use my tools that I have to keep myself in wellness.

I know what I almost lost and to be well today I am so very grateful.

 From Valentina Chichiniova, Counsellor at MDABC:

Who or what inspired me today? Watching an old couple holding hands and supporting one another.


What brought me happiness today?
Watching the beautiful cloudy sky and noticing the amazing variety in shades of grey, white, purple and yellow.


What brought me comfort and deep peace today? 
Talking to my mom.

 

From Teri Doerksen, Receptionist at the Counselling and Wellness Centre at MDABC:

Who or what inspired me today?

Martin (Executive Director of MDABC) inspired me today at the staff meeting – he reminded me that all of the work I do is to help a person with mental health issues cope and begin to recover.

Thanks for sharing everyone. If you’d like to share your gratitude post, please comment!

Deep and Personal with Tom Dutta, Chair of the MDABC Board of Directors

tom dutta

Hi my name is Tom Dutta.  Would it be ok with you if I went deep and personal for a bit?

I’ve been associated with MDABC for over 7 years and want you to know that I’m just an average guy who has a passion to “Make the world a better place through mental health wellness”.

I’d love it if everyone on the planet knew my true story so I’m sharing it through this blog, on my www.mdabc.net video (the “about” page) and everywhere I go.  When I was young I experienced mental health issues all around me.  My mom struggled with depression and anxiety and I grew up with a military father who struggled with alcohol addiction.  My younger brother was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome in his teen years and I remember my uncle’s son was found hanging in a barn in the Fraser Valley.  When I met my wife of 20 years now, Anna, I found more incredible stories of suicide and depression in her extended and immediate family and today in my professional career I see and meet people all the time who have a story about mental health wellness.

At an early age I found success in the corporate world.  My dad was a teacher and blue collar worker and mom was a nurturer and protector….as an immigrant to Canada at age 3 I only knew how to work hard and help other people.  Life was a puzzle for me and I usually put others needs ahead of my own so I built a career starting as a bank teller and worked to live and support my family.  Thirty years later as I look back my career went from teller to CEO but there was always this dark side of me.  Anna used to tell me how wonderful I was and remark on my successes but I couldn’t see or feel it myself.  Continue reading “Deep and Personal with Tom Dutta, Chair of the MDABC Board of Directors”

An invitation to join “Peace is Every Step- a Walking Meditation Group” at the MDABC

October is a month which offers an abundance of beautiful trees changing color to gaze upon, crisp, fresh air to breathe in, and piles of leaves and acorns to crunch beneath your feet. Could there really be any better time to join a mindful walking group?

walking group

All About Social Anxiety -A Q&A with Clinical Counselor Rose Record

paper chain

Rose Record, MA, CCC,  is a Canadian Certified Counsellor with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA).  She has a Master of Arts Degree in Counselling Psychology completed at the University of British Columbia. Rose is a member of the MDABC therapy team. This fall she will be leading therapy groups for adults on Social Anxiety and Depression, for more information go to www.mdabc.net

In your experience, how can social anxiety get in the way for people who want to feel more connected?

Social anxiety is an experience of fear, worry and/or anxiety in social situations where there is a possibility of being observed and/or scrutinized by other people. This can get in the way of feeling connected to others in many different ways.  It can lead to intense worry or fear of being embarrassed, judged, or not performing well in public and/or social situations.  It can also lead to worry that anxiety will “show” in ways such as trembling, blushing, sweating or being “lost for words”. This fear can be so intense that even thinking about or anticipating being in social situations can feel overwhelming. Common consequences of social anxiety are reduced enjoyment of social situations, limiting participation in social activities, or avoiding being in feared situations or in public altogether.

Which strategies do you use in your therapeutic practice to help clients with social anxiety?

When supporting individuals experiencing social anxiety, the first strategy is often to build an understanding of what is going on during an anxiety response and working together to determine what their unique anxiety situations and anxiety responses are (everyone is different!). Then, we start to break responses down into the thoughts, emotions, physical feelings and behaviours involved and identify strategies that can help to re-work the responses. Many of the strategies I use are aimed at looking at our patterns of thinking and challenging/replacing unhelpful patterns of thinking with thoughts that may be more fair and helpful. Through this process, we also start to uncover core beliefs that shape our thinking about others, the world and ourselves. Other strategies are aimed more at shifting behaviors in our lives such as setting goals and taking small steps to reduce avoidance and build tolerance for being in feared situations. Finally, relaxation and mindfulness strategies are introduced to help clients to tune into their bodies, to physically slow down anxiety responses and to build self-acceptance.

Do you find working with clients with social anxiety rewarding?

Absolutely! One thing I love about group therapy for social anxiety is that it provides a safe, supportive space for clients to learn, share, set goals and build coping strategies. Through that process, clients often build confidence, skills and take steps toward doing things in their lives that are important or fulfilling to them, whether that be trying something new, meeting new people or simply becoming more comfortable and confident in social situations in general.  As a therapist, it’s very powerful walking alongside clients in their therapeutic journey.

What can clients expect at the first session of the “CBT for Social Anxiety” course that you are leading?

Our first session is really about establishing a foundation from which we’ll build on for the next 8 weeks.  We’ll spend time talking about the group itself – learning what CBT is (and isn’t), building group goals, and setting up some basic structure to the sessions so everyone knows what to expect each week.  Then, we’ll talk a bit about what social anxiety is and learn the basics of what happens during an anxiety response and how to track it.  Finally, in each session we’ll learn a new relaxation or mindfulness technique and for our first session, we’ll focus on the basics of deep breathing.  In every session, some “homework” is also suggested, which basically consists of ideas for how group members can continue to practice and try out the skills we learned in class throughout the week and start to integrate them into their day-to-day lives.