why ‘trust your gut’ means more than you think
I love to write, talk, dream, make and be. I look forward to sharing some of this with you all.
Yesterday I was reminded how passionate I am about what I do. What art therapy is, what it can do, how it can really really help someone lost in the depths of traumatic overload.
I was invited to present some case work at our professional Bodies (BAAT) Regional Group 4 hosted at the ArtTherapy training rooms in the University of Hertfordshire’s Lindup building. It was another glorious, full, warm and welcoming summers day outside, which starkly juxtaposed against the isolation, emptiness and darkness felt in the client’s original worlds.
I regard every person as someone trying to protect their sanity and self, even when it doesnt appear so in their behaviour or manifestation. Generally it is knowing this, that brings someone into therapy. For example, the two people I shared were a man who had spent 20 years in prison, and a woman became ‘inexplicably’ catatonic. What are destructive and extreme actions, were working from the best they could do at the time to seek their own preservation and/or happiness. Even the most horrific actions are seeking this in the most unwise and misguided way.
I see art therapy’s job fundamentally as supporting someone to work from this place toward a more beneficial and connected one, accepting what’s been, seeing what is and opening to what may be, from within whatever that may truly mean for them (that’s legal and causes no harm to others).
I shared the two cases mentioned here with a small group of trainee and qualified art therapists. These personal and powerful stories shared through video and images, were received with grace and sensitivity. People thoughtfully enquired further into how we worked together to initiate change, resilience and movement, into them embracing and trusting themselves with warmth and a hopeful future? We did so through deep empathic attunement, a low pressure creative setting, and always working within the pace, rhythm and language of the individual - so connection can grow. Paying attention to the slightest nuance, twitch of the eye, turn of the lip, change in the atmosphere, I try to say without words ‘I am here’, ‘you are here’, ‘I am listening’, ‘you can trust’.
The developing connection occurs on many levels simultaneously; with the therapist, the varied voice of the creative process and most importantly, themselves: their histories, their damage, their pains, confusions, terrors as well as their joys, strengths, hopes and hearts.
I love what I do. I love that I have years of experience in it that might help others to love what they do, to the best of their abilities. I love sharing with other Art Therapists through presentations like today, through trainings, workshops, and of course, creative clinical supervision.
A great affirming and nourishing day all round: not least because at last, the client who’d never felt heard in his life, who really wanted his video shared to help others understand art Therapy, got his wish.
I attended a Webinar last night for Arts Therapists about GDPR (yawn...I know...bear with!)
"This is about human rights" she said - now THAT caught my attention.
It is a law all about your right to privacy and transparency and fairness, of what OTHER people do with YOUR information. Mention unfairness and my ears always prick up - I am ever the advocate for the underdog, those with little or no voice, those silenced or dismissed or treated differently. So now I am listening :-)
I am pleased to say that much of what was said was not really news to me. To those of us who worked with adults with learning disabilities in the turn from 20th to 21st century, the social, and legal changes that occurred at this time were significant and relevant. One of the most important legal changes of that time was the Mental Capacity Act 2005. It now assumed capacity which Meant that all people had assumed capacity and anyone disputing this had to prove otherwise. So now every person with a LD had to be involved in their life and social and health decisions. (There are many shocking stories from the past). The MCA was something we, the Team members working with ADULTS could now lean on, quote, ensure was adhered to - by law, when things were being decided or suggested that over-rode the rights and views of the adult with a learning disability, and was brought to our attention in the Community & In-Patient Health & Social Care Teams.
I learned to and have always created bespoke contracts for people, always talked them through who I am, what I do, what we will do etc etc, very clearly and repeatedly. Always collaborated with others to ensure this was done most beneficially...in speech, writing, message, drawing, diagrams, recordings....whatever was needed to make sure they understood and remembered what they were signing up to with me. An example I recall was an elderly client with a forensic history who angered very quickly when the legal aspects of his case were brought up. Obviously this was a problem for Parole Board meetings. We needed to find a way to feedback and speak to the Parole Board without getting overwhelmed and angry. We found that speaking and doing at the same time helped him stay calm. That talking things through whilst the words were also being written or drawn down on his behalf kept him focussed and feeling deeply heard. We found that certain colours meant very specific things to him. The he enjoyed the continuity of sessions and work that was kept safely between them. We found that his volatility could be contained with paced work on things that challenged him, and we found that verbal language confused him especially in groups, and stressful situations. So we created a form of communication that would enable the best him to be present at his parole hearing. We planned the questions, made the full length interview, filmed it and then edited this to 8 minutes. He watched this and approved it, with much pride. He asked for the Parole to accept it as a submission and they agreed. The pride I saw on his face as it played was memorable and he was able to remain calm, thinking and engaged.
He got the outcome he wanted.
The MCA was a major game changer. I wonder if GDPR will also be? I already have seen people, therapists really consider, some for the first time, what it is they are doing and why, with people's information. It shocks me on one level to see how little thought has been given, and then it doesn't when I know most people work with a sense that everyone can communicate fully in the same manner. When you are used to meeting very unique individuals with very varied communication needs, within the very individualised arena of art making, you learn to approach everyone in an individualised way every time.
For this I am very grateful to my family, my previous employer (the NHS), my volunteering experiences in Romania, my colleagues, and my widely differing and unique clients who gave me the opportunity to develop my equanimity, my compassion, my creativity and my humility. These skills and qualities have put me in good stead for GDPR and the recognition and upholding of each clients human rights within my own legal, professional, insurance, registration body and employing organisational requirements.
And look out for my future one that will be more bespoke, more interesting, more creative, and more pertinent to you.
Im inspired to share with you the fact that i feel inspired! I have just had a wonderful Skype discussion with a colleague from the Flourish Foundation. We shared our experiences - mine from 1994 when I volunteered in Romania and hers from now, working with refugees in Ritsona in Greece. Please take a look at the website and support them as they offer all the people who find themselves as refugees in the difficult place of a camp, a space to be, to express and play and process some of the trauma they've experienced on their journeys.
In 1994 I was newly qualified and without work. When my friend Cathy rang, i was more than willing to help my friend out there already working in the orphanages. Those of you old enough to remember will readily recall the images we were shocked by on our TV's, as the Ceausescu communist Regime fell and the curtains were pulled back on the lives people were living and the terrible neglect of the orphans leaving them severely developmental delayed.
I went to work in a newly uncovered adult psychiatric hospital where the conditions were very similar to the orphanages. We were there from September to December and then having returned for Xmas and fundraising, again, January to March. In the depths of winter we walked the two miles out of town to the high-walled hospital every day with the other volunteers. Returning mid-afternoon before it got too dark and too cold, warming up on good conversation, hot bread and local rum. All the juxtapositions of beauty and horror that surrounded me during those months have sculpted me into the kind of therapist I am today.
I learned how to unite the ideal frame of what Id just been taught that Art Therapy is, with the reality of the context and people I was working with in the moment. It made me pare Art Therapy down to its essential bones and It changed me and my life from that point on. I am forever grateful for this experience and though 24 years ago, I reflect on it often. The learnings are deep within me and nourish my confidence and integrity as a therapist.
I will tell you more another time.
The other day I went on a course that inspired me to write! Carolyn Spring, founder of PODS-ONLINE.ORG.UK an organisation based in Huntingdon, to support and inform about Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID used to be known as multiple personality disorder), is an accomplished speaker, offering respectful context for depth of content with simplicity of presentation which I aspire to...but that's another blog.
We were there, considering the clinical implications of working with DID. She spoke of the impact of trauma on the body and mind, and the admirable and utter resilience of our human-ness that finds ways to cope and survive. "Trauma by definition is unbearable and intolerable" (from another great speaker Van de Kolk in his book 'The Body Keeps The Score' 2014). It is, a human experience that I have lived and worked with actually all my life. I lived in a family that fostered many children from highly traumatised backgrounds. I had parents with the same heritage. I always gravitated toward helping the underprivileged and those without voice (animal and human) in some way or other my whole life. I volunteered in special schools, specialist units, a Romanian Psychiatric hospital - and I found the voice for this myself through art and connection.
I worked in NHS Art Therapy Services with adults with the label of learning disability (LD) for almost 20 of my years, and spent time with trauma every day in a different way. A person with a LD carries non-verbally their very first significant trauma, that of the organic brain damage and/or syndrome they're born with - as well as the impact this has/had on the emotions and relationships that then develop around them (see books by Valerie Sinason a leading psychotherapist in both fields of LD and DID). For the people I worked with here in art therapy, the suffering had become so intolerable, so distressing in some way or another, that they had reached our doors within NHS Community and In-Patient NHS Specialist Services. I was happy that I worked for a Service that believed all people (including those with LD which was less popular in the 90's) could benefit from creative psychological therapies. We offered both Music and Art Therapy that people could receive this for free on the NHS.
I saw every day the value, benefit and success of Art Therapy. I remember a colleague and I discussing how wonderful it would be if we had a machine that could measure what's actually going on in someones brain and body when we were working with people, to measure and prove the changes and experiences we had the privilege to witness. Of course now we do, and the neurophysiological evidence is there to find. It proves relationship, play, creativity, art, and boundaries matter.
Notably myself and three colleagues undertook a then, cutting-edge, extensive research project with 3 of our clients with moderate LD using both Quantitative and Qualitative measurement tools to try to make a contribution to this lack of research. Press the button below for our published Article from IJAT - International Journal of Art Therapy 2006)
We all of course, have our ways, defences and tools of managing our emotions and lives, including many that are on the edge of unhealthy/unhelpful, become less helpful or take us by surprise once a number of traumas have accumulated to beyond our tolerance levels, We don't all need therapy of course, but art Therapy can help with all of these, I've seen it.
Thankfully most of us have not suffered such a level of significant trauma that creates DID, but if you feel you or someone you know might suffer from this do go to the website and take look for help and advice. There is also a Directory of Trauma-Sensitive Therapists that they can advise you on. And yes, I am on there.
THE WORLD ART COLLECTIVE
Is an online invitation for everyone to feel inspired and heard through sharing their (your) art. Please go take a look and share the links with your friends and networks!
There is a Facebook page too at https://www.facebook.com/theworldartcollective
We need to get the word out there for this to take off and grow...I would love to see positivity and hope through individual or group artwork, posted for the world to see.
As I move my life around to better mix work and pleasure, my Private Practice is now based from Ulverston in Cumbria AND Peterborough, Cambridgeshire.
Predominantly i offer internet-mediated and face-to-face CLINICAL SUPERVISION to anyone working within the helping professions across the UK or beyond. I also can provide direct art THERAPY sessions, GROUPS and BESPOKE therapeutic Arts based TRAINING in venues around these regions.
My area of expertise for almost 20 years has been in NHS Adult Learning Disabilities and Mental Health Community and Inpatient settings, whilst Charity-based and Education-based work with children has strongly developed since going freelance in 2015. I have supervised people from many areas of practice over the years including museums & galleries, women’s services, palliative care, adult mental health, older people’s services, adoption and looked after children’s services, education, forensics and probation. In my “previous life” whilst seeking my art therapy career path, I explored nursing and teacher training, both of which i I continue to use in my practice in many ways.
I have tutored, presented, mentored, researched and published over the years.
My style is person-centred, context-aware, socially-collaborative and art-central, exploring all arenas of the interaction and relationship including the psychodynamic, emotional, cognitive, physical, sensory, and spiritual. I have acquired an array of tools in my tool-box, that I will be happy to share with you including creativity & attachment and trauma-informed practices, sensory integration, mentalisation, solution-focus, person-centred, pre-therapy and Buddhist mindfulness/meditation, to name a few.
My passion is in encouraging you to explore, define and re-define the kind of therapist you are/want to be within the contexts you find yourself, with a kind and practical emphasis to enhance resilience and reduce secondary trauma, burn-out or cynicism.
Please do get in touch if you'd like to discuss your needs further.
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I look forward to working with you 😊🎨
Well, I have been on Buddhist art training in Cumbria. Learning to paint and gild Buddhist statues and other holy objects: it has been wonderful! The site is an old Priory, it has a Temple, and woods that lead down to the beach....
I love being an art therapist, helping others find a new way to relate to themselves and others, on a wandering journey of discovery, uncertainty and trust in what cannot always been described with words.
You learn to listen. To trust your gut, your instinct, your inner art-maker, your empathy, your inner seeker of balance, your humanity. Time, and timing. Theres a lot of similarity between making art and making relationships: in one we can practise elements we need for the other.