Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Gingerbread House Activity

Gingerbread houses are always fun to make around the holidays. If you are doing the project with children, you can cut out smaller houses from the dough. I also put the assorted candies in muffin trays to ensure that each child gets the same amount of goodies and to keep it all organized. I've done similar activities with the mentally ill population, which I realized required just as much supervision, when I caught one patient (diabetic, no less) eating a bowl of frosting with a spoon! It is a good activity to promote creativity and discussion, if you have the energy and patience for it!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holiday Card Directive

This week in my Empathy group, I had all the group members make a holiday card for each member in the group, writing an empathic note to each person based on something that person talked about in group or based on some interaction he had with that person in the time he has known him. I provided some old holiday cards for collaging along with some construction paper, foil paper, doilies, glitter glue, sequins, and other craft supplies. For some, this might be the only cards they receive this holiday season. It was nice to see each patient feel good after reading a personal and meaningful comment in each card he received. It also promoted pro-social behavior in giving and doing something nice for someone else.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Supervision Gifts

Around the holidays, I like to give the Art Therapists in my supervision group a small token of appreciation for all their hard work and their contributions to the Art Therapy program at the hospital. This year, I got them a box of cookies from the Immaculate Baking Company which is a great company that uses organic and natural ingredients and supports folk artists! They showcase American Folk Art on their cookie boxes and you can learn more about Folk Art on their website. Plus, the cookies come in a variety of yummy flavors, like my favorite "Pumpkin Gingerlies." My friend, who works for the company, introduced them to me, and I thought this was an apropos gift for Art Therapists!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Exploring Beliefs About Women

A few quarters ago, I started an Art Therapy group to help the sex offenders explore their beliefs about women. One high risk factor for sex offenders (both rapists and child molesters) is believing that women are deceptive. Through this group, the patients were able to share their beliefs about women and learn how their beliefs have influenced their crimes, their relationships, and their lives. The patients have been able to talk about not being able to trust women, how they objectify women, and how they have been hostile toward women, among other topics. Some of the directives we have used include "Create an image about a time you were embarrassed by a woman," "A time a woman treated you respectfully," and "A time you had a misunderstanding with a woman." We used the Hostility Toward Women scale pre and post the 12 week group, though we haven't run the statistics yet.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Self Care

It's definitely important to do self care activities, especially if you work with a challenging population. Being creative and artistic in your free time is a great way to relieve stress, have fun, and get in touch with your artist self. Ever since I learned how to knit while working at a Senior Center, I have come to enjoy this activity for it's relaxing and self-soothing quality. In recent years, I have participated in several craft fairs, and have sold my knitted scarves and other craft items. It's been fulfilling to have other people appreciate my work as well! You can check out my website A big thanks to all the Art Therapists who supported me at the Marketplace at the AATA conference this year!!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Swap Drawings Directive

I've used this directive a few times in my Empathy group...I ask the group members to think of a time they felt a certain feeling (scared, angry, sad, anxious, etc.) I ask them to draw that situation or scene, adding as many details as possible, and using color and line to symbolize feelings. I also ask them to try to add facial expression, and ask them not to write words on the drawing. I usually give everyone a set amount of time to complete the drawing. After the art making time, I ask everyone to pass their drawing to the person on their left. I have everyone look at the drawing in front of them, and each person then explains what is happening in their peer's drawing. I emphasize that empathy involves being observant and sometimes trying to piece things together to get a better understanding of the whole picture. This exercise helps the client put himself in someone else's shoes and try to understand what that person was feeling, thinking, and going through. When we try to empathize with someone, we may not always know exactly what is going on, so we may have to imagine or make an informed guess about what the other person is experiencing.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Continue-the-Story Directive

Another Art Therapist in my supervision group shared this group directive. Each member of the group gets a large piece of paper. Have each person fold the paper into as many sections as there are people in the group. For example, if there are 8 people, you would fold the paper in half, in half again, and once more. If there are an odd number off people, round up. Each person chooses a different color marker. Have each member number the sections, starting on the top left, as if you were reading. In the original directive, each person draws a memory in the first section. I have altered the directive and I ask everyone to draw a time they felt something ("Draw a time you felt scared," "nervous," "worried," etc.). I ask each person to add as much detail to the scene as possible and each person has 2 minutes. At the end of that time, everyone passes their paper to the person on his/her left. Each person looks at the drawing in front of him/her and then continues the story in section 2, again adding as much detail as possible in 2 minutes. This continues until everyone has drawn on each paper (if an odd number of people, you would end up with your own paper, drawing in the last section.) In the original directive, you may cut apart all the sections and each group member gets back all the drawings he/she did and can create another story based on those drawings, since this can be a projective exercise. I usually have each member keep the paper intact and each person can talk about why they continued someone's story as they did. Then the original artist can explain what really happened. I use this in my Empathy group to help show the patients that they may not know exactly what is going on, but it is important to pay attention to detail and think about what another person might be thinking or feeling. It's just another way for them to practice this, and is usually a pretty fun exercise.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Mailboxes Activity

An Art Therapist in my supervision group shared a great idea and asked everyone in the group to create a "mailbox" representing some of her communication skills. We then all wrote a positive note to each member of the group and put it in that person's mailbox. We now all keep our mailboxes on a book shelf in the Art Center and I encourage everyone to leave a positive note for each other every once in a while, reminding that person what a good job they've been doing or thanking her for doing something nice. Of course, this is also a great directive for a group of clients!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Holiday Decorations Group

During the Fall Quarter at the hospital, we run a group called "Holiday Decorations." Many of the patients get into decorating their units, spending many hours on creative and intricate decorations. It helps them get into the holiday spirit and allows them to share their memories of past holidays. This year, one patient made Halloween jack-o-lanterns with different facial expressions and wrote down the corresponding feeling. Many of the patients have a difficult time identifying and accessing their feelings, so this was a creative way to practice that--and he came up with the idea on his own!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Book Review

Since working with the sex offender population can be challenging and stressful, it is important to learn about self care. Transforming the Pain: A Workbook on Vicarious Traumatization (Norton Professional Books) by Karen W. Saakvitne was recommended to me. It provided useful information about vicarious traumatization, how to recognize it, and ways to cope with it. There was a section that talked about various creative/expressive techniques that could be used to help manage the feelings that can come up when working with the abused or offender populations. There was even a self survey to rate how well you are taking care of yourself. I recommend this book if you would like to learn more about vicarious trauma and how to handle it, so you don't become overwhelmed or burnt out in your work.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

DVD or Book Directive

In my Empathy group, I read a passage from the book, "Little Children" by Tom Perrotta, and asked group members to create an image to show empathy for a character from the passage I read. The following week, I brought in the DVD by the same title and showed a scene from the movie. Again, I asked the group members to create an image to show empathy for one of the characters from the movie scene. This is another good way to address victim empathy that is "safer" for the client than talking about his own victim. You could also use the movie, "The Woodsman." This directive can be used with other populations as you could choose any movie to fit the topic you are trying to address.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Supervision Idea

Recently, I set up a volunteer activity for my supervision group, pointing out that in the ATCB Code of Professional Practice: Art therapists are encouraged, whenever possible, to recognize a responsibility to participate in activities that contribute to a better community and society, including devoting a portion of their professional activity to services for which there is little or no financial return. I contacted the local Chamber of Commerce who were sponsoring a street fair and asked them if we could volunteer and provide free arts and crafts for kids. They provided us a space, free of charge, and we brought art supplies to make Halloween decorations. We had kids of many ages participate and they all seemed to enjoy the opportunity to do something creative and fun.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

News Story Directive

Today I printed out some crime stories from a major newspaper and gave one to each of the members of my Empathy group. I asked them to read the story and choose a person in the story to empathize with, and create an image about that. This activity helps promote more victim empathy and also helps the client practice seeing a situation from someone else's perspective. It is interesting to observe who the client chooses to empathize with. In a following session, you could ask them to create an image about empathizing with a different person in the same news story. Or, I sometimes combine the two into the same session and after they talk about their image, I will ask them to empathize with the other people involved in the news story. Sometimes they will do this on their own. This directive can be a good way to address victim empathy without the client having to talk about his own victim. The above example was done by a colleague to a news story about a car crashing into a house. I used this directive with staff in a couple of my workshop-presentations about empathy.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Mt. Climber Directive

I like to use this directive in a manner similar to the "Pick an Apple from the Tree" directive, as an assessment. The directive is to draw a mountain climber (or draw yourself climbing a mountain). I then like to notice how each client equips his climber to make it up the mountain. It is also interesting to observe the structure of the mountain--is it high, steep, dangerous, etc? I also take note of the placement of the climber on the mountain. Is he at the bottom, half way up, close to the top? Based on the client's drawing, the therapist can explore how the client copes with problems, what tools he has to face difficulties, how he views his challenges, etc. I've had patients who drew themselves rappelling in a mountain crevice with a rope, helmet and light, one who drew only his hands scrabbling in the dirt, and another just walking up the straight incline. Some were able to relate their drawing to how they handle obstacles, others not. It might be interesting to have a client do this directive before dealing with a particular challenge and again afterwards.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Group Supervision Idea

One of the Art Therapists that I supervise suggested that everyone in the Supervision group bring in her thesis to present to the group, since almost everyone was a recent graduate. This turned out to be a great idea since each person could share her specialty and everyone got to know each other better. Each therapist had a very different thesis from a creative gardening project, to an art show of response art, to a personal process thesis, to a study of body movement and Art Therapy, among others. It also helped me learn about the different approaches and styles of different Art Therapy programs.

Empathy through Art Therapy

I have been facilitating a group using Art Therapy to help promote emotional awareness, expression, and empathy in sex offenders. My recent presentations have been on this topic. I use the Interpersonal Reactivity Index which is an instrument given to the patients at the beginning of the 12 week group and then at the end. There are 28 items to the instrument and the items cover 4 subgroups. The most promising results are in the area of Personal Distress. High levels of personal distress indicate that a person may be so focused on their own distress, that they can't attend to another's distress. So, a decrease in personal distress is positive. Each group session, the patients are asked to create art work on a different topic. Some of them have a hard time even identifying feelings and some do not understand what empathy is. The directives include topics that cover accessing their feelings and feeling empathy for others. I usually start off with a directive like, "Create an image about what empathy means to you," or "Make an image about a time you felt empathy for someone." Sometimes they are asked to do a directive on victim empathy. This group and these directives can also be used with juvenile sex offenders, inmates, or any other population that might benefit from increased empathy.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Art, Music, & Recreation Therapy Positions Available

The facility where I work is actively seeking new staff for the Rehabilitation Therapy Department. The starting salary is about $58k/year due to current furlough program. Duties include facilitating groups, participating in treatment planning, completing Rehab assessments, organizing parties and activities, as well as other paper work. The facility treats sex offenders in a long term setting. Please contact me for more info or see the DMH link for a copy of the application. Also recruiting psychologists, social workers, and nurses.

Group Supervision Activity

During one group supervision meeting, I cut out small circles of various colors, enough so there was one color per person and as many circles of one color as the number of the group. I asked each person to choose a color. I then asked each person to write 3 positive attributes for each person in the group, using that person's chosen color circle to write the words on. Then, each person collected their circles and glued these "petals" around a slightly larger colored circle to create a flower which listed some of their characteristics that others admired. Each person was encouraged to put their flower near their desk, so they could be reminded of all their good qualities, especially if they were having a bad day! This directive also works with clients and I used this with a group on Self-Esteem. The flower can be modified to any object that suits the group.

Mandalas for Self Care

Recently, a colleague and I offered a self care workshop for other staff. We asked them to create a Mandala that represented who they are, and asked them to think about their strengths, what they like, what is important to them, what makes them happy, etc. They were each encouraged to talk about their Mandala if they wanted to. Then, we asked them to make another Mandala, this time thinking of one of their difficult clients or an interaction with a challenging client. They were encouraged to use their non-dominant hand when creating this Mandala. Again, they were allowed to share their process if they felt like it. We asked them to notice any similarities between their 2 Mandalas, any differences, and how they could incorporate what they saw in their first Mandala to deal with what they saw in their second Mandala. We also asked them to keep in mind the things that would help them take care of themselves after having a difficult interaction with a client. The participants had positive feedback and felt the workshop was interesting and helpful. They mentioned that it was a bit unsettling to end on the Mandala of the challenging client, so you may want to reverse the order of the drawings. You may also want to narrow the directive for the self-Mandala to just strengths. This may help the person see how his/her strengths can be used to manage the difficult client. This workshop also helped non-Art Therapists understand Art Therapy better, and they were able to talk about feeling nervous about doing art and feeling uncomfortable sharing personal information that came up through the art work.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Creative Art Therapy Blog

This blog was started with the intention of promoting Art Therapy and strengthening dialog, support, and idea sharing with those interested in Art Therapy. I work in a setting that is very stressful at times, so using art for self care is important for me. I feel that adequate supervision is sometimes lacking, and am always looking for new ways to help the Art Therapists that I supervise. The challenging work is not without rewards and I have developed many Art Therapy groups and used many great directives. I hope that by sharing my experiences, I can help others and receive feedback that will make me a better therapist.