When did you decide to pursue therapy as your second career? What inspired you to follow this path?
I took the step to pursue helping others professionally about five years ago when I arrived at a crossroads. The crossroads was the decision of whether I was to go back for my MFA or to get my graduate degree in psychology. The MFA would mean that I’d disappear into myself, while the psychology degree would allow me to explore other people. One thing that I know about myself is that when I am allowed to disappear into myself, I become self-destructive. I chose to pursue helping other people over myself. This decision played out marvelously for me because not only do I get to learn from and help other people navigate their path, but my artwork and insight about myself has grown and increased exponentially, too. It was the right decision.
How do you relate your art practice to the therapy room? How are they connected or different?
My art practice is not directly connected to my therapy practice insofar as they inform one another. However my art practice provides release and distance from the heavy emotional work that I put into sessions with my clients. Much like I encourage some of my patients to utilize making as a way to release stress and process emotions, my art practice is that for me. Making creates the necessary space to process experiences, interactions, and relationships.
What have been some interesting observations you found regarding the connection between art and mental health?
As researched by Zorana Ivcevic Pringle, Ph.D. at Yale University, it has been found that people who engage in everyday forms of creativity are revealed to be more “open-minded, curious, persistent, positive, energetic, and intrinsically motivated by their activity.” Individuals who score highly in daily creativity report that they have a greater sense of well-being and personal growth compared to their peers who engage less in everyday creative behaviors.
Creating can also be therapeutic for those who are already suffering. For instance, research shows that expressive writing increases immune system functioning, and the emerging field of posttraumatic growth is showing how people can turn adversity into creative growth.
Do you encourage your patients to express themselves visually and if so, have there been positive benefits as a result?
I do encourage patients to express themselves visually. It’s through the use of a creative expression that develops opportunities for exploration and growth.
One thing to remember is that, with the discretion of the therapist, often less structure, more fluidity and openness, can produce a productive session. Art is a useful tool to uncover one’s deepest sense of self, one's psyche, and also a means of getting to know the client. As themes in the artwork emerge, it is important to remain sensitive, as the artwork is just as ‘alive’ as the client. The art is a connected extension of himself or herself.
From your experience, what are some tips and best practices for artists to overcome blocks?
When experiencing creative block, it’s important that you don’t browbeat yourself. Lulls in creative energy are necessary to the overall creative process, and even though the lack of creative energy can be frustrating and psychologically painful, it’s important to move toward viewing these periods as times of growth. The in-between times is when creativity gets its start. It’s important to have a lot of thinking time – and thinking time happens when you least expect it to happen. When experiencing a creative block, try these helpful tactics for working through it:
-Come up with many solutions – not just one. Try to come up with a list of 20 ideas.
-Look for patterns in episodes of your creative block. When a creative block occurs, take notes and see if a trend emerges.
-Draw blindly for half a minute. You can’t criticize the results. Give yourself a theme. This can work for free writing, too. Without having expectations, you can break through to being able to work on your blocked project.
-Redefine the problem to find it more compelling. By looking at your project with from an unfamiliar angle, and a new perspective, you may be surprised that the block will become dislodged.
-Dirty your canvas. Put an ink-stained handprint in the middle of the problematic work. This will give you something to fix.
-Keep a sketchbook or notebook. Always carry it with you.