Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What is Expressive Arts Therapy Anyways?

Who am I, and why do I facilitate Expressive Arts Therapy?

I am a member of humanity. I am a woman. A mother, daughter, sister, auntie, cousin, and niece. I am a late-discovery adoptee. I am a spiritual and creative being. I am empathic and intuitive. I have come through many proverbial "fires" and like the Aspen tree, I continue to grow and thrive.
In many ways, expressive arts saved me. Writing, drawing, painting, acting, dancing, playing, sculpting and pottery provided a safe outlet to workout my "stuff".

As a counsellor, I strive to provide a sacred creative space to others. I believe our bodies are amazing at healing when we take the time to honor ourselves. Time to re-connect with our inner voice and our personal truths. As I stand as witness to the creation and release of the people I am privileged to work with, I feel amazement and gratitude. I provide empathic and gentle reflection.

This can be a powerful process for adults, to let-go of the idea of perfection. To let-go of the tendency to judge what they've produced as "good" or "bad". Participating in process-focused arts can support a person in re-connecting with their "child-self", the authentic being within.

For youths, this can be an ideal modality as it allows them to rise above the need for "words". Depending on the age of a young one, they may not have access to words or conscious awareness of what it is they are working through. Art provides a means of tuning into themselves, communicating, and working through life's challenges.

I have witnessed process focused art and narratives take clients (and myself) through many a transformative journey.

What is Expressive Arts Therapy?

 Playful          Spiritual
         Role Playing      Connection
Drawing                               Sculpting

                            Looking within

Sacred space           Process focused 

Flexible              Deep

Non-directive                 Love-oriented


What Expressive Arts Therapy is not...

High pressure
Behavior focused
Fear based
Looking outside

Would you like some examples of things I may do with a client, and some explanation as to why?

Art therapy works on a deep level, it taps into the roots of our being, sometimes allowing to come to the surface that which we have been hiding from, pushing away, denying, resisting, or self-condemning. Some of the activities I do with clients may not appear to have an obvious, or linear purpose, however there is a purpose behind the projects we create together. Sometimes, I am helping a client to express, release, or correct an issue. Other times, I may be trying to build awareness, or introduce a new thought pattern.

Here are some examples:

Creating feeling rocks: Clients paint rocks that represent a variety of emotions, and label the emotions as well. This is to increase a Clients awareness of the scope of emotions, to tap into what they mean to them, how feeling the emotion feels on a body-level, and to increase the vocabulary of feeling words. Additionally, these rocks provide a processing and communication tool that can be used in everyday life as well as in-session.

Mapping emotions: Clients create a full size poster or cutout of themselves and color in where they physically feel emotions in the body. For example, butterflies drawn in the stomach area for nervousness, or sparkles to represent the tingling legs of a fear response.
This supports Clients in building mind-body-spirit awareness.

Writing or co-writing a story: Often we have parts of ourselves we hide, deny, push away, or have even lost touch with. For example, perhaps we fear our anger, or the depth of our sadness. Writing can allow an outlet. What is anger put on paper? Who is anger? If anger was a character, what would he look like? What is his story? If you were to write a letter to Anger, what would it say?
My belief is that our feelings exist to communicate a message to us, what is that message? Sometimes writing can allow us to externalize the emotion in a way that feels safe, and we can "hear" it's message. We can begin to see, hear, and re-connect with lost parts of ourselves.
Rather than asking "why do I feel this way?" we can ask "what is the message my mind-body-spirit is trying to send me?"

Creating meditation: Meditation is a powerful tool in a world that bombards us with input. To meditate is to quiet our mind, it is to give it a reflective purpose, it is to observe our thought patterns and increase our personal awareness. Meditation is to create space- for calm, peace, reflection, intuition, emotion, and awareness. For anyone, this can feel like a huge and challenging concept! One of the ways I work with this is to guide Clients in creating their own mediation. An example might be writing a mediation where one imagines becoming an animal of their choosing... perhaps someone looking to connect with their inner power may choose a dragon, or someone looking to connect with peace and slow-down might choose a snail. Whatever animal speaks to them or represents the quality or state they are wishing to tap into. With repetition this can offer a thought pattern that calms and supports a person in creating more of what they want in their life and themselves.

Bubble or Scribble art: Creating art from blowing colored bubbles or scribbling are fantastic examples of process-focused art! Here a person is not concerned about the appearance of the final product. The process is messy, uncontrollable (although I've seen people try to control it...), and freeing. It is a metaphor for life.
Once finished, a client looks at the abstract images from many angles with a spirit of curiosity to pick out shapes, and see what images emerge. Intuitively naming the picture, and tapping into whatever work, healing, or awareness lay within.
This project allows an outlet for the unconscious material that we sometimes self-deny, or hide from. Also and outlet to let-go of perfection, judgement, and expectations.
The process of making the bubbles for the bubble art can also serve as a lesson in breathing.

Wheel work: Working with a lump of clay on a pottery wheel is a messy business; a balance of controlling and letting-go. Requiring physical strength and the ability to respond to feedback from the clay. Clients choose to work with the goal of playing and "masterpiece" (mess) making or with the goal of producing a piece they wish to continue working with to completion.
Clients learn to let-go, to breath, to ground, to focus, to channel their energies and frustration. They gain practice calming their mind, and adjusting the speed and power of their movements and responses. Once, "in the zone" it can be a form of meditation.

Who influences my work?

My work is heavily influenced by John Holt, John Taylor Gatto, and Brent Cameron whose trust in people's innate abilities to learn influenced their work. I have faith in people of all ages that we can heal and grow when we look inside and tap into our inner-voice as it speaks our personal truth. Deep down, we know what we need, we just need to be reminded to re-connect and trust it.

I realize that when it comes to children this flies in the face of conventional, mainstream majority. Generally, the message I hear from our culture is:

***Children are not to be trusted. Children's natural inclination is towards badness. Children are manipulative. Children must be forced, rewarded, cajoled, or bullied to do what is good for them.

***In my experience as a mother, human, and counsellor, these beliefs are misguided at best, and damaging or traumatic at worst. Children can be trusted. Their inclination is to learn what they live, and to imitate the behaviors that they are surrounded by and come to believe are acceptable. Children are trying their best to get what they need with varying skills at their disposal depending on their development and experiences. Children are people too, and they deserve to have their feelings and needs heard and respected. As Horton (Horton Hears a Who) says: "A person's a person, no matter how small." When we honor the feelings of our youth they learn that they are loved, that their feelings are valid, and that they are "good enough" to be trusted as possessing self-knowledge. I have seen them rise to the occasion again and again. Perhaps, they can grow into adults who remain in-touch with their inner-child-self and do not need help re-connecting later on.

Does this mean I believe children don't need guidance? Does this mean I believe parents are to be "slaves" to the needs and feelings of their children?

No, but it does mean I work from a paradigm that encourages a "shift" in thinking.
A shift from looking outside to looking within.
A shift from mis-trust and fear to that of deep trust and love.
A shift from outcome or behavioral focus to that of process and growth focus.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Practical Lesson in Self-Care

     Some life lessons, I learn again and again. The importance of consistent self-care is one of them. If I let it slide I find my self feeling stressed, short with people, and less than well. I notice my time and energy feels like it is all going OUT from me. My focus becomes EXTERNAL. When I take time daily to care for myself, time slows. I have more energy. My focus becomes more balanced, both internally and externally. My boundaries become present and deliberate. I begin to "water my own lawn" as it were.

     Sadly, our culture is not rooted in self-care habits. Seeped in materialism, and appearance focused. Saturated in demands of work, socializing has been marginalized to texting and social media networks.

I recently heard read (on social media) a friend say "Be bold, phone them." And he was right. It has become "bold" to phone. Quite a testament to the disconnection present in this period of history.

     Originally, I made this list for me but if any of this speaks to you, this list is for you too! Just recognizing that this speaks to you may be enough.

For me, being ALONE and having a clear intention of recharging is the most important part of the equation.


     Change happens slowly and unconsciously for some, while for others change can happen quickly and deliberately. These are not "shoulds" they are "coulds"... so with that in mind I present my list of self-care suggestions:

1. Go for a walk
2. Carve out 5 minutes to be alone
3. Start a journal
4. Start an art journal
5. Visit the library and find a physical book to get lost in

6. Actually get lost in said book
7. Lay on the lawn and gaze at the clouds
8. Visit a lake, river, or ocean spot you've never been to
9. Listen to music you like
10. Listen to it loud

11. Declare a pajama day
12. Hug a friend
13. Cuddle an animal
14. Create something: music, poetry, photo, jewelry...
15. Shower

16. Daydream
17. Write down your worries and negative thoughts... burn them (optional)
18. Pray
19. Meditate
20. Doodle words that have meaning for you

21. Color
22. Spend time in a forest
23. Hoola hoop
24. Say "no" when you mean no
25. Say "yes" when you mean yes

26. Notice when something doesn't feel "right" and listen to that feeling
27. Start to feel, name, and be curious about your emotions, without judgement
28. Realize that our emotions are there to tell us something
29. BREATHE. Really BREATHE. Seriously, look into all the ways to breathe and start practicing
30. Think about the people who really care about you

31. Think about the people you really care about too
32. Think about how someone makes your life better and let them know you appreciate them
33. Ask for help
34. Cry
35. Take a hot bath. (bubbles, wine, music, candles optional)

36. Identify your tribe... and spend some time with them or let them know they matter
37. Make a bucket list
38. Make a thoughtful and realistic to-do list for the week, then try to use it as a guide
39. Drink a hot bevy of your choosing
40. Declare it a "screen-free" day

41. Declare it a "screen-day" and indulge
42. Identify goals you have set in the past and met
43. Learn techniques to be "in your body"... then spend some time there (even just 5 minutes)
44. Identify what is most important to you in your life
45. Choose foods that taste good and nourish your body and spirit

46. Pick just one of these and deliberately make it a habit
47. Dance
48. Stretch
49. Drink a glass of water
50. Take a guilt-free nap

51. Help someone
52. Cultivate compassion for yourself when you fall short or make mistakes
53. Learn from your mistakes
54. Go get a massage, acupuncture, or pedicure
55. Eat some chocolate

56. Bake cookies... your house will smell delightful
57. Phone someone who matters to you
58. Plant a garden
59. Write a letter on paper to anyone living or dead (then do whatever you like with it...)
60. Pay attention to your finances... budget in something for yourself or for charity

61. Cultivate awareness of negative self-talk
62. Cultivate awareness of negative beliefs
63. Learn about ways to change thought patterns
64. Cultivate spirituality
65. Watch your favorite movie

67. Tell someone you love them
68. Forgive yourself
69. Forgive others
70. Plant seeds of a peaceful joyous life everyday!

71. Start a gratitude journal
72. Start to notice when judgemental thoughts creep in
73. Realize that the only person you control is you (and be thankful for that because it really is a load off!)
74. Listen to the rain, or lay in the sun
75. Learn healthy ways of communicating about your feelings and needs

76. Write your own self-care list!

Monday, May 11, 2015

we have lice... don't lie - i know you want some too

With two kids in a wide variety of public activities we have had the extreme pleasure of dealing with lice Three times now!! Aren't we lucky?! We are in the third time as we speak and I am inspired to share my wisdom because I know deep down you want lice too!!

So here's my step-by-step guide to how to have the most fun possible as a mom. Really, if you have just found a lice bug- be happy because your life is going to be EXTRA awesome for the next 5 weeks or so.

STEP 1: Loose your CRAP. Seriously. Hide in the bathroom. Call a girlfriend. Cry. Throw a fit. (of excitement of course) because you have just won the lottery of fun. This takes me about an hour but if this is your first time, feel free to give yourself a day or so :D Feel free to revisit this one every so often ;)

STEP 2: Blame someone. It's human nature, you will want to blame someone. As you are sitting there searching for microscopic blood sucking devil spawn you will be thinking "where did they come from? Gymnastics? Music? Bowling? School? Their friends?...Someone must pay." You will never know where they truly come from, except planet earth, but go ahead and mentally blame some place or something if that makes you feel better.... Which brings us to....

STEP 3: (My personal favorite because of the awkward-factor) Buckle up, you get to phone everyone your kids have been in close contact with and explain that they need to be checked for lice, why??... because this is the best part of the mom-gig, that's why!

STEP 4: So much laundry. Channel someone in your life who is ultra clean and organized, now be them. Be excited that all your clothes and linens are getting cleaned all at the same time. The laundry mat works great for this if you have an extra 10-20 bucks. All those heaps of clothes that have been stacking up in your daughters closet... they get cleaned, and the pillows, and the blankets. Everything all nice and fresh. YAY. And you will sleep awesome because this is exhausting. Double yay. So you may as well celebrate that too. (also you get to throw out all your hair stuff, or pour boiling soapy water over it and hope it works... don't even think about cleaning that plastic brush in tea tree oil- it will melt it like butter, very sticky dirty black butter. yum.)

part B: You also get to start the bedtime routine early so that you can strip the beds and throw everything in the dryer for 45 minutes before tuck-in time. Every night. Can you say AWESOME??! You should, cause who does love getting into a warm bed??

STEP 5: Choose your method of attack. Chemicals. Oils. Combs. More chemicals. Tears. Fire. Hahaha... seriously though, as delirium sets in you will find yourself daydreaming about ways to obliterate these bugs and their ever-stubborn literally super-glued-to-your-hair bugs. I have considered shaving my head on more than one occasion on account of this. I shave my son's head; and my husband is naturally invincible ;) (read: not many places for the little suckers to hide). I treat myself and my daughter with tea tree and lavender in our shampoo, then in oil we put in our hair. We rinse with vinegar as its supposed to loosen the glue from the eggs.

STEP 6: this is the BEST ONE! You don't want to miss this!! Put on a movie and USE A HAIR STRAIGHTENER!!! In one of my death-dealing daydreams I began thinking "if only i could burn them with fire.... wait a minute... a hair straightener would be just about the same...." AND IT WORKS. Like. a. BOSS.
Go through the hair slowly and straighten from root to tip. The eggs tend to be close to the scalp, so get as close as you can. Bonus: if you spot a live bug, you get to choose to grab it or fry it! Obviously if it's on your kids actual scalp... maybe don't fry it as it'll hurt your child whom you still love. Have a bowl or sink of hot soapy water and a paper towel handy so if you grab a live bug you can drown his ass. I know this sounds gross, but trust me, the gross factor will subside as delirium and desperation set in. *** We continue with the shampooing, oils, straightening, hot dryer routine every other day for about 1-2 weeks or until we stop seeing any signs of lice or eggs. We keep checking weekly though for at least 5 weeks *** Yay! Did I say Yay yet?

BONUS: For added fun I sport what I lovingly refer to as "Lice Bun"... It looks something like this and it protects the public as you do the important mom-type tasks if you have no one else to send:

Remember: I smell heavily of tea tree and lavender at this point and my hair is slick with oil! It is as though I am saying "Hey world! I have lice and I'm so stoked about it, nothing's getting me down. Being a mom is amaze-balls all the time!" Contrast this with Lice Bun (below) at 2-3 weeks, notice the bags from all the FUN. You can feel it, can't you. I know you want some too.


STEP... THE NEXT ONE: Actually, this is more of a request: ***PLEASE don't be the jerk who sends your kids out into public with lice. I know it's fun and you want to share but instead think of this as bonding time. You get to watch movies and "play" with each others hair. You get to make fond memories that will be forever recalled with phases like "hey mom, remember that time we had lice? That was awesome." But seriously, watch some shows, eat some junk, sleep in warm fresh beds, play boardgames, and make the best of this essential parenting experience, and keep the FUN to yourself!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"They Come Through You"

Welcome to the April 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Household Chores
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories, lore, and wisdom about family history. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

My family history is complicated. I am adopted. I've been told my story is heavy, but I believe it's worth telling.

What makes my story unique is that I didn't learn the truth about where I came from until I was 33 years old. A wife and mother to two children, and foster mom to one. I appeared to have my identity firmly in place, deep down though built on shaky ground. As my mom struggled to put her words together, I already knew what she was going to say.

I was thinking, "she needs me to just sit here, patiently. She needs to say it out loud." And when she finally said it, all I could say was "I know."

I knew. However unconsciously.
I had dreamt it. I had felt it. I had spoken it in whispers my whole life. The times I had dared to question it out loud, to the knowing adults in my world I was told to stop being ridiculous. The message that I was surely crazy to question where I came from. My transgression was giving heed to something I could feel in my body.

This is why, a year and a half ago when she finally managed to put truthful words together for me, all I could say was:
 "I know".
"Your dad is not your biological dad. I was pregnant when we met."
 "I know"
"How could you know!?"
I could sense her shock.
"I know the way anyone knows anything. I've always known it. Right here. In my gut."

Okay, I'm half-adopted- this was no less devastating. In the following year and half, I spent massive amounts of energy questioning everything I thought I knew; trying to piece together the importance of heritage, genetics, roots.

The answer I've come to is Genetics are in fact very powerful, and knowing where one comes from is invaluable.

Taken as a granted for so many people, it wasn't until I realized I had no clue that the privilege of KNOWING became a treasure!


I never fit in with our family. Never. I always felt like a misfit. Intuitive, moody, empathic, creative, and willful. In most ways, this news felt like a relief ~ I could BREATHE again with the understanding that I AM ME, and I was valid in my feelings of misfitting.

To a large extent we, as a family have gone our own way. We unschool, with focus on creativity and spirituality. The greatest learning has always been about discovering WHO we are, and WHO we want to be in the bigger picture. I am a birth doula, massage instructor, a potter, and a student studying counselling, youth work, and art therapy. My husband has been a care aide, and a stone mason. Mostly though, he has been one heck of a husband and father. Together we have worked hard to build a life we can be proud of.

As an adult who now knows my history, I can see the ways my genetics and unconscious roots have helped to create who I am.

I was a healer* and an artist before I knew we had any history of that.I have also been a mother, not just to my own children, but to some of my friends children, and my children's friends. My heart and door is wide open because one thing I have always believed is that FAMILY is made up of those we LOVE. Blood or no, family is made up of the people we choose. Is this a belief I have because of my disconnected, hidden roots? A side-effect of feeling like a misfit in my family? I have had an altered ability when it comes to forming attachments- sometimes much easier than one would expect and at other times struggling much, much more to have what I would believe should be instinctive.

(*when I say Healer, I am not referring to faith healing- I am referring to personality traits and the caring professions I have mentioned. The women in my heritage were described as "healers", a very broad term imo, implying that they were empathic, intuitive and caring women.)

One gift I can give my children is the truth about our history- both the known and unknown.

I can choose to pass on the positive stories and pieces of identity. I can spare my children the trauma I experienced when I had my world turned upside down. They can grow up with the self-knowledge I lacked. Our family has include artists, and healers, horse trainers, gypsies and musicians. They can know that some in our family history went on to have a great deal of education and became very successful in their fields. Maybe they will identify with some of those things and maybe they won't, but they will be able to grow with their internal world intact. There's also something kind of special in not knowing everything, a certain amount of mystery and story-choosing... heck, maybe someone in our background was a mermaid! :D

They can have freedom knowing we respect and love them whoever they are or choose to become. They can have the gift of FREEDOM to be who they are now and to grow into whoever they please.

Over the course of this last year two things have been the most influential for me: 1.) my husbands outlook, 2.) the words of Kahlil Gibran.

My husband says I should give no one credit for my identity. He questions why I would choose to give away my power in that way. He says I am who I am because I have worked hard to be who I am. I have lived through a lot of trauma, I have faced it, I have worked with it, I have let it fuel me. I am me because I am me. I credit the Creator and myself. I strive to be true to who I am and to live an authentic, joyous existence. Ultimately this is what I want for my children too (minus the trauma, of course). I want them to BE. To GROW and LEARN. To feel EMPOWERED to create their identity. Just as I knew in my gut who I am, they do too.

And now I close with the words of Kahlil. His words "they come through you not from you" brought me peace at a time when peace seemed utterly impossible. His words ground me in my role in my children's life. 

Our heritage, though powerful, is only as important as we choose to make it. 

This is literally posted on my wall as a reminder:

On Children
by Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.


You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,

which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.


You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.


 You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,

and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;

For even as He loves the arrow that flies,

so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting! Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
  • "They Come Through You" — Aspen at Aspen Mama shares what her late-discovery adoption means to her and her family.
  • The Shape of Our Family: Musings on Genealogy — Donna at Eco-Mothering delves into her genealogy and family stories, observing how the threads of family reveal themselves in her daughter.
  • Hand family stories down to the next generation — Lauren at Hobo Mama asked her father to help her son learn to read — never expecting that Papa's string of richly storytelling emails would bring a treasure trove of family history into their lives.
  • Saving Family Stories — Holly at Leaves of Lavender talks about why she thinks it's important to preserve fun and interesting family stories for future generations.
  • Serenading Grandma — When Dionna at Code Name: Mama started playing violin in the fifth grade, her grandma and mother were the biggest part of her musical cheering section. Her grandma urged her to keep playing and reminded her that someday she'd be thankful for her talent. As was so often the case, her grandma was right.
  • Family legacy ambivalence — With a family history of depression and suicide, Jessica at Crunchy-Chewy Mama frets about her children's emotional health.
  • Seder and Holy Week: Family Traditions, Old and New — As an Episcopalian whose children's ancestry is five-eighths Jewish, Becca at The Earthling's Handbook values the annual Passover seder that connects her and the kids to family traditions.