Friday, November 01, 2013

Illinois Art Therapy Conference End Notes

"Re-kindling" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
Back from a stimulating, inspiring and re-kindling conference in Chicago.  Some interesting questions, points, ideas emerged which could use some further exploration.  If you missed the Keynote for the Illinois Art Therapy Conference, it is viewable and downloadable here.  And there are two articles from the American Art Therapy Journal here as well.  (They are about  subversive art therapists and culture, making changes from the inside out, nearly required reading for understanding what follows.)

The first question that emerged was during the pre-conference workshop.  We were looking at environmental/sociological reasons for "anomic" depression and "compassion" or empathy fatigue. 

Anomic Depression occurs when 1) our traditional cultural structure disappears, or 2) our group experiences deprivation while seeing others’ abundance; and 3) when there is confusion of socio-cultural identity.                                                 -Wolfgang G. Jilek, MD 

“Compassion Fatigue” or “Empathy Fatigue” occurs when 1)we are in a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion, or 2)we have a lessening of our ability to cope with our environment, or 3) we have high levels of stress in our daily lives.
Maslach, C.(1982) Burnout: The cost of caring. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall

The good news is we can counter these factors ourselves.  We have the tools within us.  Here is a list of strategies that can help us become more resilient.

Resilience and Well-being Strategies
1) We can connect, we can take care of our relationships
2) We can take charge of something in our lives, even if it's the smallest thing, it will help
3) We can pay attention to our goals and wishes, we can honor them
4) We can look for good things (this can help counter the negative neurological effects of our hard wiring that looks for what is wrong)
5) We can believe in ourselves
6) We can take time for insight
7)  We can be generous
8)  We can make time for creativity
9) We can practice our sense of humor
10) We can develop our moral compass
11) We can take care of ourselves
12) We can keep a journal (art journal)
13) We can take time for meditation or a spiritual practice
14) We can study resilience and well-being

This short list is from:
Figley, C.R. (2005). Combat stress injury: Theory, research, and management.  Brunner/Routledge
Five Ways to Well-Being.  The New Economics Foundation
Lyubomirsky, S. (2010). The how of happiness: A practical approach to getting the life you want.  London: Piatkus
Road to Resilience, American Psychological Association. 

Much of my work with puppets has been to counter either anomic depression, empathy fatigue, or loss of resilience, and well-being.  I first started thinking about the idea of what a puppet-making art therapist could do to be "on the side of angels" as Edith Kramer called anyone who fought for social justice, while working in a large mental health facility in NYC.  It was an extremely stressful, draining job for staff, administrators, and of course for the patients themselves.  Everyone was suffering from some sort of burnout or depression.  At one point the patients started to speak up for themselves, to fight for what they wanted or needed.  They were becoming quite healthy in many ways.   I noticed the administration was not so happy.  They wanted compliant patients, but the sort of compliance they wanted was not really compatible with learning to be an independent functioning member of society. 

Now I do workshops that focus on strengths and resilience on a personal as well as community level. This is compatible with my views of mental health.  I try to emphasize the intrinsic rewards built into utilizing our inner strengths, because I believe there is nothing that promotes freedom, independence,  and a sense of self worth better than the realization that we have the power to create our own inner satisfaction and intrinsic rewards.

One of the questions that emerged at the end of my keynote was about the style of art therapy that doesn't necessarily see the necessity of making the unconscious conscious.  I had never given it too much thought since I was a student of Edith Kramer and for many of us art making was pretty much the goal in itself.  It was what built resilience, flow, positive feedback loops.  It was a way to communicate more directly, metaphorically, and gently.  But giving it some thought, I might suggest folks look at the work of Milton Erickson and those that followed him, like Joyce Mills and Richard J. Crowley.  They have so much to offer with regard to metaphor. The whole idea that so much of what we offer might be therapeutic without actually making the unconscious conscious is a huge topic for further discussion.

Which brings me to the final panel discussion on social justice.  This was a fabulously thought provoking session!   And of course if we think about it, we can all promote social justice in so many ways, where ever we are and in what ever life situation we find ourselves. Social injustice is so varied, so pervasive, surely there isn't just one answer to the issues.  I believe we all have many answers and we all need to find ways to put these answers into play in the world.

One of the most powerful ideas for me was Savneet Talwar's group of immigrant women using their textile abilities to form a positive, egalitarian, empowering group experience which you can read about here

Once again I am wondering about the nature of self-empowerment.  Could it be that the current power structure  of most institutions is basically a top down kind of thing, a 1% dictating to the 99%? And it seems so easy to fall into that pattern, just push to get the right people into the 1% spot.  But wouldn't that be the same structure just different faces wearing the pearls?

But what if we used a whole different model, something more egalitarian like Savneet's "Creatively Empowering Women" group, in our institutions, wouldn't that actually change the power structure, and allow for greater creativity and growth, more solutions and inspiration?

In my observation part of the trick of colonialism is that we get all entranced with the 1% and all we think they have, so much so that we may actually overlook our own strengths.  But I'm really thinking we need more groups like Savneet's "Creativity Empowering Women" circle and we surely need to be free from our own inner colonizers.

One last item from this panel that I found most helpful was Lynn Kapitan's reading of Nusbaum's list of human rights (thank you Lynn):

1. Life - Being able to live to the end of a human life of normal length...
2. Bodily health - Being able to have good health, including reproductive health...
3. Bodily integrity - Being able to move freely from place to place... secure against violent assault...
4. Senses, imagination, thought - Being able to use our senses; being able to imagine, to think, and to reason...
5. Emotions - Being able to have attachments to things and persons outside ourselves; being able to love those who love and care for us; being able to grieve at their absence, to experience longing, gratitude, and justified anger; not having one's emotional developing blighted by fear or anxiety...
6. Practical reason - Being able to form a conception of the good and to engage in critical reflection about the planning of one's own life...
7. Affiliation - Being able to live for and in relation to others...
8. Other species - Being able to live with concern for and in relation to animals, plants, and the world of nature...
9. Play - Being able to laugh, to play, to enjoy recreational activities.
10. Control over one's environment - (A) Political: being able to participate effectively in political choices that govern one's life...  (B) Material: being able to hold property (both land and movable goods); having the right to seek employment on an equal basis with others...

From Nussbaum, M. (1999). Capabilities, human right, and the universal declaration. In B. H. Weston & S. P. Marks (Eds.), The future of international human rights (pp. 44-46). New York, NY: Transnational.


KAT ADL'S said...

aahh Lani so good! I have just returned from the Art therapy symposium in Auckland and have returned with lots to think about. What you write about your experience in mental health is so true.I am a witness to that everyday.Much of what I try to do in my work place nutures the staff as well as the clients in the hope that it will create a flow. Little encouragements. And I see how hard some of the staff work too for little reward and discernible result at times. This is some good wriitng thank you...I also read the Puppet Boy of Warsaw when I away..oh my was clever. So enjoyed it. Just about to blog about my trip and the book because it all became one.

Bill said...

Reading this made me think about how toxic the environment was where I worked for 26 years. The surprising part was I worked for a public school system, and one would think they would be in the forefront of creating happier workplaces. That definitely was not the case. I've been retired from there for two years now. When contacted by former workmates, they say nothing has changed. The internal politics and games people have to play for survival remain the same. The stress level is way beyond normal, especially because of the budget cuts that must be done every year as the government fails to properly fund education. I'm so glad to be out of all of that, but find it is still a struggle to recover from it. I'll have to keep working on the suggestions you give above for working on ourselves from the inside.

Jolie B Studios said...

Thank you so much for such an in-depth wrap-up of the conference Lani. I find myself filled with both intrigue to learn more and inspiration for how your background and work relate to the content.

As a community organizer and lobbyist on social justice issues for 20+ years, I can attest first hand to the dangerous effects compassion fatigue has on both organizers and organizations when it goes undetected.

Thank you for posting the Resilience and Well-being Strategies list. I would love to see these 14 posted for those working in the non-profits I work with.

Wonderfully insightful - thank you

Merrikate said...

Lani, this delicious jam-packed overview of what must've been a marvellous conference has more than made my day -- every goodie shared here has lifted me out of a piddling morass of current pressures into the wide fresh air! The leads you give us here are so full of promise.

The comment that snags me as if with a benevolent hook is this one: "The whole idea that so much of what we offer might be therapeutic without actually making the unconscious conscious is a huge topic for further discussion."

Clicking on from the base you've provided here will be my reward for chores done this weekend. THANKS.