The Time You Waste is Not Always Wasted

Veronica with Cat Book (1)
What have you done today that was fun? It’s finally spring and everything around us is coming back to life, but have you taken the time to notice?
Have you listened to the sounds of the happy birds chirping as you rise in the morning, or noticed the vibrant colors that seem to be emerging all around you? Have you explored the various fragrances of the new plants and flowers, and sensed how the earth smells differently this time of year?
You may have noticed that we don’t dash from space to space as quickly anymore, because our bodies are less stiff from the cold and less eager for the warmth of an indoor space.
In spring we move toward lightness and hope and it’s a time to savor and enjoy the warmth, but it’s also a great time to shed unnecessary thoughts and feelings.
We all have negative thoughts from time-to-time, even in warmer weather, but what if, in a moment of lightness, we choose to let go of some of the negativity?

 

I wish I could say, “there’s an app for that!” Though there may be many apps that claim to help alleviate stress and anxiety, I prefer using a tried and tested method with my clients of all ages. All you need are some bubbles! Pick some up at the dollar store or make your own with dish soap and a straw. I’ve advised my clients to imagine their negative thoughts being blown into one of those bubbles. Try it and watch how the bubbles form and separate from the wand and then disappear into thin air. Imagine how your body would feel without one of your negative thoughts weighing you down.

If you don’t like the idea of blowing bubbles, think of something else light and whimsical. Try skipping a flat rock across water. Write your name in the sand with your foot. Make a silly face in the mirror. Dance to the music that you hear on the radio. Use the whole box of crayons.

Letting go of our internal darkness helps us as well as those around us. When you do something light it brings awareness to that moment, and during that time you feel fully alive and energized. As a result, you’ll end up carrying that lightness and energy with you throughout your day. You might smile at a stranger, hold the door open for someone, or stop to watch a bird pecking in the grass.

We need to have fun and we need to savor moments of peace and joy. It lowers our stress and anxiety levels and improves our cardiovascular and immune systems. It has also been scientifically proven to make us more attractive, and strengthen our relationships with others. Of course, you don’t need to read all the scientific data to know that having fun just makes you feel better.

Carve out some time to waste on fun stuff! You’ll soon realize, it’s never a waste of time to smile and laugh, or to sit in silence while enjoying nature or watching your children play.

Think about what can you do today that is light and fun, and then, JUST DO IT!

Thanks for taking time to read my blog! Was it fun?! :-)

Karen Stabley, Art Therapy (ATR)

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Anger and How it Hurts Us All.

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It’s time to talk about this dangerous emotion we call anger.

We see it everywhere we go. It’s reflected in our children, our co-workers, ourselves, and even on the front page of every newspaper. As tensions rise in the political arena, we are witnessing an unprecedented level of anger (and childishness!). What’s scary about this election is how easily anger and frustration ignite into violence. As a therapist, I see this on a daily basis with my clients.

Anger often stems from a feeling of powerlessness and a perceived lack of control. Much of my work revolves around helping people realize how they can control their own thoughts and reactions. A sense of calm within the family starts with the parents or adults who are responsible for setting the tone and being in control of their own emotions.

So how do we create a sense of calm when it appears as though the entire world is blowing up around us? The first step is to try to find what I call “pockets of peace” within our hectic day. Simple rituals that help to clear our mind serve as a reprieve from the burdens and stress that often overwhelm us.

One pocket of peace can be starting your day with a positive affirmation. Before you get out of bed, name two things that you are grateful for and meditate on them.

Another pocket of peace can be found by shutting off your media devices and televisions. Turn off the news! It is a source of tremendous anxiety, and you shouldn’t start your day with your head filled with someone else’s fears and tragedy.

A third pocket of peace is thinking outside of yourself. Envisioning contentment and calm for another individual can widen our compassion and help us realize who needs us most, even if it’s just a friendly phone call to say, “Hi, I’m thinking of you today.” Often, we spend far too much time envying those around us who are more fortunate. We compare our lives to others which can lead to feelings of resentment. Don’t waste your precious energy on negative emotions.

Anger can be contagious, but so can contentment. Let’s try to shift our individual focus towards our own pockets of peace.

You can’t change the world, but you can change yourself.

If we want the world to reflect hope and courage, we need to shift out of toxic emotions like anger and move towards feelings of peace and tranquility. Our future depends on it.

It’s not that difficult, because sometimes it’s true what they say, “It’s all in your head!”

Karen Stabley, Art Therapy (ATR)

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Is Art Therapy for You?

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Ever wonder what art therapy is about?

Art therapists are trained as psychotherapists with at least a master’s degrees in expressive therapy. Utilizing art as a form of therapy has proven to be one of the most effective ways to overcome psychological blocks – damaging mental blocks that often prevent individuals from reaching their highest potential.

Art therapists analyze the drawings of their clients in several different ways.

Drawings are used to uncover the underlying issues causing difficulty in someone’s life. I use a series of ten to fifteen drawings when I first meet a client. These drawings are used as a baseline to assess where the person exists emotionally. They also reveal unconscious material that lay at the root of a client’s struggles. These initial drawings act as a roadmap to treatment.

Art therapists are trained to understand which materials will be the most productive tools of expression. Often, when an individual begins therapy, they are ready to defend their emotions. They have a well-rehearsed story, but the drawings cut through the defenses and quickly reveal the deeper content. Art therapists provide materials such as paint, clay or pastels to foster the expression of what was previously being kept hidden.

I continue to be surprised by what comes up for my clients – content that has up until this time been suppressed. Often what’s revealed in the drawings isn’t what my clients think they need to address, but turns out to be the root cause of their struggles.

There is no artistic skill required!  As art therapists, we are trained to walk you through the process and ascertain which materials would work best for your course of expression.

It’s the pure expression of feeling, not artistic talent that we are looking for to begin the healing process. Art therapists treat the same emotional disorders and mental health issues that verbal therapists address. In fact, art therapists often work with verbal therapists if a client is blocked and unable to express their feelings verbally.

At the termination of therapy, we review the drawings my client created at the beginning of our sessions. There is such a difference in the drawings from the start of therapy to termination, and they show tremendous emotional growth, insight and healing.

It’s always rewarding to be able to see progress and to keep a visual record of a person’s improved emotional well-being.

If you are interested in more information about art therapy, you can visit my website: thedrawinganalyst.com or the American Art Therapy Association’s website: arttherapy.org.

Thank you for your time and happy healing!

Karen Stabley, Art Therapy (ATR)

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The Art of Listening. (Without judgement!)

Stop and Listen Blog post

When a fellow therapist told me about this quote, I started to reflect on the art of listening. As therapists, we are eager to give advice and make a person’s problems go away. However, there are times when this is not what the person needs or wants. Sometimes, one of the most powerful tools we have are our ears!  Listening without judgment or the intent to solve their problem can be a welcome change for some of my clients. This truly is a gift and we rarely give that gift to one another. Listening helps the other person feel like they are being seen and heard.

I can see this more clearly now as I reflect on the relationship with both of my parents. I remember always listening with the intent of fixing things for my mother. I look back now and realize that she just needed to be heard. This also reminds me of situations when my Dad complained about my Mother’s Alzheimer’s and my reaction was to jump in and try to find solutions to prevent her deterioration.

There are times when we just need to process our thoughts and feelings, and when someone listens it gives us the space to fully express ourselves. This process takes time and we don’t often feel like we have the time or are allowed to make the time.

It’s important to make a conscious effort to try this with a friend and really listen. See if this makes a difference in your own life. When you see the value of stopping and listening, it can remind you that you have the same needs in your own life.

Thanks for reading…and listening!

Karen Stabley, Art Therapy (ATR)

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SoulCollage

In a previous blog I mentioned that I was excited about an art therapy technique called SoulCollage. SoulCollage was created about 30 years ago by a psychotherapist named, Seena Frost. She was interested in combining creativity, insight and healing for her clients who felt they were not creative.

SoulCollage Photo

Art therapists have used the collage process in their practice for years. The SoulCollage process is different because no words are  involved, only images. In addition, the collage is limited to a 5” x 8” card consisting of only 3 to 4 carefully selected pictures. Each person makes his or her own personal deck of cards with no set number of cards. The photograph above is from my personal deck. I made this card when my mother was dying.

In SoulCollage we interpret our own cards. Even as a therapist, I would not interpret a client’s card. The images are selected on an intuitive personal basis and have meaning only for the individual. There is a phrase that is used when you look at the card and are attempting to glean information from the imagery. The phrase is, “I am the one who…” When we consult our SoulCollage cards we use the phrase, “I am the one who…” to begin speaking from the image on our own card and to answer our own questions.

For example, for this card when I begin with the phrase “I am the one who…”, I finish the sentence with, “…. is really scared about the unknown journey of my mother’s impending death.” This helped me realize that fear played a role for me in my interactions with her. At different times when consulting the card, the meaning and interpretation will change.

SoulCollage reminds us that all the answers are deep within us if we work to uncover them. Using SoulCollage can help us recognize these answers and bring clarity to confusing situations in our lives.

Sharing SoulCollage cards in a group or community is an important part of the process. SoulCollage brings people together in creativity, acceptance, and self-reflection.

This is just a basic introduction to the process. There are many more aspects and levels to SoulCollage. To learn more you can visit SoulCollage.com or contact me for an individual or group introduction to the process.

Thanks for reading!

Karen Stabley, Art Therapy (ATR)

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Being the Light Amidst Darkness

I am thoroughly enjoying Jan Richardson books lately. Richardson is an artist, poet and ordained minister.  In her latest book, “Circle of Grace” I was struck by a poem entitled,  A Blessing for Traveling in the Dark. Here is an excerpt:

“But this is what I can ask for you: FullSizeRender (3)

That in the darkness

there be a blessing.

That in the shadows

there be a welcome.

That in the night

you be encompassed,

by the love that knows your name.”

This poem really moved me, but the last stanza was particularly comforting. As a therapist, I meet people in their darkest moments, and it can be gut-wrenching to hear stories of pain and witness the struggles of another human being. I often explain to my clients that I cannot offer all the answers, but I will shine a light to guide them as they take each step. Everyone’s path is unique, and my role is to provide the light when all they can see is misery and pain.

What makes a good therapist is the ability to be in the darkness with your client, and to continue to be a light for each patient as they navigate the healing process.

Find your light or be the light someone is in need of during their darkest times.

Karen Stabley, Art Therapy (ATR)

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Here’s To A Happier and Healthier 2016

The New Year is a time of renewed energy and focus for many people. This is the time of year when we review our ambitions and goals. Some of us stay focused for a few weeks or maybe months, while others are able to follow through with their new year’s resolutions.

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I have found a way to help myself (and my clients) stay committed to new year’s resolutions. As I was reflecting on the new year and how to move forward in 2016, I was struck by four questions that came to mind.

I have tried to keep a daily journal, but find myself avoiding the task, because trying to commit to anything that demands our utmost attention and focus – especially after work hours – is simply asking too much! (That’s the key to following through with your new year’s resolutions – keep them realistic, and they’ll be attainable!)

Instead of trying to journal every day, I have chosen to focus on four key areas of my life that I will strive to improve throughout the year.

I was able to gather my thoughts and think about some of the lingering questions over the holidays, and then proceeded to make a plan of action. Ideas are useless without a working plan!

As I tried to organize these thoughts,  the following four questions arose.

  1. What do I want to leave behind in 2015?
  2. What am I looking forward to in 2016?
  3. What do I want to embrace in 2016?
  4. Where do I need guidance in 2016?

Here are some of the answers to my questions:

  1. I want to leave behind judgment of myself and the constant comparisons I make of my journey and the lives of others.  As a therapist, I have learned that I am not alone in this quest. Many clients feel the same way.  The more we compare ourselves to others the more anxious and dissatisfied we become. Social media feeds into this concept as we look at happy images of other people’s lives. Instead of  sharing their joy, we sometimes resent them for having lives that appear easier or more enjoyable than our own.
  2. Looking forward to 2016, I realize that I am really excited about the concept of SoulCollage. I will explain this in a future post, but basically, SoulCollage is a technique that helps you gain insight and clarity. I recently held a workshop with breast cancer survivors and used this concept, and was struck by the powerful results.
  3. I am embracing the idea that I would like to do a few things differently in 2016. One is to  take better care of myself. This includes more balance between work and downtime, and figuring out how to motivate myself to exercise regularly.
  4. I also realize that I need guidance and assistance at work. For me, this is the least interesting aspect of owning my own business, because it includes advertising, marketing, and updating my website. Areas that I am not very familiar with. I now realize that I need a team of people to help with this concept. I also need guidance to connect to who I am and what I want the next 20 years of my professional life to look like.

The point of exploring these four areas of my life has helped me form goals and allowed me to see which path I must navigate to achieve happiness and success.

I will keep you updated on my progress throughout the year!

Now it’s your turn to make a list of what areas in your life require a resolution. This is the best way to ensure a more enjoyable, healthy and happy 2016.

Happy New Year!

Karen Stabley, Art Therapy (ATR)

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How Shattered Pots Help With Grief & Loss

The following recipe was originally used at Olivia’s House – a grief and loss center for children in York, PA. I have expanded on the idea and use it to assist my younger clients as they process painful emotions related to grief and loss.

What You Need:

  • 1 medium size clay pot
  • large towel
  • small hammer
  • sharpie pen
  • large sheet of paper
  • glue gun/white glue
  • acrylic paint
  • a variety of objects: Pictures, words, silk flowers etc. to decorate exterior

shattered-pot

 

Step 1: Break the pot.

Wrap the clay pot in towel to avoid flying shards of clay. Hold firmly in place on its side to break the pot with a hammer. You may have to tap it a few times. Ideally you want 8-10 broken pieces. Light pressure will suffice.

Gather broken pieces and place them (in any order) on a large sheet of paper.

Step 2: Label the broken fragments of the pot.

Ask the child to list 8-10 of the emotions they are currently feeling the most. Try to match the size of each shard in relation to the intensity of each feeling. For example, if the child says that his or her strongest emotion is fear, then label the largest fragment “fear.” Continue until all fragments are labeled with each of the feelings expressed by the child. Take your time with this step, because it is important. Talk about the difficulty of the loss and the various emotions that the child is currently feeling.

Ensure the labeled feelings are on the inner curved sections of the pot, because when you glue the pot back together, you want to see the words inside. (See attached picture.)

Step 3: Glue pieces back together

Hot glue the pot back together. This is not any easy process and is a metaphor for the rebuilding process after loss. This is a messy and sometimes complicated step, and the difficulty of reassembling can be discussed in relation to the child’s emotional rebuilding process. Also at this point, it is a good time to talk about the symbol of the glue. You may want to ask, “Who has helped glue your life back together?”

Allow glue to cool and dry.

Step 4: Decorate the exterior of the pot

Paint the exterior of the pot with acrylic paint and any variety of plastic flowers, healing words, inspirational phrases or pictures. The scrapbook isle of your local craft store is a good place to start for items. Use a glue gun or school glue for this step.

Step 5: Discussion

Talk about how life has changed since the loss, talk about how what steps the child has taken to put his or her life back together. Discuss the people who have helped and how and if they found hope, support and love. This process is completed over a series of days or weeks.

Each step is a contemplative process.

As therapists, we sometimes feel uncomfortable remaining in the shattered stages phase with our clients, and seek to move forward to the “making it better” or healing stage. This is a disservice to our clients, because we should allow each person to take their time and fully process their emotions.

Be gentle with yourself, with others, allow yourself and others to grieve fully and be patient as they open their heart to the next step.

Thank you Leslie Delp, Executive Director of Olivia’s House for everything you do to support grieving children and their families!

Thank you for being here.

Karen Stabley, Art Therapy (ATR)

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Lending A Voice To Your Pain

Body Mapping is a technique used by art therapists to help clients illustrate, identify and voice their pain. Working with people who suffer from chronic pain, I have learned to recognize the connection between emotional trauma and the physical symptoms that may also exist.

Body Mapping

 

My 42 year old client Christine* suffered with painful abdominal symptoms to the point where she felt immobilized by her physical pain. She became overwhelmed and was unable to continue working as an elementary school teacher. Eventually, the pain became so unbearable that she had to quit her job and became housebound. Feeling depressed, her psychiatrist suggested she try art therapy to help express her feelings. Verbal therapy was stalled because Christine’s pain and depression did not abate, even with the help of medication.

When Christine began therapy with me she believed her depression and chronic pain stemmed from early childhood trauma. She spoke of consistent lower pelvic pain, but was resistant to traditional treatment by her physicians. After completing the initial drawings that I usually require of new clients, I asked her to draw a body map – an outline of a human form, (cookie cutter shape) and then asked her to describe the pain she was feeling with colors and lines; placing the lines at the approximate points on her body where she felt pain. This was in important first step, because when pain is attributed to emotional trauma, it’s better to illustrate the pain to help people “see it.”

I asked her to come prepared for the next session by using her body map image to write about her pain. I instructed her to share her thoughts about the pain, and what she felt the pain was trying to tell her – what the pain wanted her to know.

When Christine returned the following week, she read her description. She expressed that the pain felt “hot and angry” and that it wanted to be heard, that it was screaming at her, but she didn’t understand the language. Christine shared that she felt frustrated, but I encouraged her not to give up, and that I would help her discover what her pain was communicating to her.

That night, she had a nightmare about a trapped child crying alone in a dark tunnel. The following session we discussed the dream. As Christine talked about her nightmare she became tearful, she was tapping into a childhood memory of being left alone in her room, in the dark, essentially vulnerable and unsafe. The dream had triggered a painful memory of childhood sexual abuse.

Christine was shocked by this revelation, because she felt she had resolved the sexual abuse years ago. I explained that she may have addressed the sexual abuse earlier, but the untreatable pelvic pain was proof that her trauma wasn’t resolved. We discussed how her body had been holding onto the pain of her abuse because she was unable to express anger towards her abuser. Christine realized that the chronic pain was indicating that it was time to express that anger and release her feelings. She no longer had to hold onto the anger and store it within her body!

After this session, Christine was able to give herself permission to feel angry, and her whole body seemed lighter. I continue to work with Christine on expressing her emotions in a healthy way, but it has not been an easy process. However, the more she honestly expresses herself, the more her physical symptoms decrease. This has been an ongoing journey and I feel grateful to be able to assist her along the way.

Listen to your body. Never ignore physical pain. Understand that some forms of chronic pain are rooted in emotional trauma that can be illustrated, given a voice and healed!

If you, or anyone you know has ever been abused or traumatized, please seek professional help immediately.

Thank you for being here.

Karen Stabley, Art Therapy (ATR)

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The Brave Lionhearted Boy

lion with quote One of my younger clients, Cam,* a twelve-year-old boy, lost his mother last year in a fatal car accident. She was killed out of state while visiting friends.

I’ve been working with Cam to help him express his feelings related to this tragic loss.  He’s been painting pictures during our art therapy sessions, as well expressing the anger, sadness and confusion he feels related to this loss.  Cam is insightful, intense, awkward, self conscious etc. –  and all these mixed up middle school feelings that have added to his grief.

He recently talked about feeling stuck, as though he had not made progress, and shared his fear that the heaviness and hopelessness will never go away. He expressed his fear of being the kid who everyone avoids or feels afraid of, because they don’t know what to say to him. I reassured him that he had been making progress, and that his feelings of grief will lift, not go away, entirely.  I asked him if he would be willing to try something different.  He agreed.

I told him to close his eyes and draw a scribble.  A scribble is a technique used by art therapists to help clients who feel blocked, it also helps with gaining insight into underlying or subconscious material.  After Cam completed the scribble, I asked him to make a picture out of it.  He drew a “boy running away.”  We discussed how this made sense, how it would seem easier to run away from his pain rather than face it. We also talked about how facing one’s pain is better than abandoning it.

Next, I asked him to close his eyes and put dots on the page, and then create a drawing from the random dots.  Cam completed this task and drew an image of a lion from the dots. We talked about the meaning and symbol of a lion.  I talked to Cam about what it meant to be lionhearted.  We discussed how a lion is the symbol of bravery and courage.  I pointed out how this was one of the darkest times in his life, and how the lion symbolized his courage and bravery.  I wanted him to know that a deep part of him revealed that he was strong, how he had the heart of a lion, and how I knew he had the courage to go on, even in the face of his unimaginable pain.

Cam's picture of a lion during our session.
Cam’s picture of a boy running away and a lion during our session.

The use of this technique during our session paved the way for Cam to work more closely with the image of the lion, and recognize the parts of himself that were brave and strong.

Try this exercise at home if you, or someone you love is struggling to find their inner lion.

Be strong, be brave, be lionhearted like Cam.

(*Names have been changed to protect the privacy and identity of my clients.)

Peace and blessings to you all.

Thanks for reading.

Karen Stabley, Art Therapy (ATR)

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