Saturday, February 25, 2017

My Man is Beautiful and Gentle Like a Flower

Men and all gender identities can be likened to beautiful flowers. Sensuality, beauty, softness, curvaceousness, the ability to be nurturing, and being "the muse", are not feminine qualities that only women possess. We can see flower and plant anatomy in male and all genders of human bodies just as much as in the female body, although so much art-making focuses the gaze on these qualities within the female body, which is so limiting. We can see male and gender fluid human shapes and forms in flowers, plants, and other parts of nature too. Imagine O'Keeffe's paintings. Her images are just as masculine as they are feminine...and she was quite displeased with how her work with flowers were viewed as specifically stereotypical female/feminine sensuality and sexuality.  Also, while the hyper-sexualization of those who identify as women as well as their art (which does not necessarily mean one presents as a gender-normative woman) has gone on for who-knows-how-long, my guess is that Freud's drive theory and psychoanalytic impositions which were taking the world by storm during the early 20th century, influenced the popular critiques and incorrect assumptions of her work.

I love Mapplethorpe's photographs that compare flowers and the male form...his work provides such a soft and refreshing view. Did you know that the human man and woman are more anatomically and bilogically similar than any other species? Because this is true, that means that all genders on the spectrum are similar. For me, it's important to celebrate and encourage difference and I also celebrate our commonalities, recognize shared interests, and cultivate balanced relationships. These are just some thoughts on confronting conceptual hetero-normative categorizing of sensuality and the separateness and lack of vision it promotes. For me feminism embraces every sacred and beautiful identity, all the versions of femininity and masculinity, and everything between and beyond, on Nature's intelligent, sentient, and fluid spectrum. I'm thinking about the representational and abstract art realm and how in general, there is an unfair, stereotypical, wrong, and sexist view that women are likened to flowers and other genders typically are not. What a closed off way of experiencing beauty and Nature. Talk about missing the mark, which Tolle says is the definition of sin. Opening up these confining constructs is a world peace issue in my humble opinion.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Personal Reflection on Style and Depth (for AT techniques class)

                I would like to preface my paper with a statement of intention because I would not like my words to be misconstrued as complaining of unconstructive criticism of any person or experiential.  My intention is simply to further understand and process my feelings about some of my experiences which arose during the Art Therapy Techniques weekend intensive class.  Moreover, my intention is to examine those experiences in conjunction with the literature because I see these challenging moments of mine as opportunities to learn how to be an effective art therapist, counselor and facilitator for persons on what is often an arduous healing path.  While I understand that growing, engaging unconscious material and even woundedness, and healing, is often challenging and uncomfortable, there were times during the weekend intensive where I felt a little past my edge, felt pushed further and faster than I wanted to go, felt raw, and felt exhausted.  As an art therapist in training, I am wondering about the effectiveness of doing so much deep work in such a short amount of time and how I would facilitate a therapeutic and learning environment in similar and different ways.
                “Images take me apart; images put me back together again, new, enlarged, with breathing room. (Allen, 1995).  Allen so eloquently speaks for me and my personal experience with art making, as I have used art-making to create and define myself; to grieve; to discover parts of me that have been and are deeply wounded; to allow parts of myself to die and to allow others to be (re)born; to heal myself; to celebrate qualities I love in myself and the world; and to explore different elements of spirituality that feel meaningful to me.  Art and creative expression is my life in a way.  I do not know who or where I would be if not for being a devoted and self-identified artist and altruist.  Contemplating Allen’s quote causes me to wonder if the deeply painful, challenging work over the weekend was actually positive for me, although I experienced going past my edge on a few occasions.  I know I benefited from the deep work, in standing my ground and practicing self-care, in holding back levels of participation when I needed to conserve my energy so I could stay present, but I wonder if this was most effective for me and others like me.  Could gentler, slower deliveries and less experientials have been more effective for my growth and might that be the case for future clients?   
The concept of edge I am referring to comes from my personal Yoga practice and from my teacher who guided me while I studied to be a Yoga teacher.  The essence of edge is simply taking right action which promotes the highest benefit while taking the least risks.  Edge is important in Yoga to help prevent injuries, since Yoga should never be perverted into harm-causing exercise, and edge is a metaphor meant to be taken off the mat and applied in all areas of life.  Although taking various risks may and often does turn out to be fruitful at certain points, taking risks can become alluring patterns which open one up to possibilities for harm, pain, injury, flooding of concepts and emotions one may not be quite ready for, and can lead to desensitization.  In my view, these patterns are rewarded in typical American culture and can be damaging and difficult to reverse.  
I was taught and really value practicing and teaching edge awareness, which translates into self-sensitivity, because I find that many folks find it hard to be gentle with themselves and easy to bully themselves; again, we are rewarded for this behavior and it is conditioned into most people starting in childhood.  I believe healing is directly related to learning to love one’s self exactly as they are and to kindly meet themselves where they are.  For me, Yoga and mindfulness are gentle practices where no digging for truth is necessary.  The practices themselves are slow, and because the psyche knows how to heal itself, healing bubbles up from the inside in the appropriate time frame for the practitioner.  I liken these practices to effective and good therapy as well.  My concern is that people who are already wounded might have a tendency in Yoga, as in many parts of life, perhaps therapy too, to move too deep too fast, and this might be a reflection of an undeveloped self-sensitivity.  For me, developing edge awareness, and helping clients to practice that, is key to the healing process, not going deep.
Schroder mentions on numerous occasions throughout Little Windows Into Art Therapy how she allows the client to set the pace for how fast and far they are willing to go in the therapy session.  Her kindness and empathic attunement to the client models the self-sensitivity she hopes her clients will be able to offer themselves.  Schroder’s strategy is based on the humanistic approach based on premises that the client is both the expert of their situation and that clients’ innate goodness and ability to heal promotes self-determination which in turn defines the appropriateness of the style of therapy and nature of the therapeutic alliance.  Schroder’s gentleness and allowance of clients to lead creates a safe space for the clients’ authenticity, honest expression, and empowerment.  In a sense, she is an art therapy whisperer guiding the client while they unlock and discover the mystery, wonder, and purpose which makes them the unique, intentional spirits in the world.  According to Schroder, pushing clients too much, or even at all, which could show up in the form of facilitating provocative art directives or through relentless interrogation, styles which the client may not be ready for or may not like, is not the aim of an effective art therapist who seeks in all instances to do no harm. 
Moon (2010) supports Schroder by adding that specific materials themselves can be provocative, even damaging, and may, as I say it, push clients beyond their edge.  Specifically, Schroder warns therapists to be cautious when encouraging clients to engage in a body-tracing/body-mapping experiential, as this directive takes clients into very deep waters which they may not have the coping skills to swim.  Going beyond one’s edge can often be far too risky and can neutralize or negate beneficial elements of the experiential, especially during a time where simply showing up for therapy may be hard enough already.  Schroder emphasizes this simple fact over and over.  She constantly reminds herself just how much courage it takes for clients to reach out for help, therefore she treads lightly and gently especially in the early stages of therapy. 
In conclusion, I realize that our weekend class intensive was not therapy, nor did I approach it as such, however, the experience I had with the guest facilitator and how I experienced her--what felt like to me--bossy, insensitive, and interrogative style was off-putting to say the least.  While I did my best to participate, there were times I felt annoyed and like shutting down and I witnessed that happen with others; a deer in the head-lights result.  In addition, I felt that although our class is not therapy and instead is a space for students to learn different art-therapy techniques, we students are human and will be affected.  Most of us have some level of wounded pasts, childhoods, relationships, and bodies, therefore the delivery of deeply emotive and even provocative experientials, one after another, which is standard in SWC’s programs in general, felt pretty exhausting and over-the-top for me, and I am a fairly intense person with a lot of stamina, recovery, therapy, and healing under my belt. Conversely, I also acknowledge, that the content of my personal material is still really painful and layered, so my annoyance may not be an indicator that any of the techniques are too intense.  With my concept of edge awareness in mind, I am still wondering if this is an effective method for facilitating a therapeutic and learning environment?  I will maintain a beginner’s mind regarding this subject so I can understand it and various therapeutic and facilitator styles more fully.  My critical analysis is simply to better myself as a therapist as I move closer to working with clients, which is a responsibility I do not take lightly.