Friday, January 30, 2015

The Arts Teach Important Skills...

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Saori Weaving as an intervention for persons with disabilities

Brandy Godsil, an artist and weaver, brought to my attention a project on which she is working, using Saori Weaving as a form of aiding autism, as well as other disabilities, with textile art.   She started working with her adult autistic brother to help him using this form of weaving.  Loop of the Loom, the studio where she works, is organizing an event to be funded via Kickstarter.  The proceeds from the event will go towards creating a nonprofit weaving organization in the USA, since this weaving method began in Japan and is already being used to help people with disabilities there.  Check out their Kickstarter campaign to consider contributing to help make this event happen and help people through a textile form of art therapy. The campaign will end on January 7th, so consider your pledge soon!

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Monday, December 08, 2014

Adventures in Art Therapy makes another Top 50 List!

Through some random poking around on the internet, I found my blog again listed in the Expressive Art Inspirations list of Top 50 Art Therapy Blogs.  This page was listed as #23, under Blogs by Art Therapists.  Very cool, thanks!


Thursday, November 13, 2014

The power of art therapy with wounded warriors

Another fine interview with my art therapy colleague and supervisee, Jackie Biggs, and the fantastic work that she is doing in her pioneered and established art therapy program at the NICoE via a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. 

NEA Arts Magazine 

By Don Ball and Rebecca Gross 

 Air Force troop drawing on paper.
Air Force Master Sergeant Earl Covel working on an art piece at Fort Belvoir in Virginia. 

“There’s always somebody who’s got it worse than you,” said Master Sergeant Earl I. Covel, talking about his 12 overseas combat deployments as a member of the Special Operations Tactical Air Control team. “If you just got a little bit of shrapnel, you don’t want to get medevaced out. You suck it up. It was more important to stay with my team. I let a series of incidents compound on each other. I let them accumulate. You can only fix Humpty Dumpty so many times before it can’t be fixed any further.” When he returned to work at the Air Force headquarters at the Pentagon, he found that the toll wasn’t just physical, but psychological. “I was such a shell, getting progressively harder and harder,” said Covel. “I was shut off from my family and my friends. I was becoming more reclusive.”

In addition to meeting with psychiatrists and social workers, he began working with Melissa Walker, the creative arts therapist at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He then transferred to the NICoE satellite location at Fort Belvoir in northern Virginia, where he resumed treatment with art therapist Jackie Biggs. 

Woman at table drawing on paper.
Creative arts therapist Jackie Biggs at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence satellite location at the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital.

The Creative Arts Therapy program at the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital—a state-of-the-art hospital designed to be an instrument of healing, hope, discovery, and learning for service members and their families—was started in September 2013 through a partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts. The Fort Belvoir program uses visual and literary arts to treat military service members dealing with psychological health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI). The program is administered as an outpatient clinic so that the therapy can continue on a long-term basis, without patients having to leave their units or families for extended periods of time. 

Although art had brought Covel joy in his youth—he frequently drew and participated in his school’s drama program—he initially rejected art therapy, and didn’t participate in the first few sessions. “I was in a totally different place at my life,” he said. “I wasn’t allowing myself to have any enjoyment at that time.” Eventually, with gentle prodding by Walker, Covel began to create, and the walls he had carefully built to block out both people and memories began to tumble down. “I found art was more a vessel that allowed me to open up to the world,” he said.  One of the reasons Biggs believes patients like Covel find success in art therapy is the effect it can have on the stress hormone cortisol. “Engaging in art-making is inherently relaxing,” Biggs said. “It has been shown to decrease cortisol so people become relaxed, their anxiety goes down, and they feel more comfortable.” Feeling comfortable and less anxious is especially important in therapy for military service members, many of whom have been in high-stress situations for much of their careers, and are trained to be hyper-vigilant of their surroundings. “Patients can walk in here really angry, really frustrated with something that happened on their way in, and as they’re engaged in art making you’ll see them calm down. And when they leave, they’ll make comments like, ‘This is like medicine. I feel way better.’” 

The service members Biggs works with exhibit “moral dilemmas and existential topics and shame and guilt, and survivor’s guilt, and, a lot of times, fear of one’s self.” In addition, Biggs’s patients often engage in isolating behaviors, which can make them feel further estranged and out-of-synch with society. Biggs combats this with group art therapy sessions, as well as by hanging patient artwork along the walls of the art room. “The writing’s on the wall in the artwork that they’re not alone, and that other people are dealing with these things internally,” she said. Of course, the goal is to eventually externalize these internal struggles. As service members create and then describe their work, they often find themselves discussing an incident or emotion that they’ve repressed for years, whether intentionally or not. “Sometimes patients call it trick therapy,” Biggs noted. “We’re not really tricking them, but just getting beneath the surface in a different way…. Sometimes patients wind up feeling so overwhelmed that it’s hard to sort through what exactly is overwhelming them and what really is underlying all those emotions. Through creating the artwork and then talking about it later, they’re usually able to identify and pinpoint really what’s underlying what’s going on, and what they can target in therapy moving forward.” 

Biggs noted that for many patients, talking about artwork is often easier than engaging in a face-to-face “stare down” with a psychologist or psychiatrist, which can put people on guard and raise their defenses. Instead, Biggs tries to work around the inner censors that patients may have put in place. “Patients are encouraged to be really spontaneous and follow their gut and really engage in intuitive art-making,” she said. “I think that combination of de-stress, relaxing, and spontaneity often results in artworks that shed light on the subconscious.” For Covel, the art therapy program helped him “to visualize something that’s in my head and to process something into words,” he said. “I’m not somebody who likes to write things down. I’m not a person who likes to outwardly talk. And I guess that’s why I want my art to be perfect is because I want it to be self-expressive where it should answer all the questions.”

 Collage artwork.
MSgt Covel’s artwork How Much Does a Hero Cost? 

One of his artworks, "How Much Does a Hero Cost?," is a collage-piece inside a recycled fruit box. “I have a thing, maybe it’s because I grew up in Portland, Oregon, that I like to recycle things. I try to do that as much as possible with my art.” Inside the box is a collage, with a picture of Covel at the center, and other photos of him hidden among the images. Overlaid on the collage are two foam-cut pistols pasted with either negative or positive words. “There’s kind of a yin-yang sort of thing going on with the pistols in there,” said Covel. “Just making those pistols alone with the words took me a really long time. It was emotionally draining just to do the semi-positive one. I had to force myself to do that one, because that was at the beginning of our therapy. I was in a place that I did not feel real highly of myself. But at the end I was able to breathe a bit of relief and know that in the end, things were done for a reason in that given moment. It doesn’t necessarily make me a bad guy.” 

Covel was working on a self-portrait as he came close to his impending retirement from the service. “Jackie suggested that since I’m retiring that I create something to kind of culminate my career. I always jokingly said I wanted a big, cheesy velvet painting like they have of the generals, like me on a big white steed and everything, with a sword, and hang it above my fireplace. That’ll probably never happen, but Jackie suggested that I come up with something, so I thought I’d give it a shot.” So Covel began working on the piece, drawing and using watercolors. “It’s supposed to be me in my service dress uniform. I’m going to pencil draw it. The decorations are actually in watercolor that I’m going to have bleed down when I have the watercolor. I’m going to have a saying go across the whole thing: ‘The soldier may leave the valley, but the valley never leaves the soldier.’” 

Portrait of a soldier.
Portrait of a soldier. MSgt Covel talks about the self-portrait he is working on. 

Even when the piece is finished, Covel doesn’t plan on putting down his paintbrush. “I look at it as an ongoing process,” he said. “Art has been given back to me. It’s been a gift. I’ll get to take this with me and utilize it to process anything in the future.” 

All photos by Sally Gifford

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Friday, November 07, 2014

Some art therapy techniques you can try to de-stress

10 Easy Art Therapy Techniques To Help You De-Stress

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Color Me Calm and Color Me Happy Are Here!

After over a year of working and waiting, I am proud to announce my first published books that came out simultaneously on October 27th.  They are coloring books for adults entitled "Color Me Calm" and "Color Me Happy," published by Race Point Publishing.  I authored the text and the content, with each book broken down into themed chapters of things that are commonly associated with calming people or boosting their mood.  Angela Porter did a fantastic job illustrating my artistic suggestions for each chapter to give everyone dozens of pictures to color.  They are great to use for yourself, for friends or family, or with your clients.  Even in pre-order, "Color Me Calm" has already made it as a #1 Bestseller on Amazon, and "Color Me Happy" is not far behind at #2. 

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Coloring helps adults to de-stress

An interesting article that came out about the therapeutic benefits of coloring, just in time before the release of my coloring books for adults.

Coloring Isn't Just For Kids. 

It Can Actually Help Adults Combat Stress.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Book Review: Art from Dreams by Susan Levin

Art from Dreams:  My Jungian Journey in Collage, Assemblage, and Poetry
By Susan Levin

Art from Dreams:  My Jungian Journey inCollage, Assemblage, and Poetry is a new book released in September 2014 that covers one woman’s experience in processing her dreams through artwork and poetry.  Susan Levin is an artist from Los Angeles, and as she wondered what her dreams meant and went through Jungian analysis, she decided to further explore her dreams by creating large pieces of found object sculpture, collage, and assemblage pieces as themes began to arise. 

After a very brief introduction and foreward to the book, the first section is entitled “My Jungian Dreams,” and included pictures of her artwork from this process, and all are paired with poems that she later wrote to go with the dream/artwork.  Her titles invoke the images of Jungian archetypes, such as mother, fate, home, mandalas, and even a dream including Picasso.  Levin’s poetry is short and to the point, and gives, to some extent, illumination to the artwork.  Certain artworks are more self-explanatory than other pieces, and Levin uses a variety of materials to make up her sculptures and collages, oftentimes in a shadowbox style but in others, she is more whimsical using items such as rusted saws or wood palettes. 

Part Two of the book is entitled “Nocturnes,” and included artwork about her continuing dreams.  However, there is no poetry associated with these works of art, and there is no particular Jungian association or analysis with these, though more familiar images such as mandalas or archetypal images appear.  Levin has titled them, given the dimensions and materials, but no other information is written in the second section.  In her artwork throughout the book, she often uses large found objects, things that might be found in an antique store or flea market, or even perhaps just thrown out for trash.  However, she repurposes them in often very orderly and compositionally pleasing arrangements. 

Dreams and artwork are both very personal things, and the poetry included in the book adds a depth to both for the viewer to take in and decipher and interpret as they see things through their own lens.  The book is nicely bound, and has an aesthetically pleasing layout of the beautiful photographs of Levin’s artwork.  However, as an art therapist who is trained to study and to interpret art (to a certain degree), I would have been very interested to hear Levin’s thoughts on her own work.  The only text throughout the book is in the introduction and foreword, and the titles and information for the artwork.  It is a book merely for viewing and is somewhat open-ended as to what each reader/viewer would take away from the visuals.  Even if Levin did not feel comfortable getting into any details about her dreams and the artwork and poetry related to them, which I would find entirely understandable, I would still have been interested in reading about her process in creating them, what it was like for her as she created her pieces, and even what she felt after she finished.  Insights that she may have gained would have been intriguing for me to hear about, to know how the art helped illuminate the concepts, archetypes, ideas, and symbols that she was consciously or unconsciously representing. 

Overall, I found the book intriguing in its concept and beautifully presented.  However, being a therapist as well as an artist, I felt wanting more to learn beyond the artwork, which was left only in the view of the beholder.  Though I have training in interpreting certain trends in artwork, one of the emphases I put in my work with my clients is that first and foremost I learn about it from the creator before I rely on my interpretive impressions, and so I found myself looking for this aspect as well in this book so that I could learn what the art meant to Levin herself.  For instance, the mandalas that she included I could analyze through the Great Round of Mandala Theory from Joan Kellogg to give myself a better grasp on what Levin was capturing in her art, but I also would have loved to hear her thoughts and meanings behind it as well.  The art’s connection to Jungian theory could be inferred to certain extent, but further exploration or explanation could be more enlightening to those who are interested in discovering more for themselves and seeing someone else’s journey that they took the time to document both in art and in print. 

Regardless, I hope that this book can inspire others to pursue art as a means for self-exploration and self-expression, whether it is for dream analysis or other pursuit such as to express feelings, introspection, or inner processing.  Levin’s example of taking the time to go beyond Jungian analysis alone into her talent and motivation to create art for a greater understanding can be a source of inspiration to would-be artists around the world.

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Autistic girl's paintings attract attention

Five-year-old Iris Grace is raising awareness of autism through her extraordinary paintings

by Roisin O'Connor

A five-year-old girl with autism has garnered praise across Europe, Asia and America for her astonishing artwork.  Iris Grace, who lives with her family in Leicestershire, began painting last year, and has already been praised by buyers, collectors and galleries for her work's intense colour, immediacy, and open composition.  Her paintings are sold to private art collectors in the UK and around the world for thousands of pounds each, with all profits going towards art materials and therapy.  Arabella Carter-Johnson, Iris’s mother, said that Iris loves being outside and that she can see “so much of nature in her paintings."

Iris with her cat Thula 

“She will watch water, trees, wind, leaves, flowers, birds, clouds… she is so interested in movement and how it changes things.” She added that Iris is “very musical” and has been since she was a baby.  “It was the one thing that always calmed her,” she said. “Iris is particularly into classical music at the moment and knows all of the orchestra instruments. She adores the violin.” Iris’s cat Thula is another source of inspiration, and features regularly in her work, such as her painting ‘Raining Cats’.

'Raining Cats' by Iris Grace  
'Raining Cats' by Iris Grace  

“There have been a lot of references to Monet because of the Impressionistic style. We have had many artists, dealers and galleries contact us who are very complimentary about her work which is lovely,” Iris's mother said. “For us though the joy that Iris gets from creating her pieces is the highlight, how it changes her mood, how happy it makes her.” Due to a lack of awareness, people with autism and their friends, family and carers often struggle to explain just how strong an impact it can have on a person’s life. Iris's mother said that her daughter had great success with play therapy, music therapy, and now a new form of speech therapy which uses video, created by a company called Gemiini “By following Iris’s interests, her ‘spark’, I have been able to engage her in many things,’ Iris's mother said.  "We have started our own activity club that supports children with autism, and run that every Saturday morning."

Iris at work 
Iris at work  

Celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher have shared Iris’s work on social media, while three-time BAFTA award winner Olivia Colman showed her support by reading a poem for a video about Iris. Several high-profile figures are active in raising awareness of autism, including actor Daniel Radcliffe, who is a patron for the Autism Research Trust.  “I am sure his [Ashton Kutcher’s] post has had a huge impact, said Iris's mother. "Our society now is so interested in what celebrities say or do that any comments from them will undoubtedly raise awareness."

You can learn more about Iris's work on her website

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A New Theory About Schizophrenia

Here is an interesting article that shows studies that are determining that schizophrenia is caused by a combination of different genetic factors, and is actually eight different genetic disorders that work together - in various combinations thereof - to create the differing presentations of schizophrenia (i.e., positive and/or negative symptoms).

Mark Strozier/Getty



Schizophrenia Isn’t One Disorder but Eight

In perhaps the most important study in schizophrenia’s history, researchers have identified that it is not a single inherited disorder as previously believed, but rather eight separate genetic disorders.
Schizophrenia is perhaps the most misunderstood mental illness, but a research team at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has just come one step closer to understanding how it works.

After analyzing the DNA of over 4,000 patients with schizophrenia, the investigators of the study have determined that schizophrenia is not a single inherited disorder as previously believed, but rather eight separate genetic disorders that can combine into “clusters” which carry significant risks for schizophrenia.

As senior investigator Dr. C. Robert Cloninger notes, “[genes] don’t work by themselves. They function in concert much like an orchestra, and to understand how they’re working, you have to know not just who the members of the orchestra are but how they interact.” Rather than focusing on the individual genes that have been associated with schizophrenia, this team looked instead at the interactions between genes in order to isolate the causes of the illness.

In an audio interview, Cloninger observes that this multi-faceted etiology of schizophrenia matches the plurality and complexity of its symptoms: “There isn’t just this one kind of schizophrenia but actually several different syndromes where some people have positive symptoms like hallucinations and delusions [and] others have negative symptoms where they’re not able to think logically and these different syndromes are associated with different groups of genes.” Instead of looking for one gene that could account for all of the possible configurations of schizophrenic symptoms, Cloninger and his colleagues looked at the way in which different configurations of genetic variations produce different symptoms in individual patients.

Washington University’s new research could be the most important breakthrough in schizophrenia research since the illness was first diagnosed. Their findings hint toward new treatment possibilities for an illness whose symptoms are almost as difficult to alleviate as they are to understand. And the clarity of their discovery could finally put the persistent cultural myths surrounding schizophrenia to rest and help the public better understand this severe mental illness.

Early treatments for schizophrenia were as ineffective as they were dangerous. As Rachel Whitehead of Rethink Mental Illness writes for the Guardian, early 20th-century physicians treated schizophrenic patients with injections of sulfur and oil. In the 1930s and ’40s, physicians struggled to find a more tenable treatment. As an article in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry notes, Swiss psychiatrists attempted to treat schizophrenia by inducing sleep for long periods of time, often resulting in pneumonia and death. Other psychiatrists attempted to treat schizophrenia with carbon dioxide gas and artificially-induced comas. In the 1950s, the first antipsychotic drug was invented and treatment for schizophrenia has revolved around the use of pharmaceutical drugs ever since.
“[Genes] don’t work by themselves. They function in concert much like an orchestra, and to understand how they’re working, you have to know not just who the members of the orchestra are but how they interact.”
Currently, schizophrenic patients are treated with a combination of antipsychotic medications (e.g. Clozapine) and therapeutic treatment, most notably cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). While schizophrenia is much more treatable now than it was a century ago, antipsychotic medications still carry significant side effects. Clozapine, for instance, can lower a patient’s white blood cell count to dangerous levels, substantially reducing the body’s ability to fight infection. And as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) notes, Clozapine is “hard on the body and causes a risk of diabetes, weight gain, myocarditis, and other medical concerns that need to be planned for.”

Potentially serious side effects aside, recovery from schizophrenia can take years of treatment. One study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that “the overall rate of recovery during the early years of the illness is low,” with under 14 percent of subjects maintaining “full recovery criteria for 2 years or longer.” Another study, in the British Journal of Psychiatry, examined long-term outcomes, finding that only 16 percent of people with “early unremitting cases” of schizophrenia could recover in the later years of the illness. Both studies concur that the symptoms of schizophrenia are eminently treatable with around half of schizophrenic patients finding substantive relief from their symptoms, but “full recovery” remains an elusive and arduous task. Many people with schizophrenia will die from suicide and unnatural causes before they can complete or even receive treatment. As one review article in the Archives of General Psychiatry notes, nearly 5 percent of people with schizophrenia will die by suicide alone.

After a century of ineffective treatments, risky medications, and stalled genetic research, the new findings from Washington University could be an important step forward in treating schizophrenia. For one, the treatment of schizophrenia could be further individuated to match each individual patient’s needs. By sorting the patients in their study by their symptomatology, the research team at Washington University could identify which “clusters of genetic variations” led to which symptoms. As Dr. Igor Zwir notes in the Washington University press release, “it soon may be possible to target treatments to specific pathways that cause problems.” And as research into gene therapy for schizophrenia continues, Washington University’s findings will give researchers new pathways to pursue to target symptoms of schizophrenia. In the future, the Washington University study may mark the tipping point in the successful treatment of schizophrenic patients.

In addition to potentially revolutionizing the diagnosis and treatment of schizophrenia, this discovery could finally put to rest longstanding rumors about the causes of schizophrenia. Because past researchers typically looked for a single gene that caused schizophrenia, scientists knew that the illness was inherited but struggled to understand what other imbricating factors could account for it. The National Institute of Mental Health, for instance, observes that having a relative with schizophrenia significantly increases its risk but leaves plenty of room open for the influence of “environmental factors” such as malnutrition.

The Johns Hopkins Health Library, too, notes “many factors—genetic, behavioral, and environmental—play a role in the development of this mental health condition.” While environmental factors certainly play a role in the development of any genetic disorder—schizophrenia included—the continued mystery of schizophrenia’s genetic origins has perhaps left too much room open for rampant speculation about the sort of environmental factors that cause the illness.

Some still believe the mid-20th-century rumors that schizophrenia is caused by bad parenting, alcohol abuse, or other forms of trauma, so much so that many resources on schizophrenia still find it necessary to explicitly refute these myths. NAMI notes that 6 percent of people still believe that “people diagnosed with schizophrenia did something to cause their condition.” These myths about the causation of schizophrenia stigmatize it, allowing the public to willfully misunderstand it by blaming it instead on the families who suffer the most from its symptoms. Despite the fact that millions of people and approximately 1 percent of Americans have schizophrenia, misinformation about the illness promotes the belief that schizophrenia is the result of some sort of moral failing and not genetic variation.
Despite the fact that millions of people and approximately 1 percent of Americans have schizophrenia, misinformation about the illness promotes the belief that schizophrenia is the result of some sort of moral failing and not genetic variation.
And the ignorance that continues to surround schizophrenia actively compounds its treatment on a cultural level. As NAMI notes in a report on the perception of schizophrenia, the “lack of knowledge” surrounding schizophrenia constitutes a “public health crisis” inasmuch as investment in treatment options requires widespread public awareness about the disorder. Only a quarter of Americans feel as if they are familiar with schizophrenia, with only Lou Gehrig’s disease and multiple sclerosis ranking lower on the scale. A substantial percentage of Americans, too, still fear people with schizophrenia at work or in their personal lives even if they are undergoing treatment. NAMI believes that this “knowledge gap” must be closed to promote a culture in which people view schizophrenia as a treatable illness. If more people could recognize schizophrenic symptoms and openly care for those who suffer with schizophrenia, more people with the illness might seek treatment during the critical early stages.

The new research from Washington University could be influential in closing this knowledge gap, as it seems to be the most definitive information about the origins of schizophrenia uncovered so far. In a country where six times as many people believe false rumors about schizophrenia as suffer from it, the conclusive discovery of the genetic clusters that contribute to schizophrenia should finally start to bury past misconceptions about the illness. In addition to possibly transforming future approaches to the treatment of schizophrenia, Washington University’s recent findings could also finally give a misinformed public the clarity it needs to promote widespread understanding of this devastating mental illness.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Cancer survivor uses art to process his treatment

Ray Paul shows his collection, My Sarcoma, an exhibit on display at Moffitt Cancer Center's Healing Arts Gallery. The paintings show his own cancer cells. (Photo: Melissa Eichman, staff)

Cancer patient's art shows raging battle, beauty of hope

By Melissa Eichman, Reporter

Fifty-one-year-old Ray Paul is passionate about art.  "Playing with the paint, I love color, I love working with details, too and expressing myself and forgetting all the outside world while I’m painting," he said.

An artist since first grade, Paul has been painting for decades. "Abstract, expressionism mixed with some surrealism and probably pop art with the bright and bold colors," said Paul.  Bold colors were put to the canvas differently after a cancer diagnosis in 2011. Paul turned to art to help him get through treatment.

"I look at it as kind of attacking the cancer because it’s right there in front of me and I’m able to see it and go at it," said Paul.  Paul’s collection, “My Sarcoma,” tells of his cancer journey through paintings, his body the canvas.  "We were able to get images of my tumor cancer cells and have them printed onto canvas,” said Paul. “And I was able to use that as a substrate to paint over the top of."

The artist says painting helped him heal through four tumors in three years.  "It’s definitely a refuge," Paul said. "It’s almost like a Zen kind of thing, you forget about the cancer, you forget about all the trials and tribulations and you can lose yourself in the work."

The collection is currently on display at Moffitt Cancer Center’s Healing Arts Gallery.  "I’m hoping this gives them a chance to stop, reflect and maybe lose themselves in the color and the paint and maybe to have a smile,” said Paul. “Maybe make their day a little brighter."

Paul, who is now cancer-free, hopes his pieces show patients, their families, doctors and staff at Moffitt both the raging battle and the beauty of hope.

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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Guest Blog: Photographer uses craft to connect with his father

Many thanks to Jay Sullivan, who contributed this guest blog post, who shows us how he used his art of photography to process the memories of his father and process his relationship with him after his death.  Thank you for showing how powerful art can be.
The Father I Always Had

I hated my father most of my life.

When I was five years old, my father had a bipolar breakdown and was sent to a psychiatric institution.  The traumatic events that followed forever defined my relationship with my father: violent outbursts, endless days of him sleeping away the afternoon on the couch, picking him up and putting him to bed after many too many beers, late night calls when he needed a place to stay, and bailing him out of jail. I spent most of my life angry, embarrassed, and ashamed at whom and what he became. When he died in 1992, I put his ashes in my closet and put him behind me for good – or so I had thought.

In early 2011, I started a photographic essay titled Glove hoping to reconnect with my father by exploring what it would be like to have had a normal, adult relationship with him.  I began by imagining he lived with me. I photographed articles in my house that I remembered him owning: a wallet on my nightstand, a razor on the bathroom sink, a baseball glove in the closet. I photographed them large and direct, seeking to dissolve the memories I had in my head of a weak, failed man and replace them with images that were strong and masculine.

One step led to another, and the process became more and more integral to the images that were being created. I dug into his professional past, finding a man that was different than the one I knew – one that I could be proud of: pledge captain in his fraternity, top salesman at both IBM and 3M, President of the NJ Jaycees, MBA at Seton Hall (which was earned several years AFTER his breakdown). I photographed a college ring, a "How to Win Friends and Influence People" book, a briefcase; the images created an admirable story where there once was a void.

If you want to really understand someone, research the brands they buy.  The headline for my father’s brand of cigarettes?: More Scientists and Educators Smoke Kent; for his hair crème?: Brylcreem…For Smart, Healthy Hair; for his watch?: Why Most Teachers Prefer Bulova. These reminders of my father’s lifelong pursuit of learning helped subjugate his less noble attributes.

I started a journal that recorded the days of an imagined adult life together: days at the beach, at the coffee shop, at the ball field; the process sparked real life memories and subsequent photographic images: cooking Christmas pancakes, fishing on a tiny pond, trips to Yankee stadium. The more images I created, the more I remembered – and the more I wanted to be his son again.

Photographing this series resulted in a rich, visceral connection between me, the objects, and long-buried memories.  Many of the memories were anxiety-filled, connected to my father, the tragedies of his life, and the beliefs of a 5-year-old child who thought it was all his fault.   Creating Glove helped me discover that fear confronted leads to fear released.  Three years into this process and 20 years after my father’s death, I have found the father I always wanted – and in many ways always had.

About Jay Sullivan

Jay Sullivan grew up playing baseball in New Jersey.  His life changed direction when he received a film developer kit for Christmas.  It started an interest in image-making that, along with a decent curveball, gained him entrance into Rochester Institute of Technology where he studied photography.

Jay went onto a 25 year career as a Creative Director, creating media for print, online. installations and live events.  He's traveled to over 20 countries on four continents staging events and creating video works that featured President Jimmy Carter, Secretary of State Madeline Albright, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Ossie Davis, the Ye minority in the remote mountains of southern China, Bambara farmers in Mali, and teenagers in the ghettos of Sao Paulo, Brazil.  His productions have been garnered a Cine Golden Eagle, NY Festivals Silver World Medal, Silver Screen Award and many other honors.   Jay lives and creates art in Red Bank, New Jersey with his wife, two dogs, a cat and two horses.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Art Therapy helps Wounded Warriors at NICoE Intrepid Spirit One at Ft. Belvoir

I'm very excited to see the art therapy that my colleague and ATR supervisee Jackie Biggs is pioneering at the Wounded Warrior TBI clinic at Ft. Belvoir's National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) Intrepid Spirit One.  She is doing a great job over there, and it's nice to see that art therapy is getting the attention it deserves, reaching people in ways that other therapies do not.

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Farewell to art therapy-friendly psychiatrist Dr. Louis Tinnin

More sad news to report the passing of Dr. Louis Tinnin today, the same day that art therapy pioneer Edith Kramer passed away, at nearly 82 years of age.  Lou was the husband of art therapist Linda Gantt, and together they created the Intensive Trauma Therapy model and the Graphic Narrative, an art therapy technique to help process trauma.  Lou was a psychiatrist and dovetailed the art therapy trauma treatment with how it affects the neurological changes in the brain that has been affected by trauma.  I had the pleasure of attending trainings by them both in Morgantown, WV near their Trauma Recovery Institute in 2004 and at Ft. Belvoir, VA in 2012, where they trained most of the Behavioral Health department in this method.  He will be missed in the art therapy community.

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Farewell to Art Therapy Pioneer Edith Kramer

One of the founders of Art Therapy, Edith Kramer, died today after a long life of 97 years.  I remember when she taught during the summer when I attended GWU in the late 1990's, and she would train down from NYC to teach her psychoanalytic art therapy class, even then in her 80's.  I did not take the class because I took other topics instead, though I was tempted to take it anyway just because she taught it.  Her influence in the field of art therapy has been great and she will be missed.

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Monday, January 13, 2014

Elephants painting self-portraits

Here is a fun and heartwarming video of elephants who paint recognizable pictures for sale...not just the abstracts that I've most often seen.  See, anyone can do art!!  :)