Monday, January 20, 2020

Guest Post: My Journey to Healing

My friend Lauren has started sharing about her experiences dealing with mental and physical illness and what she has been learning through therapy and her healing journey.  She was so kind as to create a guest post for Adventures in Art Therapy, highlighting the use of creative outlets like music, art, and writing as a way of self-expression.  Thanks for your encouragement, Lauren!

Hi everyone! My name is Lauren, AKA “My Journey To Healing” on YouTube and Instagram. 

I have been dealing with chronic illness (ulcerative colitis & IBS) since 2014, as well as varying degrees of mental illness throughout my life. I have been in therapy for the past 7 months, and have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and depression. My main goals in creating “My Journey To Healing” are to connect with and encourage others, to raise awareness for chronic physical and mental health conditions, and to have a platform to share my feelings, experiences, and lessons that I have learned. 

Today, I wanted to make a video on some of my top practices that I have learned from therapy that are applicable to both mental and physical illness. These practices are mainly centered around separating your identity from your illnesses, and allowing yourself to see that there is more to your life than your illnesses. These practices have made a strong impact on my well-being, and I hope that all of you watching can implement at least one of them into your daily lives. I am more than my illnesses, and so are you.

 For additional uplifting content and updates, feel free to follow my Instagram at:

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Important Questions to Ask a New Therapist

If you are looking for a therapist, here are some good questions to consider asking to find a good fit so that you can get the most out of your therapy.

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Tuesday, January 14, 2020

How Does Making Art Affect Your Brain?

A great article about how art making is helpful - both through the act of being creative and in formal art therapy. Art Therapists Christianne Strang and Girija Kaimal are interviewed it as well!

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A lot of my free time is spent doodling. I'm a journalist on NPR's science desk by day. But all the time in between, I am an artist — specifically, a cartoonist.
I draw in between tasks. I sketch at the coffee shop before work. And I like challenging myself to complete a zine — a little magazine — on my 20-minute bus commute.
I do these things partly because it's fun and entertaining. But I suspect there's something deeper going on. Because when I create, I feel like it clears my head. It helps me make sense of my emotions. And it somehow, it makes me feel calmer and more relaxed.
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That made me wonder: What is going on in my brain when I draw? Why does it feel so nice? And how can I get other people — even if they don't consider themselves artists — on the creativity train?
It turns out there's a lot happening in our minds and bodies when we make art.
"Creativity in and of itself is important for remaining healthy, remaining connected to yourself and connected to the world," says Christianne Strang, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Alabama Birmingham and the former president of the American Art Therapy Association.
This idea extends to any type of visual creative expression: drawing, painting, collaging, sculpting clay, writing poetry, cake decorating, knitting, scrapbooking — the sky's the limit.
"Anything that engages your creative mind — the ability to make connections between unrelated things and imagine new ways to communicate — is good for you," says Girija Kaimal. She is a professor at Drexel University and a researcher in art therapy, leading art sessions with members of the military suffering from traumatic brain injury and caregivers of cancer patients.
But she's a big believer that art is for everybody — and no matter what your skill level, it's something you should try to do on a regular basis. Here's why:
It helps you imagine a more hopeful future
Art's ability to flex our imaginations may be one of the reasons why we've been making art since we were cave-dwellers, says Kaimal. It might serve an evolutionary purpose. She has a theory that art-making helps us navigate problems that might arise in the future. She wrote about this in October in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association.
Her theory builds off of an idea developed in the last few years — that our brain is a predictive machine. The brain uses "information to make predictions about we might do next — and more importantly what we need to do next to survive and thrive," says Kaimal.
When you make art, you're making a series of decisions — what kind of drawing utensil to use, what color, how to translate what you're seeing onto the paper. And ultimately, interpreting the images — figuring out what it means.
"So what our brain is doing every day, every moment, consciously and unconsciously, is trying to imagine what is going to come and preparing yourself to face that," she says.
Kaimal has seen this play out at her clinical practice as an art therapist with a student who was severely depressed. "She was despairing. Her grades were really poor and she had a sense of hopelessness," she recalls.
The student took out a piece of paper and colored the whole sheet with thick black marker. Kaimal didn't say anything.
"She looked at that black sheet of paper and stared at it for some time," says Kaimal. "And then she said, 'Wow. That looks really dark and bleak.' "
And then something amazing happened, says Kaimal. The student looked around and grabbed some pink sculpting clay. And she started making ... flowers: "She said, you know what? I think maybe this reminds me of spring."
Through that session and through creating art, says Kaimal, the student was able to imagine possibilities and see a future beyond the present moment in which she was despairing and depressed.
"This act of imagination is actually an act of survival," she says. "It is preparing us to imagine possibilities and hopefully survive those possibilities."
It activates the reward center of our brain
For a lot of people, making art can be nerve-wracking. What are you going to make? What kind of materials should you use? What if you can't execute it? What if it ... sucks?
Studies show that despite those fears, "engaging in any sort of visual expression results in the reward pathway in the brain being activated," says Kaimal. "Which means that you feel good and it's perceived as a pleasurable experience."
She and a team of researchers discovered this in a 2017 paper published in the journal The Arts in Psychotherapy. They measured blood flow to the brain's reward center, the medial prefrontal cortex, in 26 participants as they completed three art activities: coloring in a mandala, doodling and drawing freely on a blank sheet of paper. And indeed — the researchers found an increase in blood flow to this part of the brain when the participants were making art.
This research suggests making art may have benefit for people dealing with health conditions that activate the reward pathways in the brain, like addictive behaviors, eating disorders or mood disorders, the researchers wrote.
It lowers stress
Although the research in the field of art therapy is emerging, there's evidence that making art can lower stress and anxiety. In a 2016 paper in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, Kaimal and a group of researchers measured cortisol levels of 39 healthy adults. Cortisol is a hormone that helps the body respond to stress.
They found that 45 minutes of creating art in a studio setting with an art therapist significant lowered cortisol levels.
The paper also showed that there were no differences in health outcomes between people who identify as experienced artists and people who don't. So that means that no matter your skill level, you'll be able to feel all the good things that come with making art.
It lets you focus deeply
Ultimately, says Kaimal, making art should induce what the scientific community calls "flow" — the wonderful thing that happens when you're in the zone. "It's that sense of losing yourself, losing all awareness. You're so in the moment and fully present that you forget all sense of time and space," she says.
And what's happening in your brain when you're in flow state? "It activates several networks including relaxed reflective state, focused attention to task and sense of pleasure," she says. Kaimal points to a 2018 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, which found that flow was characterized by increased theta wave activity in the frontal areas of the brain — and moderate alpha wave activities in the frontal and central areas.
So what kind of art should you try?
Some types of art appear to yield greater health benefits than others.
Kaimal says modeling clay, for example, is wonderful to play around with. "It engages both your hands and many parts of your brain in sensory experiences," she says. "Your sense of touch, your sense of three-dimensional space, sight, maybe a little bit of sound — all of these are engaged in using several parts of yourself for self-expression, and likely to be more beneficial."
A number of studies have shown that coloring inside a shape — specifically a pre-drawn geometric mandala design — is more effective in boosting mood than coloring on a blank paper or even coloring inside a square shape. And one 2012 study published in Journal of the American Art Therapy Association showed that coloring inside a mandala reduces anxiety to a greater degree compared to coloring in a plaid design or a plain sheet of paper.
Strang says there's no one medium or art activity that's "better" than another. "Some days you want to may go home and paint. Other days you might want to sketch," she says. "Do what's most beneficial to you at any given time."
Process your emotions
It's important to note: if you're going through serious mental health distress, you should seek the guidance of a professional art therapist, says Strang.
However, if you're making art to connect with your own creativity, decrease anxiety and hone your coping skills, "by all means, figure out how to allow yourself to do that," she says.
Just let those "lines, shapes and colors translate your emotional experience into something visual," she says. "Use the feelings that you feel in your body, your memories. Because words don't often get it."
Her words made me reflect on all those moments when I reached into my purse for my pen and sketchbook. A lot of the time, I was using my drawings and little musings to communicate how I was feeling. What I was doing was helping myself deal. It was cathartic. And that catharsis gave me a sense of relief.
A few months ago, I got into an argument with someone. On my bus ride to work the next day, I was still stewing over it. In frustration, I pulled out my notebook and wrote out the old adage, "Do not let the world make you hard."
I carefully ripped the message off the page and affixed it to the seat in front of me on the bus. I thought, let this be a reminder to anyone who reads it!
I took a photo of the note and posted it to my Instagram. Looking back at the image later that night, I realized who the message was really for. Myself.
Malaka Gharib is a writer and editor on NPR's science desk and the author of I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

AATA Highlights the 2019 Accomplishments of the Art Therapy Profession

2019 has been a big year for art therapy. The American Art Therapy Association summarized the accomplishments in the field this year.

December 19, 2019
As we prepare to head into the next decade, we’d like to take this opportunity to take stock and reflect on what we have accomplished collectively as a profession in this 50th year of our association’s life. We’ve made remarkable gains in legislative goals and public awareness for the profession as well as significant improvements and expansions in membership experience and programmatic offerings.
Let’s look back together at the accomplishments of the past year!

Collaborations & Public Awareness

Faber-Castell USA CEO Jamie Gallagher (second from right) attended AATA’s 50th red carpet celebration during the 2019 conference in Kansas City. From left: then AATA President Dr. Christianne Strang, Director of Events and Education Barbara Florence, Board Member Gretchen Miller, and Executive Director Cynthia Woodruff, and Faber-Castell USA Artist Franz Spohn.
As the nation’s leading voice for art therapy, we work to educate lawmakers and the public on the power of art therapy.
  • We celebrated our 50th Anniversary Year with a year-long campaign to celebrate the history and look to the future of our profession. Read the wrap-up here and check out our 55th collaborative video!
  • This year we continued to foster partnerships with shared goals in public awareness and fundraising. The AATA started relationships with Faber-Castell USA (check out their webpage and AATA member Carol Olson’s blog post “Art Therapy 101: Sorting Facts from Myths”). You may have even met the CEO Jamie Gallagher at conference in Kansas City! Also in 2019, the AATA joined National Parks Service’s Healthy Parks Healthy People initiative. We hosted the webinar “Bringing Art Therapy into the National Parks” with over thirty national parks in attendance. The AATA is now working with NPS on pilot art therapy programs following the positive response to this webinar.
  • We are always looking for creative new ways to spread awareness about the field. In March we released our very first Ask Me Anything featuring Cheryl Doby-Copeland.
  • We love highlighting the life-enhancing work our members do every day through our Featured Member series! This year the Journal of Pain & Systems Management will expand awareness of this work by sharing artwork by 12 of AATA’s 2019 Featured Members as the cover art for each journal issue in 2020.
  • The AATA continues to issue regular content through our BlogNews, and newsletter, Art Therapy Today as well as our social media platforms. Follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram!

State Legislative Victories & Accreditation Milestones

Art therapists in Connecticut testify before the Joint Committee on Public Health on February 11, 2019.
This year we worked with our local advocates and volunteers to introduce more art therapy legislation than ever before and took a more active role advocating at the federal level for access to mental health care and the arts.
  • The increased momentum in our licensure success continues! This momentum builds on the dedicated work of so many throughout the AATA’s history. In an October blog post, “5 Building Blocks to Achieving Art Therapy Licensure in All 50 States,” we review some of the milestones that made our licensure strategy possible today and outline our approach to licensure in detail.
  • It’s hard to keep up with all the action in the states, so we’ve made it easy by creating a Legislative News category on our News page where you can scroll through the updates. Here are the key legislative events from 2019:
    • This year art therapists in Connecticut achieved independent licensure! The Clinical Licensed Art Therapist (CLAT) is already being issued by the Connecticut Department of Public Health.
    • Bills making legislative fixes to education requirements in existing art therapy licenses were enacted in Maryland and Oregon.
    • Art therapy legislation was introduced in 14 states during the 2019 legislative sessions, including eight bills for independent art therapy licensure (CT, DC, IA, MA, NH, PA, TN, and OH).
  • Our momentum in obtaining external accreditation also continues to grow. The first 12 art therapy graduate programs have received initial accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Ten of the programs received accreditation in 2019, and we look forward to announcing more in 2020. The transition from approval through the AATA’s Educational Programs Approval Board (EPAB) to accreditation through CAAHEP has been years in the making, and it’s great to see these results! In addition to further professionalizing art therapy programs, the availability of third party accreditation has prompted several institutions to create graduate programs in art therapy, expanding access to education in the field.

Strides in Federal Advocacy

Christopher Stowe, Master Gunnery Sergeant, USMC (ret.); Cynthia Woodruff, AATA Executive Director; and Americans for the Arts President and CEO Robert Lynch.
While our top priorities, licensure and reimbursement for art therapists, occur at the state level where we focus our legislative efforts, we also stay apprised of federal mental health and arts issues. We advocate with our collaborators and coalitions for improved mental health and arts policies.
  • In February of this year, Christopher Stowe Master Gunnery Sergeant, USMC (ret.) testified on behalf of the AATA alongside Americans for the Arts CEO Robert Lynch before the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. Mr. Stowe spoke of his life-changing experience with art therapy through the Creative Forces program at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) at Walter Reed and urged the Subcommittee to increase funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) by $12.5 to $167.5 for FY 2020. We’re pleased to announce that on December 17th the House of Representatives passed their FY 2020 funding bills which included funding the NEA at $162.25 million, a $7.25 million increase, the largest amount in a decade! Also included was $5 million in direct appropriation to the Veteran Affairs Department for creative arts therapies to treat veterans through their Whole Health initiative.
  • We continue to work with coalitions and collaborating organizations to advocate for access to quality mental health care and the arts. This year for the first time ever the, AATA joined the National Council for Behavioral Health and over 600 advocates for Behavioral Health Hill Day 2019 to advocate for legislation to improve our nation’s mental health care. Once again, we took a stand for the arts by participating in Americans for the Arts’ Arts Advocacy Day, taking an active role in drafting the briefs and training advocates in the policy agenda around arts in health and arts in the military. With our colleagues in the National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations (NCCATA), we worked to spread awareness during Creative Arts Therapies Week in March and issued joint letters in support of two insurance bills in New York that would have expanded coverage for licensed creative arts therapists (LCAT) in the state.
  • Recognizing the importance of access to mental health care in the 2020 elections dialogue, the AATA joined the Mental Health for US, a nonpartisan educational initiative focused on elevating mental health and addiction in national policy conversations by empowering grassroots advocates and improving candidate and policymaker health literacy, as a coalition member.
  • Through our coalitions such as the Mental Health Liaison Group and the National Alliance of Specialized Instructional Support Personnel (NASISP), the AATA signed onto over 20 joint letters to lawmakers in support of improved federal mental health policy.

New Professional Development Opportunities

Attendees at the Inaugural International Art Therapy Practice/Research Conference in London
The AATA is committed to continue providing your favorite programs and features while also expanding with new experiences and responding to your needs.
  • On December 7th, the AATA offered our very first virtual conference! With over 40 attendees, 13 presenters, and seven sessions, this new virtual format paves the way for even more online educational offerings that bring the content to you.
  • The AATA’s 50th Conference in Kansas City was a success! Almost 1000 attendees enjoyed learning through over 230 education sessions and many more opportunities for networking and exploring the depths of the field. We were pleased to host U.S. Representative Sharice Davids (KS-3), a champion for mental health, and Kansas State Representative Jerry Stogsdill (District 21)sponsor of the Kansas art therapy licensure bill, at conference!
  • In July of 2019, the AATA teamed up with the British Association of Art Therapists to offer the Inaugural International Art Therapy Practice/Research Conference that gathered over 700 attendees from more than 35 countries in London.
  • We are continuing to expand our course offerings on the AATA’s Institute for Continuing Education in Art Therapy (ICE/AT).
  • Beginning in December, we are also launching a brand new online platform, compatible with members’ MyAATA login, to further streamline your online experience with the AATA and to make accessing these continuing education courses a more user-friendly experience.

Enhanced Membership Experience

This year we have continued our work to make sure every member’s experience with the AATA, whether in-person or online, is a positive one.
  • Our MyAATA online community forum passed the 1,000 posts milestone! Members have discussed a wide range of topics within the art therapy field and participated in hosted series such as the Journal Chat, that provides an opportunity to dialogue with authors who had articles that were published in 2019 issues. It has been truly rewarding to see this community grow and to witness art therapists lifting each other up in real-time, exchanging best practices and words of encouragement.
  • We’ve welcomed Anita Douglas, Senior Manager of Membership to our National Office team this year and she has been hard at work in improving membership experience, renewal, and retention.
Thank you to all our members for your support in fulfilling our mission of advancing art therapy – we could not do it without you! Check out our 2018 and 2017 wrap ups to see how far we’ve come over the past several years. We look forward to what we can accomplish together in 2020!