Friday, May 07, 2021

Website Shares Bright Illustrations for Mental Health Awareness and Self-care

There is a website that I recently discovered, Blessing, out of my home state that I find very helpful as a therapist.  I enjoy using her brightly-colored artistic snapshots for mental health awareness, well-being, and self-care with patients and love that she makes them available to everyone.  I just wanted to share a few of her latest offerings and encourage you to check out her website and FB page.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Is Art Therapy the Best Treatment for PTSD?

It was nice to come across this article, as it supports the effectiveness of art therapy for mental health treatment, especially for PTSD.  I hope that the knowledge of art therapy continues to be known around the world as a integral treatment that is on par with or even exceeds the effectiveness of other therapies and should be included in all treatment settings.

Art Therapy Might Be The Perfect Treatment For PTSD

While some wounds, like scars, are visible to everyone, other wounds go unnoticed, trapped inside the human mind. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is commonly found in veterans. Unfortunately, many veterans don’t get the treatment that they need to recover from this invisible struggle. Oftentimes, veterans are afraid to speak up about their PTSD because they worry about the mental health stigma that accompanies it.

Melissa Walker, an art therapist at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE), explains that PTSD shuts down the speech-language area of the brain and renders sufferers speechless with fear. This is the reason why so many of our nation’s bravest return home and suffer in solitude. Recovering from PTSD involves working through these traumatic experiences that the sufferers don’t usually want to talk about. Thankfully, Walker explains that art therapy could be the perfect treatment for PTSD.

Art as a Psychotherapeutic Therapy

Walker says in her TED Talk, “Art Can Heal PTSD’s Invisible Wounds,” that “the process of art therapy bypasses the speech-language issue with the brain. Art-making accesses the same sensory areas of the brain that encode trauma. Service members can use the art-making to work through their experiences in a non-threatening way”. Additionally, the Art Therapy article, “Art Therapy Helping Veterans,” states, “Sometimes a person just can’t face the fact that it is okay to leave the baggage of war behind. By expressing how one really feels in the pit of the soul through the use of art, perhaps the mind can begin to let go of the trauma by transferring the images and ideas to another object of their creation through the medium of art”.

Veterans and Art Therapy

Furthermore, art helps veterans suffering from PTSD reintegrate their left side of their brain with their right side. By creating artwork, PTSD sufferers can slowly learn to voice their experiences and move passed their fears. At the same time, art also allows veterans take their mind off the things that are bothering them at the same time that they are confronting them.

PTSD and Mask-Making

While Walker explains that all types of art can benefit veterans with PTSD, she’s seen the most success in mask-making. Perhaps the reason that mask-making is such an effective therapy is that it allows veterans to give a literal face to their fears. Walker says, “when service members create these masks, it allows them to come to grips, literally, with their trauma. And it’s amazing how often that enables them to break through the trauma and start to heal”.

PTSD Art Therapy

Additionally, the article, “Healing Invisible Wounds: Art Therapy and PTSD,” by Renee Fabian, also reaffirms the success of mask making. Fabian writes, “Clients examine feelings and thoughts about trauma by making a mask or drawing a feeling and discussing it. Art builds grounding and coping skills by photographing pleasant objects. It can help tell the story of trauma by creating a graphic timeline”.


One of the veterans that Walker worked with at NICoE says that after making masks, he was able to speak up about experiences that he hadn’t been able to talk about for 23 years. He explains, “You sort of just zone out into the mask. You zone out into the drawing, and for me, it just released the block, so I was able to do it.”


In a world where there are so many different treatment plans for physical wounds, it’s nice to know that people are working to help those with invisible ones. Art Therapy could be the perfect treatment for PTSD. 

Madison Linnihan

Madison Linnihan

Madison Linnihan is a contributing editor with AmeriForce Media. She currently writes weekly blog posts for Military Families Magazine and The Reserve & National Guard Magazine, as well as contributing feature articles to both magazines. She is a senior at Troy University with an English Major and dance minor.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Musical Meme Illustrates Couples Therapy

A cute music/therapy crossover.

 Sound familiar to any couples therapists?

(h/t NPR Classical)


Friday, March 19, 2021

CIA Agent Uses Art Therapy to Heal from TBI

I read this interesting article about a CIA agent who received TBI treatment at the NICoE.  What I also found encouraging was that he noted art therapy to be one of the most helpful aspects of his treatment.

After 26 years with the CIA, I had silent wounds

"But what was most useful for me was the softer side of healing that is science based and proven to be effective in treating TBI.

A mask therapy program at the NICoE, in which TBI victims are encouraged by trained art therapists to express themselves by creating masks, helped me tremendously.

I put a great deal of thought and time into my mask -- a Superman-inspired one -- and wrote an accompanying poem. Both signified what my family thought of me for so long. A once invincible case officer on the tip of the spear for the US government, who served bravely and with distinction in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places I cannot name.

The mask was attached to a wooden plaque, with the background of the CIA seal cracked in half. It symbolized how I later had to fight some in the organization in order to obtain proper medical care. An ice pick is drilled through the mask as well, showing the headaches I still suffer from 24/7. Making this mask was a deeply cathartic experience for me, which -- along with talking to the resident chaplain and other talented mental health professionals -- has helped me begin to heal from the moral injury that I suffered. My kids recently sent me a text that stated "Dad, you are still our superman." I bawled like a baby."

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Monday, January 25, 2021

Decreasing the Stigma of Seeking Behavioral Health Treatment

This is a good start trying to decrease the stigma of seeking out support for psychological needs among the military.  As of now, the behavioral health department is the largest department in many, if not most, MTFs currently.  There are a lot of services available to military members and dependents as well that are available for them to take advantage of when dealing with military trauma as well as everyday life issues.  I think the stigma has diminished, but changing a way of thinking within an organization as well as not taking actions seen as punitive as a result of seeking help takes time and can always be improved.  I hope that the military - and society in general - no longer see going to a therapist or psychiatrist any different as going to the doctor when you have a cold.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Making an Altered Book to Process 2020

I was thinking I need to do more art lately. I came across a 2020 planner that I never ended up using at all, and it's a cute little hardback calendar. I hate to throw out a totally unused item, and then I got to thinking....I recommend altered book making to my clients fairly often, and had the epiphany that I should turn the planner into an altered book to process the year. I started the first pages today! I will keep adding to this post as I finish other pages. I hope you enjoy this as well and perhaps consider making your own art, too!

Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Impact of the COVID19 Pandemic on Aspects of Mental Health

I saw some relevant news from MedPage Today regarding the impact of the pandemic on mental health, psychiatric practitioners, and the way we do therapy as a result. I still see at least 50% of my patients virtually now. I'll put all the articles here for convenience: 

More and more psychiatrists are facing burnout amid the pandemic-related mental health crisis. (Business Insider)  

Reflecting this crisis, wait times for a psychiatric-unit bed are sometimes reaching a month long in Massachusetts. (Cambridge Day)  

According to a study including a representative sample of the U.S. adult population ages 20 and older, telehealth was utilized by more than half of patients for a behavioral health condition during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Journal of General Internal Medicine) 

Friday, January 15, 2021

A Splintered Mind

I came across this song the other day, and listening to the lyrics, it reminds me a lot of patients I work with. Many times music can capture an experience or emotion.  Perhaps it might resonate with you.


Thursday, December 31, 2020

Guest Blog: The Healing Power of Art in the Home

I am pleased to present a guest post from Pia De Los Reyes, a writer who specializes in the lifestyle and insurance spaces. She earned an M.A. in Communication after using her passion for mental health to study social support and expressive writing. Here, she shares with us the importance of art in our homes and how artistic d├ęcor affects our psychology.

The Healing Power of Art in the Home
by Pia De Los Reyes

Art in the home does more than just serving up beautiful aesthetics. Research has shown that viewing art actually comes with a variety of mental health, wellness, and community benefits, and art therapy has an incredible power to help with healing. With more time being spent at home now more than ever, it’s important to curate your home art in a way that inspires, stimulates, and brings meaning to your space. 

Learn about the diverse benefits of art in the home and how to curate your own collection at home.

Please include attribution to with this graphic.

Home wellness technology

Mental Health Benefits of Art

According to a Harvard study, making and viewing art helps to stimulate memory and interpersonal connection. This was especially beneficial for individuals with dementia and older adults. Expression through art was also found to help reduce depression, stress, and anxiety. Art can also help those with cancer cope and create meaning in the wake of their diagnosis. 

Wellness Benefits of Art 

Curated art in your home not only showcases your personality, but allows you to welcome a host of positive thoughts and feelings into your space. Art cultivates empathy and inspires creativity, and it offers opportunities for conversation and critical thinking. Viewing art is also proven to trigger pleasure by releasing dopamine in our brains.  

Community Benefits of Art

Investing in art from local artists or galleries helps to infuse money into the local community. Supporting local art also comes with perks like getting to know the artist more personally and purchasing art that often has a connection to the community. 

How to Curate Your Own Art

It’s easy to reap the benefits that displaying art can bring to your home. Get started with these five tips: 

  1. Get inspired by your personal style! Use your favorite colors and textures as a starting point, create an inspiration board, and mix and match from there.

  2. Choose pieces that speak to you. If your art is meant to heal, pick pieces that express your journey. Art in your home should uplift your soul and bring you joy everyday.

  3. Add a personal touch. Personalized art adds meaning to your space. Choose pieces that represent your heritage or special moments in your life. Commission a piece if you can’t find one that already exists or make one yourself!

  4. Display like a pro. Hang solo pieces at eye level for maximum enjoyment or group multiple pieces using the rule of three. 

  5. Protect your investments. If you invest in or commission art pieces, remember to include them in personal property protection within your home insurance. Take care to monitor humidity levels and keep pieces out of direct sunlight to prevent damage as well.

Artistic expression comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors. The process of expressing yourself is what helps to bring on the many benefits of art. Enjoy the process and bring the healing power of art to your home by curating your collection today! 

Friday, December 04, 2020 Features Color Me Happy and Color Me Grateful Among Best Coloring Books for Moms

I'm continuing to be amazed at where I find my books. Sometimes they are "new" finds for me, even though they've been online for a while. Here I found both "Color Me Grateful" and "Color Me Happy" on's "Amazing and Beautiful Coloring Books for Moms." It's fun to discover, and I'm glad that people are still getting use from them! Thank you for featuring them!

Monday, November 30, 2020

Short Film Illustrates Parts of Self

I was reminded of this video recently that well-illustrates our parts of self. One of the clips was shown during my IFS training, and when I went back and watched the whole short, I realized it gives a great visual to some of our parts of self that we may struggle with internally every day, but may not realize where it's coming from. This could be a good tool to use with clients (though it does include some profanity) to springboard further discussions. 

Woman of a Certain Age from Kate Dearing on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Coloring to Cope with COVID

My art therapy colleagues Gioia and Rebecca highlighted the benefits of coloring during the pandemic as a way of coping with COVID.  Their Creative Wellbeing Workshops, LLC newsletter featured a coloring book that Rebecca created, called Coloring Creates Wellbeing:  The Desert Mandalas Coloring Book, so she is not only an art therapist colleague, she is also a fellow coloring book creator!  Check out their suggestions for helping deal with the continued effects of the C19 pandemic.

Sarah coloring "Agave Grande" from the Coloring Creates Wellbeing: The Desert Mandalas Coloring Book


With the heightened stress of the recent elections and the resurgence of the virus converging with the upcoming holidays, we've been asked to write more on coping with COVID.   One of our favorite stress reducing strategies is coloring.  This is perhaps not surprising, since this is one of Rebecca's passions and she illustrated a coloring book (more about the Desert Mandalas Coloring Book below).

The simplest and most compelling reason we promote coloring is that it is so effective at helping people relax.  You don't have to be an artist, or know how to draw, or even particularly like art.  The pre-existing designs invite people to jump in and then the repetitive action of filling in the designs gets them into flow.  

This is especially helpful for people who wish that they could meditate but who find it too difficult to sit still--coloring produces many of the same physiological effects.  Please note that we are not suggesting that coloring is a replacement for meditating.  However, it is remarkable that coloring is so successful at creating the stress reducing benefits that people are trying to achieve through meditating.  

For example, coloring induces the relaxation response which includes lowering of the heart rate and blood pressure, as well as beneficial changes in brain wave activity. It helps people focus, concentrate, and be more mindful.  It also provides a positive distraction from anxious and pressured thoughts.  Click here if you want to learn more about the scientific benefits of coloring.  

Now that adult coloring has become so popular, the selection of coloring books is practically endless.  There are coloring books that feature everything from your favorite pets and plants to your favorite musicians, actors, and public figures.  You can find coloring books that are more simple and straightforward or very complex and detailed.  

If you're ready to experiment with coloring, here is one the most popular images from Rebecca's  Desert Mandalas Coloring Book.    If you want to get the book for yourself or as a gift for someone who needs to relax more and manage his/her stress, i t will be on sale for 10% off the rest of November and December.   Click here to check out the book and  see thumbnails of the other images.  

As always, we send you our well-wishes during these challenging times.  Please know that we are with you in our thoughts and sending you our love and appreciation.   
Stay safe and well during the holidays, 
Positively Rebecca & Gioia

Art activity
Print either the coloring sheet above, this one here, or find one online that appeals to you.  
Gather some art supplies--usually people use crayons, markers, and pencils but you can also use pastels or paints if the paper is thick enough.  See how you respond to the coloring process.  We hope if it helps you quiet your mind and relax.  As always, feel free to post your artwork on our  Facebook page .  We'd love to see them.      

ON SALE!   Rebecca's coloring book is available again and on sale for the rest of November and December!  
10% Off during November and December.  Thirty unique designs showcasing the magical flora and fauna of the Arizona Sonoran desert to help you relax, reduce your stress, and get you into flow.   Includes   an introduction on the benefits  of coloring and suggestions for coloring.  

30 Unique Coloring Designs
10% Discount Nov and Dec/On Sale $23 (normally $26)
Spiral Bound so pages lie flat
Larger 10 x 10 inch format  
Printed on heavier one-sided paper
No bleed through 
Use discount code: holidaysale2020

Order  Coloring Creates Wellbeing: The Desert Mandalas Coloring Book  now to get the discount! Read about the therapeutic benefits of coloring  here .   
Positive Art Therapy Theory and Practice: Integrating Positive Psychology.  
Available at a 30%  markdown.  We hope y ou'll find this manual both entertaining and practical--an invaluable tool for anyone looking to apply the most current theory and research on positive psychology and art therapy to their practice, or their life! 
For faculty who might want to adopt this book as a text, we added thoughtful discussion questions, a robust glossary, and useful lists of strengths and values. The book also includes a comprehensive outline of more than 80 of our favorite positive art therapy directives!

282 pages,19 Color Illustrations
Hardcover, $127.5 .00Paperback, $ 32.21 
Kindle Edition, $ 32.21

For more details or to request a copy for review please contact: 
Jean Pierre Jacome, Marketing Assistant, 
Want more wellbeing and less stress?  We can help!  
Visit us at our website
 or call 202 352 5225

Friday, November 20, 2020

Art Therapist Features Work with Vocational Religious

Art therapist at the Saint Luke Institute, Nancy Parfitt Hondros, writes a feature about art therapy, how the creative outlet through art therapy aids in healing, and includes a case study of how art therapy helped a nun through her issues and allowed her to open up and trust more. Check out this great piece highlighting art therapy and how it can be used in so many ways! 

The Power of Creativity in Healing 
LukeNotes, Fall 2020 

Self-awareness is a foundational element of both mental and spiritual health. At times we find we are just going through the motions of everyday life. When on autopilot, we are not always conscious of the choices we make, how we respond to others, or the negative thoughts that occupy our minds. 

In real terms, this might mean praying without confidence or intention, hurting a colleague’s feelings, or abusing food or a substance to manage anxiety or sleeplessness. Choosing to look at what is underneath our thoughts, feelings, and actions requires courage and forms the basis for an authentic relationship with God, self, and others. 

Fear can also drive us to hide our real selves, so we smile when we are sad or ignore a family member when angry. The self we often share with others may only be a small portion of who we really are. When we become well-practiced at sharing only our external mask we may lose touch with the fearfully, wonderfully made being created in God’s image (Psalm 139:14). 

Art therapy is one tool that helps us gain insight into our personality, motivations, and behaviors. The focus is on the individual expressing his or her inner world. It is introspective. The art makes visible what is unseen or unacknowledged. Creativity can lead to greater self-awareness, helping us perceive the world in new ways, find hidden patterns, and make connections between seemingly unrelated experiences. 

By engaging our imagination, we can learn to take risks, ignore lingering doubts, and face our fears. Creativity’s therapeutic value lies in its ability to bypass the patterns of intellectualization and rationalization that undermine healthy thinking and decision-making. 

Foundations of Art Therapy 

Art therapy encourages people to convey and understand emotions through artistic expression such as collage, painting, sculpting, or poetry. At Saint Luke Institute, this specialized therapy offers each client a permanent and tangible record of their experience. As a primarily non-verbal intervention, art therapy allows images to present themselves and open the door to thoughts, feelings, and memories previously unexpressed, thus opening a path to verbal expression. These visual or sensory images accessed through a creative process support the expression of suppressed experiences for which words are inadequate (Naumberg, 1987). 

A range of materials are used for creative expression, but two mainstays are collage and mask making. Collages create a picture from seemingly disparate published images. They are an introduction to art therapy and provide an opportunity for creative problem-solving by fully activating the logical and creative sides of the brain. The artist has control of the process with support from peers and the art therapist. This sense of control is important as a client becomes acclimated to residential treatment. Clients are often surprised when their selected imagery moves emotions or experiences from the unconscious to the conscious. 

Mask making brings order to chaotic thoughts, feelings, and experiences and serves as a container for expression. Through the mask, the client artist acknowledges how he presents himself to others compared to how he feels on the inside. Masks are frequently shared with the primary therapist and often serve as a starting point for individual and group therapy sessions. 

Stages of Change in Art Therapy 

Clients often express an initial resistance to art therapy, as they may lack experience with painting or collage making and feel uncomfortable. Many clients protest, “I can’t draw,” or “I’m not an artist.” Gradually, this initial reluctance yields to an exploration of life experiences, such as parental alcoholism or divorce, and hurtful incidents, such as childhood bullying or peer rejection. 

Throughout the art therapy process a client’s knowledge base increases as she shares the meaning behind her creative projects and receives both critical feedback and affirmation from peers. As clients begin to relate to each other’s experiences, closer bonds are formed within the group. In time, clients connect their reactions to current life situations and how these interactions relate to foundational life experiences. 

As this awareness develops, clients become leaders in art and other therapy groups, serving as a role model to new members, thus perpetuating the circle of healing. The clinical team may recommend individual art therapy to support this deeper exploration of issues. Through group or individual art therapy many clients discover creativity as an essential tool for self-care. In preparing for discharge, clients formulate a Continuing Care Plan with their therapist that articulates several strategies and concrete actions for maintaining health after residential treatment. Ultimately, Saint Luke Institute clients are empowered to maintain their recovery and health using tools such as art, mindfulness, prayer, and 12-step programs. 

Naumberg, M. (1987). Dynamically Oriented Art Therapy: Its Principles and Practices. Chicago, IL: Magnolia Street Publishers. 

Nancy Parfitt Hondros, MA, ATR-BC, LGPAT, LGPC, is an art therapist at Saint Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland. 

The Power of Creativity in Healing: Case Study 
Lukenotes, Fall 2020 

Sister Cecilia was raised in a small Polish town but often felt like an outsider as the only girl of nine children. Her father regularly drank to excess and was emotionally and verbally abusive. Her mother cowered from her husband’s anger and did not intervene for the children. Bullied in school, Sister Cecilia again felt like an outsider of little worth. As she had learned not to depend on her parents, so she also distrusted other people. This wariness eventually affected her relationships with community members and co-workers, leading to frequent angry outbursts, biting comments, and attempts to control people and situations. 

As a child, Sister Cecilia visited the nuns at her church, with whom she felt affirmed, to escape family tensions and bullying. She flourished in this spotlight and went on to attend the university, where she built friendships and had academic success. Responding to God’s call, she entered the convent after graduation. During initial formation, her anxiety increased, and her self-esteem plummeted when she heard her formators’ guidance as criticism. Despite these issues, she professed final vows and enjoyed her work as a nurse at the order’s hospital. She returned to school, earning a degree in social work, and began working as a hospice counselor. 

Sister Cecilia felt rewarded by her work with hospice patients and their families. Positive feedback from her patients increased her self-esteem. 

However, the hospital staff had a different response to her. They resented Sister Cecilia when she challenged the quality of their patient care and publicly criticized the staff. Angered by her interference, the staff asked for her removal. Instead of taking this permanent action, Sister Cecilia’s superior counseled her about her interference and negative exchanges with the staff. 

In the short term, Sister Cecilia responded to the feedback and tried to adjust her exchanges with coworkers and community members, but the problems resurfaced as she grieved a patient and family member’s death. This led to her reassignment to an independent hospice facility. Unfortunately, Sister Cecilia’s superior received new complaints about her interactions with others. A more significant intervention was needed. 

A New Beginning 

The Mother Superior recommended an evaluation at Saint Luke Institute in the United States in response to Sister Cecilia’s difficulties with interpersonal relationships. Sister Cecilia felt concerned about travelling outside of her homeland but was relieved to leave the conflict of community life. She hoped that this opportunity would lead to understanding her impatience and irritation. She knew of other sisters who had been referred to Saint Luke Institute; they returned to community life with an inner calm and spoke positively of their experience. She wondered if the same could be true for her.

When she arrived at Saint Luke Institute, a team of clinicians listened to Sister Cecilia’s personal history and completed clinical, psychological, and spiritual assessments. These provided the team with a full picture of Sister Cecilia’s life experiences and a deeper understanding of her needs. The evaluation team concluded that the women’s residential program (Talitha Life) would best support Sister Cecilia as she addressed past wounds. 

The Shift 

Sister Cecilia loved art, but she questioned art as a form of therapy. She discovered that her worry lessened as her art began to speak for her, especially as she was initially uncomfortable conveying her thoughts and feelings in English. During one session, she expressed her self-image through a mask; it was blank on the outside with a big smile on the inside. 

As she shared her mask with her peers, they questioned the mask’s message and her attitude within the group. They voiced their fear of her harsh comments and her reluctance to fully engage in the group process. Sister Cecilia revealed to her primary therapist how hurt she felt by the feedback. As they explored her hurt feelings together, the therapist helped her reflect on how their response paralleled the comments from her community members and coworkers. 

Gradually, as she poured her energy into the art therapy sessions, Sister Cecilia’s attitude changed. Her irritation, mistrust, and anger began to subside, and she gained the self-awareness to accept her peers’ constructive feedback, recognize that it was not connected to previous wounds, and offer feedback with kind assertiveness. Sister Cecilia realized how art therapy helped her safely voice her challenging feelings, thoughts, and experiences. With the clinical team’s approval, she began individual art therapy.

The art therapist planned individual sessions to address Sister Cecilia’s self-criticism, need for control, and anger. On a weekly basis Sister Cecilia was asked to identify positive actions and thoughts that increased her self-worth. To prepare for discharge, Sister Cecilia created a collage reflecting her hopes for her return to community identifying the recovery tools best suited to support her healthy reintegration into community life. 

For confidentiality, reasons, names, identifying data, and other details of treatment have been altered.