Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Wake Up with Gratitude Podcast Features Lacy Mucklow

Many thanks to Julie Boyer, Gratitude Guru at #WakeUpwithGratitudePodcast for having me on her show!  I am grateful to be your guest, talking about art therapy and more!

Episode #151 – How Does Creating Art Give Us a Way to Deal with Trauma? (Lacy Mucklow)

Have you ever used coloring books for adults? Chances are you might have colored in one of Lacy Mucklow’s books! Lacy is a registered, board certified, and licensed Art Therapist in the Washington, DC area. She’s also the bestselling author of the Color Me Series, including Color Me Grateful. Her books have been translated into more than 15 languages. We talk about what Art Therapy is, how she became an author and why you should never give up on your blog!

Apple podcast:


Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The Healing Power of Art - Healing Arts Exhibit

It's amazing to see all the artwork submitted for the Healing Arts Exhibit, hosted annually at Walter Reed by the Arts in Health program.

Healing Is An Art, Art is Healing: Exhibit Highlights the Healing Power of Art

Photo By Bernard Little | Service members look at art included in the Healing Arts Exhibit on display throughout... read more

Story by Bernard Little 
 Walter Reed National Military Medical Center 

Healing is an art, and art is healing was the sentiments shared among those who attended the opening ceremony for the 18th Annual Healing Arts Exhibit at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Oct. 27. The exhibit showcases artworks by military members, veterans, retirees, family members, WRNMMC staff, volunteers and others, many who received their health care at the medical center. The exhibit will be on display in the pavilion between the America Building and the America Garage at WRNMMC throughout November, Warrior Care Month. 

U.S. Public Health Service Capt. Moira McGuire, chief of the Arts in Health Program at WRNMMC, has been one of the coordinators for the exhibit since it began. “It’s amazing to think we have been able to put on this exhibit for 18 years,” she said. While there’s been some changes, McGuire said what hasn’t changed is the enthusiasm and excitement on the faces of people and what they say as they go through the exhibit. McGuire, also assistant chief of Integrated Health Services at WRNMMC, added it has always been a team effort to put on the exhibit, supported and nurtured by the John P. Murtha Cancer Center at WRNMMC and the arts and health activities at the medical center. 

 The annual exhibit began as part of the medical center’s observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month because most of the artwork was produced by breast cancer patients. The idea for the exhibit came when the hematology/oncology staff discovered the artwork patients were creating while being treated for breast cancer. Over the years, participation in the art show expanded to include the works by other patients, family members, staff and more. 

Brig. Gen. Jack Davis, WRNMMC director, added in addition to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, October is also National Arts and Humanities Month. “As the flagship of military medicine, we have a duty in leading the country in developing new and innovative resources to meet the challenging needs of our military community. These innovations include the emerging field of art and health.” He added the arts are “an [integral] and necessary component of the hospital environment to promote and maintain wellness.” 

Navy Capt. Carlos Williams, director of the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, agreed. NICoE, a part of WRNMMC, works to advance the clinical care, diagnosis, research and education of those in the military community with traumatic brain injuries and psychological health conditions, frequently called “the invisible wounds of war.” NICoE’s art therapy program, which has received national attention, started in 2010 and helps beneficiaries heal from the traumatic conditions, as well as express themselves and their emotions through art. “NICoE’s goal is to support people in holistically healing, and the creative arts program helps in accomplishing this mission,” Williams said. 

Louis Celli, an Army retiree, agreed. “We didn’t talk about our feelings during my generation of service. I didn’t understand what art therapy was, probably like the rest of the guys in my squad, platoon, company, and battalion. The evolution of the services to now recognize how important these types of programs are is instrumental in the healing process that goes on in the veterans we served with and interact with every single day, said Celli, who served as director of veterans affairs and rehabilitation with the American Legion. 

WRNMMC Command Master Chief Trey Hauptmann said art has always been a passion of his, “whether it was cooking and making the plates look appealing so my kids would eat, [or painting]. To actually spend time and create an emotion out of something, is what I’ve been always trying to do and what you will see in my art. It’s not one thing that I want you to see. I want you to interpret what you want to see. It’s your perspective that makes art great. It’s your perspective that makes the meaning come alive in your heart, your mind and your soul.” 

Veterans and former patients of WRNMMC affiliated with Uniting Us, a group focused on sharing the empowering quality of art, discussed their works and what inspires it during the exhibit’s opening ceremony. 

“Art has been a real gift to me,” said Dr. Alicia Christy, a retired Army colonel. “Art has allowed me to celebrate the heroes in my life,” she added. Christy’s portraits of “women who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars” are part of the Healing Arts Exhibit at WRNMMC. Her artwork has also been used in medical publications, and Colin Powell owned a portrait she did of him. 

Steve Alpert, a professional artist and veteran art mentor, taught art therapy classes at WRNMMC. He said his teaching philosophy is, “Artists make art to learn the truth about themselves. It’s about storytelling and your personal story, but no one has to know it’s your personal story.” 

April Goodwin-Gill, also an Army veteran, agreed. “The art I do has always kept me grounded. Sometimes, suicide is right around the door and I have to talk myself off the ledge. The way I do it is with my art. Thank God for the arts. Right when it seems like the ship is sinking, God will show me another way to be able to express myself, either through my paintings, dolls, stories and plays. I have to be able to express myself.” 

In his presidential proclamation for National Arts and Humanities Month, President Joe Biden stated, “We celebrate the power of the arts and humanities to provide solace, understanding and healing. We recognize the ability of the arts and humanities to amplify important and diverse voices and messages. We reflect on the fact that, as we have struggled with isolation, anxiety, and the loss of loved ones, we have turned to music and dance, literature and poetry, and philosophy and history to bring us together and help us persevere through, and grapple with, our current moment.” Biden added, “From our nation’s earliest days, we have recognized the arts as a foundation of our republic. As George Washington wrote in 1781, ‘The arts and sciences [are] essential to the prosperity of the state and to the ornament and happiness of human life.’ Today, any American, regardless of their background, can create art and turn to it for hope, acceptance and inspiration.” 

For more information about the Arts in Health Program at WRNMMC, contact Capt. Moira McGuire at 301-319-8755.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The Art Therapy Program at NDMU

I'm so happy to be a supervisor for NDMU's graduate art therapy program. My intern Em is a great ambassador for art therapy, and she is a wonderful spokesperson to be featured in the video for their program.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Color Me Books Translated into Multiple Languages

I am still amazed at what has come from the coloring books that I wrote with Angela's illustrations and how global they really became.  From what I know, the books have been translated into numerous languages, including the following:

Color Me Calm:

French, German, Korean, French, Arabic, Norwegian, Chinese (Simplified and Complex characters), Bulgarian, Russian, Japanese, Portuguese, Swedish, Spanish, Estonian

Color Me Happy:

Korean, French, Bulgarian, Portuguese, Chinese, Spanish, Swedish, French

Color Me Stress-Free:

French, Chinese, Norwegian, Spanish, Swedish, German

A couple of days ago, I got two boxes from my publishing company with some editions of these translated books.  It's hard to describe the feeling to see your words translated into multiple languages around the world.  

Please comment on the pictures below if they are in your native language!  I would love to hear from you!






French (Canada and France)



Bulgarian and Russian

Australian English

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Artists are not Athletes

This is something that especially applies to art therapy. We talk about it often in session, especially in groups where people tend to compare their creative output with others in the group. Artistic skill is not needed to benefit from art therapy, and we work a lot on not putting value judgments on what they create - for others or themselves.  People have all kinds of various experiences, talents, exposure, and interest levels in art, and each piece people create is unique and individualized to them.  There is no right or wrong way to create art in an art therapy session, which I do think is harder to internalize in a group setting than an individual setting, though there are plenty of inner critics out there who will fill that role for people in the absence of a group.  The art helps you connect to your own self-expression and creativity, and holds meaning for YOU...that is what we focus on in art therapy.  It can be an attitude helpful for anyone who creates art as well.  It is hard to shift gears from a performance-based society, but it can be done.  Feel free to express yourself!

Friday, October 15, 2021

Art Solitaire

For those of you who like Solitaire, Solitaired has created a new digital deck of cards with classic art paintings for their cards.  It could be a mindful time to take a break and learn about artists and some of their famous works as you play!

Check out the deck here:

Thursday, October 07, 2021

How Art Therapy Works Especially Well with Trauma

I came across this article about art therapy that I found to be very good and describes well how art therapy works, especially with trauma. I hope it is a helpful read!

‘Not just for people with big problems’: How art therapy can unlock hidden trauma

From the embarrassment of being reprimanded to the deep scars from sexual assault, art therapy can help people heal. And you don’t need to be a Picasso to benefit from it.

Christy Yip


26 Sep 2021 06:15AM

(Updated: 28 Sep 2021 07:44PM)

The Solace Art Psychotherapy team. (Photo: Buvenasvari Pragasam)

SINGAPORE: When Deanna (not her real name) first started going for art therapy last year, it was to heal from a bad patch at work and pandemic-related stress. But the sessions also uncovered some hurts she thought she'd recovered from: A bad breakup from nine years ago.

“In those nine years, I’ve been in two other relationships,” she said. “To me and to everyone else around me, I’d moved on already.” Yet, one directive during her session — to draw someone standing in the rain — triggered memories of the fiance who cheated on her. Never mind that it was only a “stickman” that she had drawn. 

“It was a very painful memory... A very dark time in my life. It was interesting to me that I (was) somewhat stuck in that time,” said Deanna, 30, who requested anonymity.

The 18 sessions she went through involved doing picture collages, free doodling, plasticine modelling and other art-related activities. They helped bring back memories from her childhood that made her realise why she did not process her breakup well or handle subsequent relationships properly.

Such incidents are what art therapist Buvenasvari Pragasam, or Buvi, calls traumatic events. Trauma is commonly known as an emotional response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that affects one’s ability to cope, and a quick Google search throws up examples like being in a war zone or natural disaster.

But few know that distress can result from an embarrassing incident in the past, such as being told off by a parent or a faux pas among friends. Art therapy, said Buvenasvari, can provide a “portal” to unlock trauma that people are often not able to verbalise. And art skills are not needed to reap the full benefits of the experience.

Although still sometimes thought of as art jamming or colouring books, art therapy is, in fact, a form of psychotherapy using the creative arts that has been gaining traction in recent years.

It is a “distinct mental health discipline” that should be provided by a trained professional, said Ronald Lay, leader of LASALLE College of the Arts’ Master of Arts Art Therapy programme, whose training includes 816 hours of evidenced supervised clinical placement.

With more research showing how art therapy can support mental wellbeing, more art therapists are being hired as full-time staff in hospitals and voluntary welfare organisations, where previously they were engaged on a contract or project basis, said Ng Jue Ann, secretary of the Art Therapists’ Association of Singapore (ATAS).

Demand for art therapy has risen since the pandemic, especially during the “circuit breaker” period in 2020, said ATAS president Rachel Yang.

Some clients may have tried the more conventional “talk therapy”, or counselling, but may not feel it has helped them beyond a certain point, she said.


Art making is an activity that engages the right brain, explained Buvenasvari, and it will allow the individual to bring out memories that have been bottled up.

Studies have shown that traumatic memories are stored in the right brain, which is more intuitive, emotional and visual. In some cases, the right brain shuts down to block out overwhelming trauma in order to protect the individual “so that one can move on”, she said. 

The left brain, which affects one’s speech and reasoning, shuts down during the traumatic event and prevents the individual from verbally expressing what has happened, she added.

Sometimes, the left brain, which is the logical, verbal side, might “take over”, causing individuals to over-rationalise and “mask their trauma”.  

I don’t ask them what happened. The artwork reveals it.

This was the case for Allan (not his real name) when he first started seeking therapy in late 2019. He realised that he might “naturally leave out certain things (he) did not wish to share”.

But after hearing from a friend who was able to fully express himself “naturally, without realising” in art therapy, Allan decided to try it out. “It didn’t go beyond the third session for me to be convinced that we’re finding out a lot more,” said the 34-year-old, who spoke on condition of anonymity.  

This is why art therapists are wary of individuals without proper qualifications who tout their services as art therapy.

“They think that ‘hey, art making is therapeutic’. It is, but when (trauma) comes out… how are you going to support (the person) without causing further damage?” said Buvenasvari, who runs Solace Art Psychotherapy.

Unqualified providers might “re-traumatise” clients if they probe too deeply or “belittle” them by advising, said Yang. 

“We are not just painting a pretty picture. It’s a lot of psychodynamic work. Clients see this as a space to talk about deep psychological trauma,” said Yang. “If (providers) are not trained, they may ask the wrong questions, they may get them to do things that will do more harm.”


One of the benefits of art therapy in addressing trauma is not having to talk about the event itself. Clients like Deanna find it “less intimidating” as she doesn’t have to struggle to “find the words” to express how she feels. 

“I don’t ask them what happened. The artwork reveals it,” Buvenasvari said.

It also provides a “safe zone” where the therapist and client can address issues by talking about the artwork and not “directly” to the client. This, she said, lends a degree of separation and can make the client feel more comfortable.

With some simple directions, such as asking her client to freely doodle with a marker, Buvenasvari encourages them to create art intuitively. And from the results, she prompts them to explain what they see or connect with.

In one case, a client saw an elderly woman in her “squiggle drawing” and this reminded her of her late grandmother. Buvenasvari invited her to enhance the image and as the facial features appeared, the client opened up that she never actually processed her grief. 

She had been living with the guilt of feeling responsible for her grandmother’s death, Buvenasvari said.

In a session using ink and string to draw freely, another client saw dark roads, and was asked to add on to the imagery. She filled in some white spaces and it eventually revealed lips and a meadow within (which was later inked over), which triggered the memory of a domestic quarrel that she felt she could not speak up about. 

Even during the art making process, there are signs Buvenasvari can spot, such as when clients do not ask for help if they spill something. “That would reveal that they don’t have the help-seeking behaviour in real life,” she said. 

In one hand-painting session, Allan’s therapist noticed that he did not attempt to use his whole palm, only his fingertips. Was he uncomfortable with trying new things, his therapist asked. “I was very surprised that she was able to tell and identify these things,” he said. 

Art therapy helped him to understand why he suffered from low self-confidence. “There may have been a certain someone back in the past that may have affected me… as a kid,” said Allan. 

“It took me a while to realise that I may not have moved on, so the way I approached failures was in a very negative manner,” he explained. “I was able to go back and help that kid, (my) 10-year-old self or 15-year-old self and rewire that part of it."


Art therapy tries to “build up the healthy adult” by strengthening a person’s identity and addressing the root cause of certain behaviours or tendencies, said Buvenasvari.

“We all have our inner child. If your inner child has wounds, past scars, your inner child remains,” she said. “When you are an adult, sometimes regressing into that inner child is a way to deal with certain things, like throwing a tantrum.”

In Deanna’s case, her “biggest impetus” to sign up for art therapy was people telling her she was “angry all the time”. 

“I didn’t like that image of myself,” she said. “Why does everybody think I am this angry, hot-tempered person?”

There are a lot of things that, as we grow up, we keep sweeping under the rug.

During her art therapy sessions, she was able to revisit memories from both her childhood and the recent past. She realised that the root of her issues was feeling neglected as a child. 

She often had to care for herself, so anger became her defence mechanism when others tried to care for her. And in her relationships, she always felt that she was not good enough and often argued with her partner, she added. 

Beyond having clients express their trauma, Buvenasvari may encourage them to transform their art work, such as by clothing the person they have doodled, or providing a lifeline to, say, a dummy stuck in a glass bottle. 

“Part of them is out on the table, and it’s visible, so we are able to move things around, hold it, and feel it tangibly,” she said. “You are literally able to mould yourself, mould the trauma, transform it."

Sometimes when clients are not ready to address the issue, she would turn to “grounding techniques” such as the drawing of repeated patterns or creation of colour swatches. This helps to slow the mind. 

These are additional tools that therapists can employ that are not part of art therapy per se, and such activities can also be done at home when one feels overwhelmed, she said. 

For Deanna, being able to rip up the watercolour drawing that emerged based on memories of her ex-fiance helped her to “leave this memory behind”. She credits this action for now being able to talk about him without crying. 

And now that she knows anger is her defence mechanism, she is able to notice when “(her) heart is beating too fast or (her) thoughts are racing”. Instead of flying into a rage, “I will try to remove myself from the situation, go for a walk or go to a private space”, she said. “I don’t want to hurt myself or the people around me."


One of the biggest takeaways for Deanna is that therapy is not just “for people with big traumas and big problems”. It can benefit even those with “very simple” problems like difficulty sleeping or overachieving, which could have its roots in childhood trauma. 

“There are a lot of things that, as we grow up, we keep sweeping under the rug,” she said. 

And while some may fear revisiting skeletons in the closet or reopening a chapter that has supposedly been closed, Deanna thinks “it must be done” or “it will keep popping up in other ways in your life”.   

“When things happen to you, it's painful, traumatic,” said Buvenasvari. “Either you suppress it or you think you have healed from it, so you don't want to revisit it. But it’s there. Why is it so difficult for you to look at it again? It means that it’s still affecting you in one way or another.” 

Buvenasvari is happiest when she sees clients being able to verbalise their issues without feeling overwhelmed. That, to her, is a mark of “successful healing”. 

“When you really process your trauma, it is no longer a skeleton in the closet. It’s just an old T-shirt.”

To find out more about art therapy, visit The Red Pencil (Singapore): 

Where to get help:

Samaritans of Singapore Hotline: 1767 221 4444

Institute of Mental Health’s Helpline: 6389 2222

Singapore Association of Mental Health Helpline: 1800 283 7019

You can also find a list of international helplines here. If someone you know is at immediate risk, call 24-hour emergency medical services.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Podcast focuses on Mindfulness and Grief

I came across this podcast on Mindfulness and Grief that you may find helpful for yourself, someone you love, or a client.

Meditation for grief can help you cope with the pain and overwhelming emotions of loss, provide much needed self-care, as well as find new footing in your very changed world. It may even lead to posttraumatic growth. Author Heather Stang discusses the second edition of her book, Mindfulness & Grief, with guest host Karla Helbert.

The act of being mindful in your grieving process is about finding the places where you can create more space to allievate some suffering and to find the places where you can become the person that you want to be now that this has happened.

Heather Stang

In this episode the tables were turned—Karla Helbert, author of Yoga for Grief & Loss, interviewed me on my own podcast! This gave me an opportunity to share some "behind the scenes" tidbits from the second edition of Mindfulness & Grief, and explain how I developed the eight week program in the first place. Both Karla and I find the concept of Posttraumatic Growth interesting and powerful.  While neither of us see grief as a gift— in fact when I hear that I cringe in pain—but we agree that grief changes you.  The mindful approach to grief includes both acknowledging what you can not change, and taking charge where you can. This may included applying self-care techniques to your grieving body, mind, and spirit. Not being so hard on yourself by decreasing negative self-talk. Saying no to others when you just don't feel up to socializing. Getting that massage, doing yoga, and finding meditation and relaxation tools that help you get back to sleep. Spending times doing things that sooth your soul, or help you remember and honor your special person. Once you begin to take care of yourself,  you may start to find that you are benefiting from this self care and introspection. THIS IS NOT TO SAY YOU ARE BENEFITING FROM GRIEF! Right? You would rather have your special person. You are benefiting from how you are treating yourself, and now seeing the world. In fact, there are five domains of posttruamtic growth (Calhoun & Tedeschi, 2006):

  • Increased Appreciation of Personal Strength
  • Sense of New Opportunities & Possibilities
  • Deepened Sense of Connection & Compassion
  • Appreciation of Life in General
  • Spiritual or Religious Change
Please consider adding the second edition of Mindfulness & Grief to your collection, and leave a review on Amazon if you already have a copy. I tried to write the book I wanted to read, and I feel the updates in the new edition are helpful. Thank you for listening!

Friday, September 17, 2021

Are Colors Really Emotions?

This is an interesting article that looks at our perceptions of color and how they are connected with emotion rather than being simply refractions of light. Perhaps this is another reason why art therapy works so well with emotional components!

Evidence That Colors Are Emotions, Not the Properties of Light 

Understanding colors is the first step to understanding the nature of things. 

Posted September 13, 2021 | Reviewed by Kaja Perina 


  • Colors are deep patterns of emotions and neural connections, not the intrinsic physical properties of light. 
  • We cannot discern the components that make up color any more than we can discern the ingredients in a breakfast cereal. 
  • Understanding the subjective nature of rainbows is the first required leap to the true nature of things. 

What is red? Green? Blue? This may seem like a question too dumb to merit a moment’s contemplation.

The answer is not what you were taught in school. As explained in the new book The Grand Biocentric Design, the answer lies deeper than anyone thought. It involves our very selves.

To understand, let’s start by coming to a stop at a traffic light. We all agree the stoplight is “red,” even though we can never prove that the exact visual experience I call “red” is the same as yours. It doesn’t matter because, whatever it is, it stays consistent, and it has since someone thought to name the colors in the first place.

One of the big puzzles of consciousness is why we experience something called “red” to begin with. To understand the problem, consider the fact that visible light is part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is a gradient of electromagnetic radiation running from shorter to longer wavelengths, and includes gamma rays, radar, radio, and micro-waves (none of which we perceive as “color”).
Such fields are not “responsible” for the perception of color; indeed, they themselves are wholly invisible. At best, we should experience the visual spectrum as a grayscale continuum ranging from dark to light―a simple quantitative experience. But, for humans and some other animals, it isn’t. Instead, we have a unique qualitative experience.

Colors Are Associated with Deep Built-In Patterns of Emotions 
In 1965, researchers discovered three types of cone-shaped cells in the eye that, when stimulated, are associated with the unique visual sensations of red, green, and blue. Stimulation of each type of cone is associated with a unique experience. But how and why? A clue comes from the fact that fully two-thirds of these cone-shaped cells are the “L type” responsible for the sensation of red. This lopsided majority suggests that perceiving light in that range of the visual spectrum is of higher priority than perceiving other wavelengths of light.

Red likely gets extra attention from the brain because it’s associated with alarming, important events like injury and blood. In life, the sudden presence of that color in your consciousness usually meant either that your bicycle had gone off the road into a field of begonias, or, more worrisome, that blood was pouring down your arm, requiring immediate attention.

This possibility of a life-threatening situation made red the traditional signal of bad news that shouldn’t be ignored. We know this instinctively, which is why no one except a contrarian teenager would dream of painting their bedroom a bright red, at least not if they valued a tranquil environment. This explains why red was universally agreed on as the color for things like warning notices and railroad and, later, automobile stop signals. And why even culturally distinct nations and those antagonistic enough toward the West to want to thumb their noses at new modern conventions didn’t buck this rule. Obviously, the qualitatively attention-getting experience we call “red” is associated with a deep built-in pattern of emotions and neural connections.

A similarly distinct circuitry comprising labyrinthine clusters of cells is connected with the other colors and cones—each associated with separate areas of the brain. When these cell architectures are stimulated via their respective cones in the retina, we have distinctive experiences: blue evokes the vastness of the sky and yields a much calmer feeling than red, and green conveys countless bygone centuries of plants and vegetation and is a comforting invocation of life.

We Cannot Discern the Mix of Components That Make Up Colors 
We believe that these three most basic colors and their various combinations must have had unique survival value during early evolution, and thus they are associated with their own functional pathways in the brain. When the complex relational logic associated with these distinct clusters of cells is brought into the actively entangled region of the brain associated with consciousness, we have discrete sensations even if we rarely give a second thought to the components that make up each of these colors, any more than we can discern the ingredients in mayonnaise or a piece of Cap’n Crunch.

The unquestionable reality is that colors could not be present without our consciousness. Indeed, on a more fundamental level, photons of light themselves only arise upon observation and wave function collapse; experiments clearly show that particles of light themselves do not exist with real properties until they are actually observed.

Understanding Rainbows―The First Required Leap to the True Nature of Things 
When contemplating colors, it’s hard not to consider the colors of the rainbow. The sudden appearance of those prismatic colors juxtaposed between mountains can take our breath away. Like colors, rainbows occur entirely within our skull. But unlike other objects, they have no shared tangibility with other observers.

Indeed, three components are necessary for a rainbow. There must be sun, there must be raindrops, and there must be a conscious eye (or its surrogate film) at the correct geometric location. If your eyes look directly opposite the sun, the sunlit water droplets will produce a rainbow that surrounds that precise spot at a distance of 42 degrees. But your eyes must be located at that spot where the refracted light from the sunlit droplet converges, to complete the required geometry. A person next to you will complete their own geometry and will be at the apex of a cone for an entirely different set of droplets and will therefore see a separate rainbow. Their rainbow is very likely to look like yours, but it needn’t be so. Then, too, if the sunlit droplets are very nearby, as from a lawn sprinkler, the person nearby may not see a rainbow at all. Your rainbow is yours alone.

But now we get to the point: what if no one’s there? Answer: No rainbow. An eye-brain system (or its surrogate, a camera, whose results will only be viewed later by a conscious observer) must be present to complete the geometry. As real as the rainbow looks, it requires your presence as much as it requires sun and rain.

Few would dispute the subjective nature of rainbows, which figure so prominently in fairytales that they seem only marginally to belong to our world in the first place. But it is when we fully grasp that the sight of a skyscraper is just as dependent on the observer, that we have made the first required leap to the true nature of things.

Adapted from The Grand Biocentric Design, by Robert Lanza and Matej Pavsic, with Bob Berman (BenBella Books 2020).

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Flow State from Creating Art Facilitates Healing

One of the main elements of art therapy and creating art is entering the flow state.  That is something that was more recently discovered by my friend Lauren Zalewski / Gratitude Addict and she found this artist who has used her own art as a way of processing her grief from multiple losses. She posted this video of this artist's TED talk on using art to find flow, and how flow helps healing.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Pharmacy Looking to Provide Therapy at Stores

I came across this article reporting that pharmacy chains are looking to incorporate therapy sessions at their store locations. Given the ongoing difficulty of accessing mental health care (which telehealth has also helped), this could provide more availability needed by people. There are pros and cons to everything, but I'm wondering what you all think about this idea personally. Please leave your ideas in the comments below. 

CVS Wants to be Your Therapist, too 
August 31, 2021 

CVS Health Corp. is betting Americans will get therapy at the same place they buy their snacks, soda and prescription drugs. The pharmacy company is among several retailers including Walmart Inc. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., that are experimenting with offering counseling services in or near stores. 

They see potential as the Covid-19 pandemic has prompted more people to seek help for addiction, depression and other issues, according to federal data. “It’s creative and we certainly need the help,” said Ken Duckworth, medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “It’s an interesting idea to post a mental-health resource at a place where people already are at.” 

The therapist at CVS will see you now
What it's like to get mental healthcare at the retail pharmacy chain.
By Rebecca Ruiz
May 2, 2021

When a client walks into Eve Townsend's office for therapy, they're often carrying a snack, drink, or new prescription.

That's because Townsend, a licensed clinical social worker, provides mental healthcare in a CVS store. Stationed in a nondescript consultation room very much unlike the therapist offices you might recognize from cable television dramas, Townsend's job is to help anyone who asks for support.

The CVS pharmacist might recommend a customer to Townsend after screening them for depression and asking if they want assistance. A client might discover Townsend through CVS brochures and mailers, or by word-of-mouth. Sometimes customers walk into the store to get milk or bread, see signs asking if they'd like to talk to someone about how they're feeling, and decide to take CVS up on the unexpected offer.

What they tell Townsend these days goes something like this: They're stressed, anxious, and often feeling depressed.

"I think a lot of that, I'm quite sure, is related to the COVID-19 pandemic, political discourse, civil unrest, and just individuals actually realizing that what they're going through is a little more beyond what they're capable of handling," says Townsend, who works in a CVS in suburban Philadelphia.

Townsend started her job in late January as part of a pilot to test placing licensed clinical social workers in select CVS stores in Philadelphia, Houston, and Tampa. The company has also posted listings for social workers in places like Phoenix, Brooklyn, Seattle, and Omaha. Therapists are part of the chain's MinuteClinics within their HealthHUBs, which provide a range of health and wellness products and services, including access to a nurse practitioner or physician assistant for treatment of urgent and chronic conditions. The mental health concept is an attempt to solve two major problems.

As a major retailer in the space and owner of the insurance company Aetna, CVS knows that healthcare costs in the U.S. are high. Its own internal data, along with research, suggest that when people receive treatment and care for both their physical and mental health needs, it leads to less spending over time. It makes sense when considering, for example, the patient with diabetes who takes medication to control their blood sugar but whose depression goes untreated. If that depression means they don't exercise or eat well, a prescription can only do so much.

Yet CVS also sees alarming gaps in the country's mental healthcare services. There's a shortage of providers. Many don't take insurance. Wait lists are long. These and other realities make it difficult or impossible for someone to get care when they want it. The aim is to simplify access to mental health treatment, removing from the equation the confusion and complexity of locating a qualified mental health provider. CVS is trying to meet people where they are: in the cereal aisle, picking out nail polish, getting a flu shot, or grabbing a medication refill.

What you won't find, at least on Townsend's watch, is a "cookie cutter" approach to therapy. Townsend, a longtime social worker, practices what she calls "social work 101."

"We are advocates for change," she says, referring to her professional training. This means hearing what a client needs to be holistically well and trouble-shooting how to get those resources. That can include providing social services referrals for someone who is food or housing insecure. Townsend directs people who need psychiatric care or substance misuse treatment to outside providers and support groups. In partnership with the nurse practitioner and pharmacist, she might triage suggestions for someone with multiple health conditions.

The skill set that someone like Townsend possesses is why CVS chose to hire licensed social workers who have a masters degree in the field. Cara McNulty, president of Aetna Behavioral Health and EAP (Employee Assistance Program), says the goal is to bring on therapists from the local community, who know it well and can connect with clients.

"Their interpersonal skills really, really matter, because you get one chance to have that first impression with that person who has reached for help, to make them feel welcome, normalize the situation, reassure them that it's OK, especially reassuring them that it's OK to not be OK," says McNulty.

She's also aware that an empathetic approach will likely appeal to CVS customers wary of seeking mental healthcare because of stigma or past negative experiences. CVS' strategy may be particularly attractive to millennials and Gen Z customers, many of whom may be less worried about stigma and more concerned that a CVS therapist will be more interested in diagnosing them than empathetically listening to them.

SEE ALSO: Police killings are a mental health crisis for Black people. They deserve real solutions. 
Theresa Nguyen, chief program officer and vice president of research and innovation of the advocacy organization Mental Health America, said putting social workers in a non-clinical setting like a CVS store, compared to a doctor's office or hospital, could be transformational. In effect, CVS is reminding people they can get help, that services are available, or catching them at a time when they might "otherwise fall through the cracks," said Nguyen. (CVS has partnered with MHA to discuss improving mental healthcare access at pharmacies, but was not involved in the development of the pilot.)

Nguyen, a licensed social worker who has frequently worked with people experiencing mental health conditions and poverty, said that she often worried about her clients whose symptoms might flair up when they went to fill their prescriptions or get food. If she knew which corner store or pharmacy they frequented, she might feel more confident in their safety.

"If I know people there are friendly and kind, I know this is a safe space for my client to get support," she said. When that wasn't the case, "I would always get worried it's going to get elevated to a 911 call."

 "If I know people there are friendly and kind, I know this is a safe space for my client to get support."
Now that Nguyen works on policy issues, she hears from pharmacy staff that they see customers in distress but don't have the skills or time to help. To Nguyen, making highly-skilled social workers available in a pharmacy can prevent crises for both the customers and employees. She also hopes that it reduces the barriers that keep many people from seeking help and normalizes having a conversation about mental health. If seeing treatment happen in an ordinary place demystifies what it means to talk to a therapist, perhaps more CVS customers will consider pursuing it.

Customers typically come to Townsend after seeing in-store messaging or receiving a referral from the pharmacy. Like other social workers in the same job, she'll perform an initial assessment and listen to what a customer needs, including food, shelter, or assistance with an abusive relationship. Next she'll try to problem-solve the urgent issues, then schedule a future appointment or refer the customer to another mental health provider, if necessary. CVS accepts insurance and Medicaid for Townsend's services, which may cover all or part of the appointment fee. If someone is uninsured, Townsend will see if the customer qualifies for local mental healthcare coverage through county or state resources. Customers can also pay out-of-pocket. The cost varies depending on insurance coverage.

Townsend says there's no predetermined end date to therapy with her. Clients can come and go as they need. Recently she treated an anxious 15-year-old who came in with his parent. They discussed the "cognitive distortions," or negative thought patterns, that kept surfacing in his mind and ways to reframe those thoughts. He returned two weeks later saying he felt better, but he can keep seeing Townsend if he chooses.

"It has given me the opportunity to see diverse populations of people — young ones, older ones — who are seeking support," says Townsend of her new job. "And [for customers] to be able to access the help that they need in a facility or in a forum like this, where you can receive all of these other additional services, is great. It works."

If you need to talk to someone about your mental health, Crisis Text Line provides free, confidential support 24/7. Text CRISIS to 741741 to be connected to a crisis counselor. Contact the NAMI HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI, Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. ET, or email

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Psychological Fallout from the Pandemic and Its Impact on Behavioral Health

I found an interesting article on the psychological fallout from the pandemic.  It has affected people in many different ways, and they discuss what we know vs. what we don't yet know and the implications for behavioral health.

Psychological Fallout of the Pandemic: What We Know, What We Don’t

By: Michael B. Friedman, LMSW Calliope Holinque, MPH, PhD

January 1st, 2021

More and more studies confirm widespread psychological fallout from the pandemic. The studies also confirm intuitive expectations about which populations are most psychologically vulnerable—those directly experiencing illness and death, those with economic hardship, frontline health care and other essential workers, and more.

But the published studies do not yet answer several critical questions. Do people having troubled emotional reactions to the pandemic have diagnosable mental disorders? Do increased rates of alcohol and drug use constitute a rise in the prevalence of diagnosable substance use disorders and addiction? How long lasting will emotional reactions to the pandemic be? Will they dissipate as the pandemic and the socio-economic conditions it has engendered come to an end? Will they last long beyond the pandemic itself, creating increased long-term need for behavioral health services?

What We Know

The studies confirm that some of the people experiencing emotional distress have pre-existing mental and/or substance use disorders that have recurred or been exacerbated during the pandemic. But they also make it clear that people, with and without diagnosable disorders, have experienced a broad range of emotional distress—including fears regarding illness and death, desperation regarding economic survival, isolation and loneliness, loss of a sense of control, hopelessness and profound sadness, moodiness, difficulties sleeping, family tensions, and grief.

The studies also indicate that reactions during the pandemic vary substantially. Some people are experiencing high levels of emotional distress; some very little. For some, emotional distress is relatively constant, for some it has declined and for some it has increased. For many people, emotional distress is “up and down.”

The Pulse survey done weekly by the Census Bureau initially showed a decline in emotional distress overall, suggesting some adaptation was taking place. Later, the survey indicated an increase in the number of people experiencing psychological distress, though this may also reflect political and racial tensions as well as the pandemic itself.

All of the studies show that some populations are experiencing more emotional distress than others, including:

  • Those with direct experience of sickness or death due to COVID-19
  • Those without adequate income, food, or housing
  • Healthcare providers and other essential workers
  • People of color
  • People with pre-existing cognitive or behavioral disorders who are at risk for relapse or severe reactions
  • Working parents with children at home
  • Family caregivers.

The one finding that has been surprising to some people is that young adults are more at risk for emotional distress than older adults. But this should not be a surprise because, contrary to ageist perceptions, most older adults are not disabled and in need of help, and most have survived difficult times that have taught them to cope.

Nevertheless, many older adults experience significant emotional distress largely related to their vulnerability to illness and death and due to social isolation.

What We Do Not Know

The surveys unfortunately do not tell us whether reported emotional distress constitutes diagnosable mental or substance use disorders because diagnosing these conditions typically requires an interview or more in-depth questioning. The surveys are essentially screening tools rather than diagnostic instruments.

Whether or not they provide an adequate indication of diagnosable behavioral health conditions, they certainly do not answer the critical question of whether the psychological reactions to the pandemic will be long-lasting. After all, even some “serious” disorders, are transient, and some people will certainly experience adaptation and resilience over time.

In general, we do not know to what extent psychological reactions will diminish as the pandemic and its economic consequences diminish and to what extent there will be lingering emotional damage.

Implications for Behavioral Health Policy

Telehealth: Some behavioral health need is being met via tele-mental health. Unfortunately, many of the rule changes that support use of tele-health are temporary. They need to be made permanent. In addition, tele-health is not available to everyone due to lack of internet access, lack of needed hardware, and lack of technical skill. These issues need to be addressed.

Social Determinants: It is also essential to address the social determinants of emotional distress—economic hardship, persistent racial/ethnic inequities, the vitriolic political divide, and more. It is time for our society to face up to the social determinants of physical and behavioral health.

A Mental Health Tsunami? The claim made by some that there is a second pandemic coming—a tsunami of mental illness and substance abuse—is neither confirmed nor disconfirmed by existing studies. We do not know how long lasting and severe the lingering psychological effects of the pandemic will be.

Unmet Need: Whether or not there is a behavioral health tsunami, we know that our nation’s capacity to respond to behavioral health needs is woefully inadequate. We know that there are, and will continue to be, fault lines in American society that will continue to contribute to mental and substance use disorders if they are not addressed more effectively.

The pandemic has highlighted long-standing failures to meet America’s behavioral health challenges. It is long past time to act.

Michael B. Friedman taught at Columbia University School of Social Work before he retired. He is currently volunteer Chair, AARP Maryland Brain and Behavioral Health Advocacy Team. Calliope Holinque, MPH, PhD, is a postdoctoral research fellow at Kennedy Krieger Institute and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Coloring Testimonials Continue to Amaze!

I am always amazed when I hear testimonials about how our coloring books have impacted people in a positive and meaningful way.  Someone contacted me as they were trying to locate a "Color Me Grateful" book to finish their collection, and shared more (completely unsolicited) about how these books have helped them through a chronic condition, as well as help teens open up more with discussion.  This is wonderful!

"I am a pastor and social worker by training, but I have a chronic neurological disorder that has made me disabled and unable to work professionally, for the past 15 years. I discovered coloring, when one of my kids gave me a book a few years ago! The series that you and Angela Porter have created has added so much happiness to the endless hours I have to sit in bed. In recent years, I have started sharing your books with my nieces and teenage daughters of some of my friends, who are struggling with depression and growing up, in general. We color together, and they end up talking to me about what’s happening in their lives and minds. Your books have become the catalysts for meaningful conversation and bonding with some kids who often find it difficult to express themselves, and tend to suffer inside their own minds.  I wholeheartedly want to thank you for making the world a better place!!"   

If you have your own story, please let me know!  You can comment below or send me a message.  I love to hear how the books are benefitting you!  Thanks so much.

Virtual Run/Walk to Break the Stigma

I'm going to be doing this virtual walk to benefit NAMI and raise awareness for Mental Illness while eradicating the stigma around having it and getting treatment for it.  Come join me!

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The Art of the Unplug by Gratitude Addict Lauren Zalewski

Thank you so much, Lauren Zalewski, for sharing your journey in using art in a mindful way to find greater joy and wellness!  It warms my heart to see you discover how art works for you in some of the most unexpected ways!  Thank you also for sharing with so many other people who can benefit from engaging in many art forms for themselves for their own well-being.

#art #mindfulness #artforwellness

Read her post and blog post from the link below!


My latest piece on how my unexpected week-long vacation turned into a STAYcation and the profound GRATITUDE-boosting and mindful week I had when I decided to UNPLUG!

Thank you Lacy Mucklow, MA, ATR-BC, LPAT-S, LCPAT, ATCS for blessing me and my group with incredibly healing advice on using art for mindfulness and emotional wellness! Your words have resonated deeply with me and so many others!



An excerpt from her post (thanks for the mention!):

Ironically, the week prior to this vacation, I interviewed a famous art therapist and author on my live broadcast, “Gratefully Living the Chronic Life.”  Lacy Mucklow is a New York Times bestselling author and has put out numerous adult coloring books, one of them entitled, “Be Grateful and Color.”  She was an incredible guest who shared with us for the hour about how we can use art for healing.  Her underlying message was that art is personal, there is no right or wrong way to do it, and it is an incredibly mindful and healing tool we can all use in our lives.  She talked about overcoming our fear of doing something “wrong” and not holding back.  Her message really resonated with me and made me want to paint even more.

Read the entire story here: