Month: November 2012

Cyber Monday- shopping addicts unite

cyber MondayShopping…shopping…shopping…..Today, the Monday after Thanksgiving in the United States, has recently become yet another hyped up day on our endless calendar of bargain shopping. This cyber Monday has a very short history, designed to lure shoppers away from stores on “black Friday” and purchase products online. Like most things in our consumer culture, this day seems to have morphed out of control into yet another avenue screaming at citizens to “buy something NOW!” Today’s art exercise will explore our relationship with buying things. Although it would be fun to analyze our nation’s historical journey to our current predicament of overabundance,  we will instead explore where we fit into this current paradigm.

Please take a few minutes to ask yourself about your shopping habits. Are they “normal” for a 21st century culture of massive abundance? Do you shop to get things or do you shop to make yourself feel better? Do you feel better after you shop? Do you like to shop? Do you have a healthy relationship to shopping? Do you have too much stuff? Are you in debt but still shopping to escape reality?

Find some paper and a pen. Write down the last thing you purchased and include your mood before during and after the excursion. Did the item improve your mood temporarily? Did the item or experience help you escape from your current reality?  This blog entry is not intended to ruin your shopping experience which can usually be quite pleasurable, but to keep yourself in check from developing a habit, or curbing one if you seem to have developed a shopping addiction. These are very scary questions to answer, and like any addiction, most people might be in denial about their habits, especially one so prolific and integrated into our culture. Admitting you have a problem is the very first step to getting better.

For awhile, shopping was a cute thing, and “shopaholic” was a cute term, found on paper napkins at ladies’ luncheons and on merchandise in trendy boutiques. From a mental health professional’s point of view, compulsive shopping is being lumped in with other addictions including: alcohol, gambling, drugs, sex, etc, and often treated with antidepressants. Control is a big factor, in that when one feels out of control in their life, purchasing something allows a consumer to “control” that thing and that experience. There are often feelings of shame connected to shopping when it has turned into an unhealthy habit.

Please take a minute on this cyber Monday to explore your connection to shopping. Although it can be painful to come to terms with the root of a problem, the truth will set you free!

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Art Making after Hurricane Sandy

DSC_0272Many Americans are suffering this week due to the unprecedented Super storm that ravaged the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. For those of us just watching horrific images on T.V., we might be feeling helpless and unsure of what to do. Studies show that images on T.V can also produce trauma, and for children, can cause feelings of uncertainty and fear. Children are usually the ones most affected psychologically in these situations. Although kids often appear resilient, some guided art making might aid in gauging their emotional status and give them an opportunity to express their feelings.

If you have access to some paper and a writing utensil, please ask your child to draw something relating to this recent storm. If you are reading this and really without any resources, it is also possible to make art outside using things around you including a stick and drawing in the dirt. Try not to guide them too much in rendering a perfect image. The goal here is the process, not the final product. Even stick figures can be a very powerful way to communicate a huge array of feelings. In art making, children need boundaries and the edges of the paper actually provide these boundaries, allowing them to safely place all of their emotions onto the paper. Art therapists often will draw in a border creating a boundary for them to safely make this art work. I would recommend doing this if you think your child needs some extra structure to complete this art project.

A very basic  lesson in the latest neuro research on trauma reveals that incidents of trauma are stored in the right brain in images, and when one is asked to describe their trauma in words it is virtually impossible. Language, which is stored in the left brian, simply can’t access that information to explain thoughts and feelings connected to it. By transferring this trauma onto paper, this allows a person to suddenly have a place to begin that dialogue of addressing words and feelings related to the event. The sooner one can draw these images following a trauma, the less long term damage this can have on a child.

A goal in art therapy with children experiencing trauma is to give a child “ownership” over their feelings. By capturing the images in their head and putting them on paper and processing the events with a loved one or a professional, helps give ownership to the traumatic events they just witnessed.  Another key to understanding children’s art is to ask open ended questions relating to the art, without assigning emotions and assuming an understanding of the images and symbols. A child might express anger, sadness, fear, guilt, shame, etc. It is important to allow them to express these feelings without censoring them as the express these emotions. This will make them feel validated and more likely to verbally express things they are feeling.

This dialogue with a loved one can have a profound impact, and open up channels of communication that might not be possible without the art as a tool to guide the discussion. The ultimate goal with art making and children suffering from trauma is to help a child re file that information into a part of their brain where the event is less visceral and immediate, allowing them to still recall the memory, but with less “fight or flight” reactions with the memory. Following this image up with another one relating to a future time when things will be calm and predictable might be helpful in setting  goal for the future.

Art making is a very powerful tool to open this dialogue of what exactly happened in the past week, and you don’t need to wait for an art therapist or art professional to make this happen. If you do find that there are pervasive symptoms relating to trauma and your child is in need of counseling related to the after effects of Hurricane Sandy, please seek further assistance through the many organizations who will be providing these services in the coming weeks to the victims of this event. Art making as a way to cope with trauma can also be very powerful for adults as well.