Author: sherri364

Art therapist, street artist, TEDxOverlandPark organizer, optimist.

Anxiety, Teenagers and Art Therapy

Scan_1Anxiety is on the rise in the teen landscape. The alarming rate of growth in this trend has been well documented (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/11/magazine/why-are-more-american-teenagers-than-ever-suffering-from-severe-anxiety.html). Do you know a teen who is suffering from anxiety or depression? What can you do to help them?

As an art therapist and a marriage and family therapist, I have spent a few decades on the front lines of this crisis,  working with teens suffering from anxiety, depression, unresolved trauma, addiction etc. My encounters with teens in crisis have mostly occurred in inpatient psychiatric facilities following  suicide attempts and other risky behavior. Observing the human race from this very unusual vantage point led me to begin asking two questions to the teens I encountered. I have now asked thousands of teens ( post crisis) the same two questions:

If you would have/could have communicated better with your loved ones about how you were truly feeling, would you have tried to kill yourself?

If you had more rules/structure/boundaries set up at home, would you  have ended up in a psychiatric facility? 

Almost every teen I have asked responded with a sheepish, “NO” to both questions,  leading me to the conclusion that families, loved ones, schools, coaches, social pressures and the system all play a huge part in the crisis unfolding before our eyes. It is tempting to blame the child or teen for their situation, (especially when the standard procedure involves sending them away from their families to get “fixed” in inpatient facilities), often leaving them feeling tremendous shame in their extreme actions. When we can truly explore our system and our contribution to their situation, we often discover that extreme teen behavior is the symptom or reaction to an entire system out of whack.

Much of the current literature on teens and anxiety blame the post “helicopter parent” world, which has not let this generation have enough negative experiences to learn how to recover from small emotional injuries. Perhaps there is some truth to this, but the real question to sort out how to create resilient teens, and how to help them navigate through this world we have created for them.

The rise in smart phone technology to the teen experience has added an unprecedented new frontier to this unfolding anxiety crisis. Many of us have forgotten how quickly this technology has crept into our existence, and many adults are utterly shocked when they discover how of their child’s existence is wrapped up into their digital realities. As adults travel down the same path of being deeply connected to their devices, it is not surprising that our children are mimicking our behavior.

Art therapy is a form of therapy that offers families an opportunity to communicate their authentic feelings, and work toward healthier functioning as a whole system. Using simple visual art directives during therapy sessions, families who engage in therapy with trained art therapists often get straight to the point much, much faster than a typical talk therapy session.

Teens are notoriously cryptic communicators, contributing to the crisis in many families of simply having no idea of the level of emotional pain their child has endured. Offering your teen some time for honest, old-fashioned, screen free, communication is often the first step in creating a healthy place for your teen to open up.

Please explore the possibility of finding a time for some honest communication with your teen. If you find that your teen is experiencing something bigger than what you can handle, please consider seeking counseling for your family. If you need help in finding the best therapist to meet your needs, please contact me and I can assist in this journey. My art therapy practice is in the state of Kansas, but I can offer you assistance in locating a therapist wherever you live: heartlandarttherapy@gmail.com.

The art featured intros post was created by this blog author, Sherri Jacobs, and is part of a series of paper cuts entitled, “The Therapeutic Journey.”

 

 

 

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Resilience and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election-Using Creativity to Move Forward.

sherri-jacobs-001scan-160711-0012Resilience. Regardless of whomever won the incredibly contentious US presidential election of 2016, Wednesday, November 9th was going to be a tough day in our nation’s history. Why? The virtual split in this nation, as illustrated in the almost evenly cast votes paints the true picture of a nation divided. This isn’t the first time the US has felt deep divisions, and it won’t be the last. We survived in the past. We grew from our conversations, our civil war, our protests, our disagreements, our errors, and our problems.

Rather than mourning for what we could have been had the election swayed differently, how can we use our creativity and our freedom of speech to continue creating that world we imagined for ourselves? The days following this historic election have been filled with a nation in disbelief, protestors from across the country disagreeing with the outcome, and incidents of hate crimes dotting our landscape. Sadly, this most likely would have happened regardless of which candidate won. According to the election results, it was only a matter of 50,000 or so extra Clinton voters over three of the swing states that might have altered the outcome (that is roughly the size of an average football stadium crowd). Only half of the eligible voters in the US showed up at the polls for this historic election. Where was everyone else? By not voting, they actually voted for THIS.

To the Clinton supporters, I am going to ask you a hard question: Is it possible that a Clinton win might have offered an opportunity for business as usual in your life, because you knew that someone on Capitol Hill was going to bat for you? Is it possible that a Clinton win would have given you a “hall pass” to not really get involved for change, because someone else would be doing that on your behalf?

To the Trump supporters, I am going to ask you a hard question: Is it possible that a Trump win might offer an opportunity for business as usual in your life, because you know that someone on Capitol Hill is going to bat for you? Is it possible that a Trump win will give you a “hall pass” to not really get involved for change, because someone else will be doing that  on your behalf?

Unleashing our creativity might seem like a lukewarm solution to the current climate, but creativity might be the best and only way to move forward. How can a person with zero experience in serving in a public office suddenly be elected to become the next leader of the free world? If Donald Trump can do that, what kind of untapped potential might we have to do something, big or small, in our own lives? This paradigm shift is suddenly offering everyone an unusual opportunity to reexamine everything. If we can take the time to see this as an unusual opportunity for mobilizing ourselves and our first amendment rights, we might be able to reverse the climate of hate that brewed over this campaign.

The Oxford English dictionary defines creativity as, “The use of imagination or original ideas to create something.” Apathy will perpetuate the fissure so strongly felt on both sides of the divide. Misguided anger will also perpetuate the problems clearly present in our nation. It is in this swampy, murky space we must recreate something new if we are to shape the nation we want our children to thrive in. The creative process offers us to an opportunity to sublimate our raw emotions into something bigger and better than we might currently be able to imagine.  Real solutions and coherent communication can only happen when we engage beyond the “fight, flight or freeze” responses to things happening around us, and tap into the higher part of our brains (the pre frontal cortex or part that separates us from the animal kingdom).

The real thing at stake in this brand new era is our first amendment right of freedom of speech. How will journalists fare in this new climate of a president extremely hostile to negative attention? Will news outlets criticizing Donald Trump be squashed and blacklisted? Should we sit by idly and wait to see what happens? No. This is the time to make your voice heard. How? Express yourself. Reach out to people around you. Decide how you can make your own community a better place. This does not have to be in a political realm. Waiting to see what might unfold is following the same crummy path as the folks who didn’t show up on election day.

As a nation of citizens who have exhibited resilient behavior for 238 years, I am confident that as we awake from the shock and utter surprise of our current situation, we will pull up our bootstraps, dust ourselves off, look around and ask what the heck we can do to create the type of nation we would like to live in. This change must start in our own imaginations, and then materialize through ideas and action. In the words of Viktor Frankl, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” There are about 725 days until midterm elections of 2018. What can you do in that time period to connect to and transform your surroundings?

-Image above is a hand cut paper cut created by this writer, Sherri Jacobs, MS, LMFT, MA, ATR.

 

 

Nasty Woman, 2016- The Art of Integrity

sherri-jacobs-001scan-160712-0013On the tail end of the contentious and ugly US presidential campaign of 2016, the third and final debate  perpetuated the animosity the candidates have toward one another.  As the debate sank lower into depths of mudslinging, Donald Trump proved yet again that he could not control his mouth, facial expression, temperament and overall vitriol. The gem of the evening however, came toward the end, when Mr.Trump had the audacity to lean into the microphone to interrupt Secretary Clinton  and express to the audience with a clown worthy frown, “She is a nasty woman.” Secretary Clinton, as usual, did not bat an eyelash, or respond.

The results of that bizarre interruption one day later? The meme “Nasty Woman” has quickly become a new battle cry for the rights of women, and has fueled the quest to keep a mysognist from occupying the highest office in the land. This election is no longer about which party voters align with, but something much, much deeper as Secretary Clinton elegantly expressed multiple times throughout her campaign. What kind  of country and people do we want be in this century?

The real story of each debates that each ninety minute session has looked and felt a lot like domestic violence. It takes so little to provoke Donald Trump, yet the verbal abuse, heckles, threats, facial expression, tone, stance, words, accusations and personal insults to Secretary Clinton have been met with integrity and humor.  Imagine the same tone of these debates taking place between two people behind closed doors, but the female not having the strength and will power of Secretary Clinton. THAT is domestic violence.

The truth of this election is that we have a 20th century man attempting to win over a 21st century audience, and turn the clocks back to an earlier era when our nation didn’t have as many rights and privileges of being truly free and celebrated for our differences.

My hope in the next eighteen days is that all of the Nasty Women out there who endure daily tirades from angry men not only decide to go to the polls and vote on November 8th, but also recognize that being a Nasty Woman means living a life of integrity.

(Artwork- handcut paper cut by Sherri Jacobs)

Alzheimer’s Disease and Art Therapy

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Ready to be frightened by the future? Please don’t stress about a zombie apocolypse, because it looks like the next big thing to fear is Alzheimer’s disease. Due to the demographic shift of an aging species, the predictions are that by mid century, humans over the age of 65 will outnumber the amount of children living on the planet. Among this population, The World Health Organization predicts that diseases related to memory loss will triple, to reach 115 million people worldwide by mid century. Does this number shock you? It should. Sadly, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

People diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers often travel down a seemingly tragic path, as able bodied and independent adults slowly lose the ability to function at their optimal level of living. The choice for family members or loved ones is to follow them on their devastating path or create a new reality of living in the moment.

As families and caregivers move beyond the grief that accompanies this disease, often there is an opportunity for a new way of living. Once a person with dementia loses their ability to perseverate on the past or contemplate the future, there is a freedom with living in the present tense. While outsiders often find memory care units tragic and frightening, insiders/caregivers all recognize the surprising  beauty of living in the persent tense. In well run facilities, and when stress levels are diminished, really the primary emotion flowing in these places is love.

As an art therapist who has worked with the dementia population for the past seventeen years, my observation and experience is that what happens in “the moment” can have a residual impact on the rest of the “moments” in a person’s day. For years, I have observed people with dementia respond well to an environment of integrity. My fledging theory I am creating for working with families with dementia is called, Integrity Systems Theory.

Webster’s dictionary defines integrity as: the state of being whole and undivided. When the entire system supporting the person with Alzheimer’s shifts their focus from what was to what is, there is surprising opportunity for creating moments of integrity, and FIND the whole person who stills resides behind the memory loss.  The result? Lowered stress levels all around, making everyone’s day to day living slightly less stressful.

Art making and listening to music are fantastic avenues for reaching people who seem to have disappeared into their disease. Please take the time to watch the riveting documentary on the power of music/creativity with this population:  Alive Inside.

 

 

Expanding One’s Imagination- Dreaming Bigger

IMG_1217        The picture to the left is of my nifty new dry erase wall in my art therapy studio. Although I do not use this blog to promote products, this new Sketch Pad paint by Sherwin Williams is worth noting. It is a clear dry erase paint that you can cover any wall with, allowing for giant writing/drawing areas  I painted the dark green border with a washable semi gloss paint to give the dry erase area a nice boundary.  Having worked as a therapist for years in places with tiny dry erase boards, I decided to expand the potential of my clients’ self-expression, without subjecting them to the dust and sound of chalk and a chalk wall.  My goal is for clients to take a photo of the work we do/things they write in place of the papers they take along at the end of their sessions.

This new giant writing/drawing space is a perfect metaphor for how  people often limit their potential by dreaming small. After years of working in the trenches of the mental health field, one consistent theme I have observed is people setting flimsy goals that are reachable, but don’t really involve risk taking (risking well), or even taking risks in just contemplating future ideas. The culprits in many of my clients’ lives sadly are often well-meaning teachers or family members who planted lifelong debilitating  ideas in people’s heads limiting their value or worth, based on their own limited views of themselves. On occasion, this self-fulfilling prophecy of mediocrity is transmitted through several generations.

What would it cost to dream bigger than you usually do when thinking about short-term or long-term goals? The first answer I usually hear is that thinking bigger is too time consuming, and the stressful day-to-day issues must take precedence. The secret is that if we expand the boundaries of our dreams/goals/plans/future, then getting halfway to that expanded place means you will probably accomplish the initial stuff you hoped to do.

Can you find some paper and start jotting down some dreams/goals plans? Can you get out of your comfort zone and try to write down ones that might sound outrageous or unreachable? A good benchmark for recognizing that you are out of your comfort zone is the sensation that someone might see what you are writing. Feel free to rip up the evidence following this exercise, but can you push yourself even further and share your new and expanded dreams with someone you trust? That is the recipe for dreaming bigger!

Adult Attachment and Art Therapy

UnknownJohn Bowlby, a British psychiatrist of the early 20th century, was hailed as developing an important concept known as attachment theory. After working with institutionalized  juvenile delinquents (in the 1930s), he realized that much of their turmoil stemmed from severed relationships with loved ones. The field evolved into studying infant development and how a child’s mind and behavior develop in relation to their “attachments.” Bowlby brought to light the negative effects of early neglect, which leads to a cascade of lifelong problems. Jon Bowlby would probably be amused by the fervor at which the parenting manuals and magazines of the 21st century have continued to discuss attachment parenting. In the past 25 years though, the attachment field has also grown to include the study of attachments between adults. Sound crazy?  Current neuroscience studies on this topic are simply astounding. It turns out, that humans really are wired as social creatures. ( http://gillab.ku.edu/pubs.html)

The key to a secure adult attachment? Hang out with someone who makes you feel: Safe, Secure, Soothed and Seen. Chances are if you are feeling some or all of these things, your endocrine system, immune system, mood, and overall well being are enhanced. Dr. Sue Johnson, one of the leading figures in the attachment world, refers to oxytocin as the cuddle hormone. Oxytocin is the hormone most closely associated with secure attachments. Ready to get your oxytocin juices flowing today to combat loneliness or isolation?

Please find some pen and paper and think of someone whom you adore. This might be a romantic partner, a close friend, a family member or even a coworker. Can you write them a letter to share your feelings toward them? Do not use a smart phone or personal device. Please try to write a real letter with a real piece of paper. Can you make yourself a little bit vulnerable in your letter, maybe sharing some emotions? In our world which seems consumed with smart devices, this process of sharing feelings is often neglected.  Perhaps this might inspire them to be vulnerable back and share an intimate moment of connecting in a real way. Remember, the goal is to enhance the relationships that help you feel attached and secure. Chances are that you might already have one of these secure relationships, but have not been nourishing it lately. There is a slight risk in that this exercise could backfire if the person you choose to write to does not have mutual feelings toward you, so please take that into consideration when you write your letter. For more information on the topic of adult attachment, I highly recommend Dr. Sue Johnson’s most recent book, Love Sense  (http://www.drsuejohnson.com/books/love-sense/)