The holiday season is upon us: at home, in the workplace, in our communities, classrooms, and far and wide in the media, online, and in neighborhood stores.
This time of year can inspire festive gatherings and activities of joy, togetherness, and heartfelt memories with family and friends. For some, though, the holidays can be a challenging time of stress, adversity, and a difficult trigger of strong emotions, pressures, or traumatic experiences. This topic is the focus of my new guest post for The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children’s (TLC) blog, helping to provide a trauma informed considerations for the holidays and additional resources to learn more. Read more here.
my online continuing education course (6 CEUs!) with the National Institute for Trauma and Loss (TLC)This week I am looking forward to speaking to Group Process students in Ursuline College’s Art Therapy and Counseling program about facilitating trauma focused art therapy groups. As I work on preparing the content I’ll be sharing about my work, I am inspired to share what I have come to love about doing groups- especially as an art therapist and trauma consultant, the benefits, and how this format is valuable when doing trauma informed work.
Group Work Loves:
I definitely admit that group work has its challenges and complexities associated with meeting each member’s needs and creating a safe, cohesive, & therapeutic space for expression of emotions, thoughts, & experiences. However, groups are a really amazing setting for individual members who are managing a common experience related to trauma or a loss to come together in support of one another and provide validation they are not alone. The support that peers provide can be so nurturing and empowering related to coping, acceptance, and a sense of belonging.
Creating art together, sharing materials, the creative space, and created art expressions further strengthens opportunities to explore interpersonal skills, boundaries, and nurture the importance of relational enrichment.
My favorite part of group (other than the art-making!) is to introduce (and practice!) techniques related to supporting regulation and relaxation through deep breathing, focusing, guided imagery, movement, and more. When I first introduce this to new members it is sometimes met with anxious laughter or hesitation, but often it’s something that pretty much everyone ends up really enjoying. It’s awesome when that shift from a heightened state of arousal starts to give way to being in a calmer and safer moment. I love the times where I can witness everyone breathing in unison while we take 10 minutes to calm our minds and bodies before engaging in the group’s art directive.
Most of the trauma focused groups that I offer to youth or adults have a structure of predictability and consistency built into its format. This helps with decreasing feelings of anxiety and empowers the group member with a general awareness about what to expect.
It’s been a super busy last couple of weeks and I am grateful within that time I was able to schedule in attending a day of the National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children’s Annual Childhood Trauma Practitioner’s Assembly.
One of the workshops I attended was facilitated by Nora Stanger and focused on overcoming childhood trauma through reframing experiences, exploring & discovering life purpose, as well as the connection of foundational values and personal leadership in finding that calling. Check out Nora’s TEDx talk Embrace Your Past…. Define Your Future (8:39) to learn more about her powerful, inspiring story of post traumatic growth:
Acknowledge and Apply Your Strengths- What personal strengths can you bring to the situation?
Find & Use the Positives- Using your strengths, how can you make the situation better?
Accept the Uncontrollable- What parts are not in your control? What are you willing to give up?
Focus on the Controllable- What can you control (thoughts, feelings, actions)?
Reframing invites a different way of seeing the experience and challenges us to explore our beliefs about the situation and to change or reverse its meaning. This perspective can help us manage the experience better and from a strength-based and empowering mind set. I was super happy that this workshop also included shout outs to the pioneering positive psychology work of Dr. Martin Seligman and his site authentichappiness.org.
On life purpose, Nora discussed how looking beyond ourselves and situations helps discover, give voice, and action to the bigger meaning and calling of our existence, no matter what our past and circumstances. She cited the work of Dr. Bill Millard and his Life Calling Model, which outlines a series of values rooted in character, faith, and service connected to our strengths, passion, and experiences to explore life purpose. Foundational Values are at the core of our being and helps form the way we think about the world, ourselves, and others. Our values are the basis of our choices (Millard, 2012).
I was inspired by Nora’s content and these presented models not only in relationship to my work in trauma with survivors, but as another addition to covenant based caregiving that I learned about last month. More inspiration and awesome ideas for transforming this stuff into altered book form! Thank you Nora!
Also at the TLC Assembly, I was able to present a workshop on art journaling, trauma intervention, and self care, which was a nice way for attendees to end the week. This part lecture/part art-making workshop explored the use of art journaling as a safe, contained space for processing emotional expression, promoting self care, and sharing ones personal narrative and intentions related to trauma work. Content also included themes and the benefits of art journaling as a visual voice and means of trauma intervention with youth and women survivors. The group engaged in creating their own mini art journal with paper bags with mixed media to help identify and support their own professional self-care practices:
It was such a pleasure to work with this group! Thank you to everyone who attended!
You can check out all the photos from the Assembly’s great week via TLC here. 🙂
This week was our annual staff retreat and this year the day was completely dedicated to the impact of trauma exposure, self-care strategies, and resiliency. The retreat’s main speaker was Cynthia Vrabel, MD, who is the Medical Director of FrontLine Service here in Cleveland. Dr. Vrabel’s work includes an interest in research and program development to address the issue of secondary traumatic stress in clinicians and first responders.
I found the content presented throughout the day really spoke to the realities, challenges, & struggles of trauma work and exposure related to compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, and burnout, as well as provided nurturing and encouraging staff self-care strategies and takeaways to implement and build upon as individuals, within programming, and agency wide. It was re-energizing to spend the day receiving Dr. Vrabel’s teachings and reminders rooted in the work of Dr. Bruce Perry, Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, Brene Brown, and many others who offer support & inspiration related to trauma focused work.
There were countless takeaways from the day, but my top 3 were these:
Create a Transition Zone: A space, ritual or practice that supports us to create a healthier boundary and balance between our personal life and work. In the same spirit, this idea reminded me to re-visit the article, 10 Easy Steps to Creating a Peaceful Home Retreat published by the Joyful Heart Foundation‘s Reunion Magazine (Issue 2). This resource provides many sensory based suggestions that can help cultivate routines and areas within the space we live to shift into a place of calmness, peace, and relaxation. Using symbolic objects, scents, music, journaling, creative expression, & more are all offered as options to integrate this into self care practice.
Covenant Based Caregiving: A covenant can be defined as “a written agreement or promise…especially for the performance of some action.” What are your covenants, values, or intentions related to bringing your “best self” to your life, work and service….to not only others, but to yourself as well? We were given a worksheet created by Dr. Vrabel to explore discovering our own covenants that I thought could easily be explored in visual form as well (I thought about making a collage or book!). What are your own values and promises to yourself that you can make about living, working, loving, being, becoming, believing, promoting, striving, and seeking that support covenant caregiving vs. “on demand” caregiving?
Compassion Satisfaction: Compassion satisfaction is the enjoyment created from being able to help other people. It is the opposite of Compassion Fatigue (the emotional and physical exhaustion of caring for others) or Vicarious Trauma (becoming traumatized ourselves as a result of being exposed to stories and images of suffering). I am always interested in learning more about concepts connected to Post Traumatic Growth and how very stressful or traumatic situations can transform into positive and life affirming experiences. Compassion Satisfaction supports this experience for the helper or caregiver, which I love! Check out this resource: Transforming Compassion Fatigue into Compassion Satisfaction – 12 Top Self Care Tips for more ideas and suggestions.
In addition to the cognitive learning throughout the day, there was also dedicated time to mind/body & sensory based activities to support and explore self-care themes. Part of the morning included engaging in stretching, movement, & deep breathing and during some of the afternoon I was able to introduce and lead everyone in an art experience focused on art journaling as a tool for nurturing emotional resilience.
Everyone created paper bag art journals (check out this past post on how to make one!) as a tangible reminder of our supports, strengths, positive affirmations, and comfort. Each person also received an Artist Trading Card as an invitation to create an anchoring image that reflected a sense of peace and relaxation inspiration. A variety of creative goodness was offered for materials such as acrylic paint, pastels, Sharpies, gel pens, printed paper of various colors and bright designs, tissue paper, as well as journaling cards & Smash pad paper. I also invited people to bring their own favorite quotes, sayings, images and inspiration related to resiliency, affirmation, and self-care.
It was great to see the room buzz with book making and art journaling energy infused with both written and visual positive messages. The group was encouraged to continue working on their handmade journal and ATC post retreat and to also incorporate its presence into a work space where it could be of help or support in times of need or support.
It was so wonderful to have a day to come together to honor self-care and the impact trauma work can have on our wellbeing, as well as learn and practice ways to manage, balance, and cultivate what supports our best self – at work, home, and in our relationships. Very grateful!
I kicked off the Assembly with seasoned TLC workshop presenter Jean West who presented great content and considerations about developing a trauma informed community. What I found most valuable about this workshop was learning more about the parts of community collaboration in relationship to trauma work and informed care. From Jean’s lecture and handout, I was inspired to do some mindmapping to highlight important areas such as, but not limited to:
Identifying what individuals, groups, organizations, etc. you need to get involved
How to get them engaged to support trauma informed care
Trauma Champions from your community that can be mobilized to advocate & educate
Become a Trauma Champion: What can you do as an individual to contribute!
I also attended Michele Thompson’s workshop, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to learn more about this approach and its tools related to mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy. In this workshop I took away a lot of resources to explore further and became very interested in the concept of Valued Living, developed by Kelly Wilson and Russ Harris:
Valued living is having a notion about what we want out of life and then making a commitment to ourselves to take action in service of those values. It is the most vital way in which we would choose to live. If we are to truly live a valued life, we will be forever moving in the direction of our values. Values are part of our journey, not a simple destination. Values are not specific goals with an end point, like a bike race or a triathlon. Values are a continuous way of living. (Center for Value Living)
An article co-written by Wilson about Valued Living and ACT can also be downloaded here.
Another TLC presenter I enjoy seeing every year is Kelly Warner and learning more about her trauma work with youth, especially in relationship to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Kelly’s workshop this year focused on interventions and ideas related to group work with adolescents. This included drawing, music, & journaling to explore topics about safety, trust, processing feelings & thoughts about their trauma experience, and strengthening self-awareness.
One of the small group exercises we did included a silent round robin activity with Play Doh where we each took turns creating & adding a symbol or making an addition to a group piece related to the theme of safety.
Secondary Victimization: Hurt by Others, Hurt by Self– Cherie’s secondary wounding workshop also included writing ideas to help trauma survivors cope with feelings of blame, minimization, other’s expectations about their experience, and the hurt and devaluing that surfaces from secondary wounding.
Dialogue Letters: Between now self and then self, between trauma and self
Forgiveness Letters: Forgiving a part, a person, or past choices & behaviors
Wish Poems: Letting go of expectations, what could/should have been
Another good idea from Cherie to incorporate into writing & secondary wounding was the work of Virginia Satir (who I love!) and her 5 Freedoms of Becoming Fully Human. Identifying and writing about “My Personal Freedoms”as a prompt can to help survivor’s reclaim a sense of balance. Great idea!
Attending Laura Serazin’s workshop about her work with the Chardon Schools here in NE Ohio was really helpful to learn more about how making art, drumming, and other creative group interventions helped families and this community cope after the high school’s 2012 school shooting.
In small groups we created Safety Islands (from TLC’s Helping Children Feel Safe Program) which was one of the activities families and survivors engaged in during a workshop they attended at her agency.
And…on the last day of the Assembly, I was excited and honored to facilitate a morning workshop about my work with youth around the topic of peacemaking through creativity, as well as highlighting art’s role in peacemaking, conflict resolution, and social transformation.
It was nice to see some familiar faces, meet new ones, and connect with more like minded trauma specialists during this workshop!
During one of the hands-on activities, attendees participated in a sensory based drawing inspired by Vladmir Radunsky’s book “What does peace feel like?. Radunsky’s creative picture book challenges children to envision peace as one of the five senses. It was lots of fun and a great group experiential to share what peace looks, tastes, smells, sounds, or feels like with one another!
We also spent time creating Peace Flags focused around the theme of “Peace for me, Peace for us, Peace for everyone, and Peace for the world”, the core guidelines & values I try to cultivate in my Peacemaker Art Therapy groups.
I am also grateful to be included in this year’s Assembly program again. I am presenting a morning workshop on the Assembly’s last day: Peace Begins with Me: Creating Peacemakers through Creativity. This workshop will feature my art therapy work with youth exposed to domestic violence, bullying, and relational aggression who have been introduced to peacemaking concepts through art and the creative process. The role of art in peacemaking, conflict resolution, and bullying prevention will be explored. Art interventions, sensory based approaches, therapeutic books, and group work around this topic will also be presented and an art experiential for the group setting introduced.
I’ve been prepping for some art therapy offerings I’ll be teaching and presenting on this summer that highlight the use of art as a tool for change, transformation, and action:
In June, I’ll be teaching Advocacy and Empowerment: Social Action and Trauma Informed Care as an intensive summer course for graduate students in Ursuline College’s Art Therapy & Counseling Program. This course will introduce students to trauma informed art-based strategies and creative applications that can be implemented into a socially engaged therapeutic practice with individuals, groups, and in the community. Students will discover how creative expression helps provide a voice for women & youth survivors of domestic violence, families living with homelessness, and learn more about the role of art-making for empowerment, peacemaking, craftivism, and social action.
In July, at The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children (TLC)’sChildhood Trauma Practitioners Assembly in Clinton Township, Michigan I will be presenting the workshop Peace Begins with Me: Creating Peacemakers through Creativity. This offering will focus on strategies important to facilitating group work about peacemaking themes with children who have been exposed to domestic violence, bullying, and relational aggression. Participants will be introduced to sensory-based interventions, therapeutic books, and art expression that fosters peacemaking concepts, as well as cultivates possibilities for social change. In addition, content presented will help participants gain a trauma informed understanding about how these strategies and interventions promote safety, emotional expression, and coping.
I am looking forward to sharing my work, as well as other inspiring programs, projects, & initiatives with students and professionals interested in these topics. Lots of opportunities to get more involved with social action through art and the creative process!
And on a related note, I’m also thrilled to share this interview I did with Jocelyn Paige Kelly for Realizing Your Creative Life about using art for change and transformation. It includes some reflections on my passion for art therapy, my work with survivors of trauma, the artist trading card exchange Pocket Change, art based socially engaged projects that inspire me, and more. Check it out! Thanks to Jocelyn for the invitation to contribute to this interview series!
Over the course of this week I’ve been working on handsewing 26 paper hearts in memory of each child, teacher and staff member who was killed a week ago during the shooting tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.
Handsewing paper is an act I find soothing and comforting, as well as a containing creative practice in my own art-making that often reminds me about themes of fragility and mending.
Each heart that I created for this image will also be used for my response to the 26 Acts of Kindnesscampaign that went viral this week to honor the victims and create collective action to do something life affirming and positive in the wake of this heartbreaking incident. I’ll be sending out tags, cards, and envelopes with one of the 26 paper hearts above with messages of love and creative goodness as my contribution. I’m in. As Ann Curry asked, are you?
The above image is a spread from one of my file folder bluebooks I am currently working on to visually document some of my travels and adventures in twentytwelve. This spread includes printed material and paper stuff I collected throughout the week at the conference, some items from the sessions I attended, the hotel I stayed at, a little distressed ink, Staz On ink, as well as using my Smash Stamp and Smash Stick. It was lots of fun to collect stuff, play with laying it out, and glue it all together!
I also created the image below as a creative way to take notes on a session I was attending about implementing a trauma group for adults. The pre-cut figure shape fits really nicely in one of the file folder gluebook pockets!
In the workshop I presented, Finding a Safe Place: Creating Safety for Survivors of Domestic Violence through Art,attendees spent some of the session making a portable safe place in the form of an artist trading card with various collage materials. This special ATC serves as a symbolic safe place or image that can travel, become mobile, or easily be carried as a visual reminder and grounding tool for well being, comfort, and emotional safety. This ATC can also be displayed on a mini-easel, bulletin board, ones workspace, a nightstand, or become part of a journal (or for stashing in a file folder gluebook pocket!).
If you are interested to learning more about the topic I presented on, you can view the SlideShare here:
I’ve also pinned some content inspired by this year’s Assembly and workshops I attended on my Pinterest board about Trauma if you are interested in checking out any additional resources!
I am looking forward to returning back to Michigan next month to present for VCE’s Trauma Learning Series about the benefits of art therapy with traumatized and grieving children & adolescents…
I am looking forward to offering a new workshop that will be offered at this year’s National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children’s (TLC) Childhood Trauma Practitioners Assembly, Finding a Safe Place: Creating Safety for Domestic Violence Survivors through Art. This half day afternoon workshop on the Assembly’s first day will present some of my work addressing safety issues through art expression with youth and women survivors of domestic violence.
In my current individual and group work with women, children, and adolescents, creating a sense of safety has a heightened and complex state beyond establishing a strong therapeutic rapport and alliance. Issues and themes related to safety and managing traumatic stress for survivors of domestic violence are increasingly impacted by feelings of intense worry, a constant state of fear, and living in relentless uncertainty. Addressing safety planning, shelter adjustment, confusing and frightening legal issues related to court, custody and visitation arrangements, as well as coping with difficult secondary losses such as leaving one’s home, separation from friends & family, belongings, pets or changing schools are often here and now realities.
My TLC workshop will present the benefits of art expression in trauma intervention to provide a safe and creative space for survivors to re-establish, become comfortable with, and begin to find a sense of refuge in their lives again. Through sensory based art experiences that support & promote emotional expression, strength based adaptive coping, relaxation, and builds on concepts of resiliency, survivors can also begin to be grounded in hope , compassion, and understanding.