Good Old-Fashioned Gratitude

I am not always as grateful as I would like to be. I can often get weighed down by grouchiness, irritability and frustration. I am trying mightily to turn this trend around. Here is an example.

Sometimes at work I experience the all too common problems of conflict with co-workers, slowness at getting things done, and the multiple challenges presented by the client population that I work with. A more  positive way of thinking about this is: I am thankful that I have a fulfilling position doing the work that I love. I am thankful for the opportunities to learn about how I can more effectively deal with others while remaining true to myself. I am thankful for the processes and policies that are in place and which allow for discussion, careful consideration, and prudence. I am thankful for being able to be a loving presence in the lives of my clients and for them allowing me to join them on their journeys.

I am ever thankful for the opportunities that I have had in the field of art therapy. It has by no means been an easy path. Had I known just how challenging it would be, I might have chosen something else. But that is the blessing, we don’t know what lies ahead or we probably would never attempt anything! I am thankful that I persevered in times of instability and doubt. I am thankful that I have a broad network of professional colleagues who inspire and challenge me. I am thankful for the readers of this blog-7,500 hits to date! I am thankful for all that I learn from my students and interns and for the opportunity to be a teacher and a supervisor.

I am thankful for my clients. I have learned countless lessons from them over the years including the value of endurance and persistence in the face of medical and mental illness, the radical hopefulness of waking up every morning and putting your feet on the floor, and the power of love in the therapeutic alliance (more to come on that topic!). The sharp contrast between many of their lives and mine makes me ever grateful for my home, my friends, my family, my health  and my freedoms.

I am even thankful for  conflict. It makes me examine my own ideas, values and needs. It helps me to stand up for myself and figure out what is important enough to go to the mat for. It challenges me to do my best and be strong.

And, dear reader, I am thankful for you. Thank you for reading my blog. Thank you for sharing your ideas and thoughts with me. Thank you for considering my ideas. Thank you for your contributions to the field. Thank you for your creative spirits. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.


Her Eyes Saw Trees

I want to tell you another story about art therapy in action. As always, details have been changed to protect the identity of the client, who has since passed away.

Sonia was a resident at a nursing home I worked at many years ago. She was legally blind and dealing with symptoms of dementia, along with numerous medical problems. Because of her symptoms, she had difficulty interacting with others in the present moment.

I took my little traveling case of art materials and went to visit her. She lived in a small room that she rarely left and that was shared with another resident. Tchotchkes  lined the room, a small 12′ x 12′ space. When I first met Sonia, I wasn’t sure how I could be helpful to her. She told wild stories of being the doctor to the President and flying off in her helicopter on the weekends to save him from a life-threatening emergency.

I introduced Sonia to the art materials I had in my “have art, will travel” tool kit. Because of being legally blind, she had trouble managing the paint and brushes. I started loading the brushes with paint and handing them to her. She began painting.

While she painted, she spoke of trees. Trees that welcomed her, hid her, sheltered her, protected her. Trees that were vast and green and luscious. She painted these trees, or her approximation of them. And slowly but surely her stories changed.

I no longer heard about saving the President. No, now the stories were about being a famous artist and selling her work to galleries for thousands of dollars. She was absolutely elated as she told me of the dealers who had come from far and wide to buy her work.

Did art therapy “cure” Sonia’s dementia? No, of course not. But it did give her a positive identity, an outlet, a focusing energy, and a conduit for our relationship. I came in one morning to learn that Sonia had passed away in the night. I was deeply saddened, but I will never forget how her eyes saw trees.

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