Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Pat B. Allen on Social Justice and Art Therapy

The next American Art Therapy Association conference will be held July 6-10 in Baltimore MD. In case you haven't been watching the news, and I can understand if that has become a heart breaking task for many, the subject of the other and privilege has been in the forefront of national social issues. Without saying those exact words; "other" and "privilege", most of us know the subtext in the media of what really drives the heat and passion of this debate. And why is it even a debate at all?

Pat B. Allen, beloved colleague and teacher in field as well as fore-mother of the social justice and art therapy caucus, has gifted the blog with some powerful words of thought stemming from this year's AATA conference in Minneapolis, bits of the current climate in our country, if not the world, and from the powerful work of Lonni Ann Fredman this year at the conference:

 Art Therapy, Privilege, and Social Justice

Everyone is familiar with the air travel axiom: put on your own oxygen mask before trying to help others. Similar advice can be offered to many in the helping professions, not least of all, art therapists. Yes, the work you do with others is important, that’s a given. But you, intrinsically, before anything you do or accomplish, are important, worthy of being heard and seen in your truth, irrespective of your ‘privilege’. At the recent AATA conference in Minneapolis, Lonni Ann Fredman, current chair of the Social Justice Caucus, held the space for a workshop where both our need to be seen as well as our need to gain skills in simple listening, the basis of all social justice work, were ably met. As we made art together, I found my own awareness rising and falling. What does it mean to do good in the world? Can I help others if my own needs are unmet? For a while maybe; but not in the long run.
I want to raise some delicate questions: do you have your own art practice in place? Do you have a group of trusted peers and colleagues with whom to share the joy and stress of your work? Do you have a supportive and encouraging mentor? Do you take care of your basic needs for healthy food, adequate rest, time in nature and with family and friends? Do you ask for help when you need it? If just reading this list makes you feel even remotely guilty, stop right here. It’s time to consider your priorities.
I am proposing an exploration of the intersectionality of self-esteem that may be more or less unconscious among art therapists. As Gina Crosely-Corcoran writes in a blog entitled: “Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person”  on Occupywallstreet.net:
“The concept of Intersectionality recognizes that people can be privileged in some ways and definitely not privileged in others. There are many different types of privilege, not just skin color privilege that impact the way people can move through the world or are discriminated against. These are all things you are born into, not things you earned, that afford you opportunities others may not have.”
On the surface of it, every art therapist is a person of privilege. Mea culpa. If you have managed to graduate college, attain a master’s degree, fork over hundreds to attend an AATA conference, and afford art materials -- all things you have earned -- you also have the scaffolding beneath you that supports the ability to make those choices, i.e., a privileged life. Yet, you can feel downright oppressed. You may have crushing school debt, a job that sucks your life while it is supposed to be making the world a better place. You may have discovered that the demands of having a family while doing work that is emotionally draining leaves you feeling tapped out and ineffective in the multiple arenas of your life.
This suffering arises directly from our privileged choices, freely made. Or maybe not so freely made.  The current trend to get others to ‘see their privilege’ seems a bit misguided. Much of what we do is driven by underlying needs to be seen, valued, acknowledged and held in esteem. If our foundational sense of worth is shaky --and we all get shaky -- we seek ways to gain a sense of worth externally.
Lonni Ann held out a way to encourage and support one another that I hope will become a trend at the conference and in our professional sphere in general: let’s see one another with soft eyes, let’s listen to one another with open hearts, let’s make time to make art together without judgment or agenda for the simple act of appreciation of all that we are and all that we aspire to become. Speak your truth; ask for help; know that you are amazing, imperfect and irreplaceable.

Pat B. Allen, Ph.D., ATR, HLM lives in Ojai, CA

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Look at Historical Trauma and the Result on Indigenous Populations

**I intend to follow up with this entry with personal stories and art from the community I work for.

Native American/American Indian communities and other indigenous cultures are protective people; protective of their culture, their triumphs, ills, ways of life, rituals, etc., and for good reason. Even hundreds of years after colonization, occupation and eradication (99% of American Indians were destroyed one way or another in the yearly decades of colonization leaving the remaining populations today related to a mere 1% of the original populations), these communities continue to be victimized systemically and are still suffering intergenerationally. Destroyed is not harsh enough. Decimated. Pummeled. Tricked. My own path, rich with Native history as well as mystery, led me to a particular Indian community that I have served for over four years. I am a guest here. I am grateful. And where I help, I am also taught.

My heart has been broken, as have all the hearts of the community here, by the Marysville Pilchuck High School shootings in November last year. I was part of a crisis team of therapists setting up a camp, if you will, of support on the rez within a half hour of the events. As information about this story continues to unfold, information that I will not betray of the community I love, I can only say that had occupation never occurred, neither would these events that so recently passed. I blame history.

With that, please review the following article on Native American students' visit with the First Lady. Think about these things, so succinctly written in a short page online. Apply them to all marginalized populations and oppressed peoples. Open your eyes.


Monday, March 2, 2015

Ai-Jen Poo's View of Aging in America

A coworker of mine, the venerable Dr. Barry Grosskpf, is an amazing man and an expert on trauma. A survivor of the Holocaust, he and his wife Wendy Lustbader spend a great deal of time when not at work writing books and giving talks about trauma, ptsd and interesting brainiac stuffs while generally being all around champions for change.

I was forwarded this amazing article written by the aforementioned Lustbader that I wanted to share with all of you. It was inspired by her reading of the book The Age of Dignity, by Ai-Jen Poo.

Our elders are our most precious resource for history. Social Justice work has taught us, if anything, that what is espoused in the lines of textbooks is more often than not a pale, shriveled reflection of truth. It aims to be truth, when in fact is often merely an agenda. Our elders are often left out of the modern Social Justice debate. They are living history. And it is shameful that they are sometimes forgotten.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Submissions Wanted!

As the next AATA conference approaches, I am inspired by the work I'm seeing from professionals as well as clients. Calling all art therapists--please contact me with submissions to be published in a future blog post regarding...drum roll please....social justice!

Submit your poetry, visual arts, links to videos, etc., of your work that speaks to social justice issues globally, locally or even from a practitioner point of view.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Accessibility to Services and the Great Disservice

As I near the (temporary) end of my American Art Therapy Association membership due to financial hardship, I wanted to talk a little about access to services and social justice.

With Healthcare reform in flux, I was eager to see more people gain access to medical care, including mental wellness services. If you fall in the right income bracket, you're good to go. If you are blessed with a job that covers you, you're good to go (though in my case my premium doubled). But...like many things in this world...if you do not belong to the right "group," in this case financial "group," you lose that access almost entirely. I know many people who make a few hundred dollars a month over the limit for medicaid or medicare, and after they spent time on the insurance hub, find that the $300-$600 per month range is about where they are going to land. And for coverage that is a limiting HMO, with high deductibles and co-pays. Who can afford that if they are really in the low-income range or barely above?

Despite the recent increase in my insurance rates, I'm sitting pretty good and I feel blessed. At nearly 40, for the first time in my life, I have good coverage, though at 40, it might be a little too late for preventative care. A lot of people are seeing increases in payments, or decreases in hours. And my own personal finances need to be restructured in the next couple of months for sure, thus my temporary membership lapse (I will be back).

We've talked about white privilege recently, and access to services from a counselor perspective; i.e. who is willing to give a little more in gratis sessions? And we've talked about stigmas. But I'd like to say something about the sense of being a socioeconomic "other."
Sign Outside the Greenbelt4; a wealthy shopping and living community in metro Manila, Philippines

This is not a new thing, wealth status. It's something those of us who are more socially minded would love to see disappear. But there's also something to be said for earning what you have. When I first took over the blog I "labeled" myself according to my otherness. I feel like the "other" all the time. Otherworldly. Otherwise. Otherguess. Recently, while conducting some business for the Social Justice Caucus, I received words that were non-maliced in their intention, but left me feeling as "other" as I've ever felt. In short, I was asked to disassociate from the caucus based on the lapse of my membership. By mere virtue of not "belonging" to the organization any more, I was marked as no longer necessary. And frankly, at the time, that hurt. So I voiced this hurt, rather publicly via a "reply-all" e-mail and as diplomatically as possible expressed how I felt.

My current socioeconomic hardships were keeping me from engaging in important work that played to this very problem. It seemed like the ultimate dichotomy. I remember, as a student, how lucky it felt to have a discounted rate to AATA. And yet I couldn't afford that half the time either. Suddenly, I was fantasizing about standing in front of a country club in baggy jeans with my mohawk, being told I didn't belong, even if I had an Al Geiberger golf game of 59. (If you don't get that reference, don't worry. It was a clever stretch.) But I betcha they'd let me cut the grass!

At the end of the day, my tantrum was heard in a very gracious way by a couple of very important people, which included a personal phone call from someone in the most unlikeliest of positions, and a donation offer from a colleague, who I respectfully declined in service of motivating myself back into financial health over the next couple of months.

I envision a world without memberships, and cliques and clubs. A place where we all have something to gain by experiencing things with one another on all fronts. I understand that organizations need to be funded, I really do. And I understand membership fees. But I'm wondering if there isn't room to create some hardship funds for memberships, or in these economic times drop the rates just a little so that the membership can grow. Above all else, be careful how you wield your words. As therapists, we are reminded of this over and over and over again.

Do no harm. When you wake up every morning, believe these words and live them.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Dose of Inspiration from Artists Addressing Social Concerns in their Work

Submitted by Sally Giles, MAAT, ATR-BC, LPC, Sally attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and is an art therapist in Portland Oregon. She practices with older adults in a long-term care setting as well as with children and families experiencing grief and loss. 

I recently came across these artists who are using their work to call attention to culturally significant issues. I find it inspiring to see their work and remember that even small acts can have a wide reach. 

Way to go Sally! Beautiful articles. Thank you for bringing inspiration into our lives and keeping a keen eye open to issues important to us.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Just a Little Bit More

I have been hearing about float tank deprivation therapy for a little while now. The Seattle area has opened 3 independently owned float and massage clinics and I have heard good things. My birthday was the 21st, and the agency I work for is gracious enough to provide paid birthdays. With all the powerful experiences I've had this year, losses for both myself and a serious onslaught in the community I work for, not to mention that between 2 hours of commuting every day and having zero time to myself, I really wanted to try this form of self-care.

I researched it and was curious and excited. But it's very expensive (though there is some movement to have it become insurance billable under alternative medicine). Each clinic had a "first time float" special, which gave a discounted rate of approximately 50%. To give you an idea, my float would have been $45. I tried to imagine liking this and being able to afford it often enough to be beneficial over time. It reminded me a lot of seeing a counselor.
But it was my birthday, and I needed it, so off I went to experience something quite spectacular.

The clinic was beautiful. There was a relaxation room encompassed in plush couches with a tea bar and snacks to purchase. I was given an iPad to watch a cute instructional video of the dos and do nots of floating. Then I was led to my room, which was gorgeous, dark and tiled in earthy rock. There was a shower, which I was to use before and after my float, with special cleansing products for hair and body, including after care for my ears because of the Epsom salt.

A float tank contains 10 inches of water saturated with 1100 lbs of Epsom. You become completely buoyant in the dark (or not if you choose) with earplugs to simulate a weightless, womb-like experience. Some research shows it's like flipping a switch in your neurology. There's evidence that supports healing from chronic pain and injury as well as mental wellness and trauma. Here is an interesting video and article: http://www.statesofawareness.net/dr-weissman-talks-about-the-sensory-deprivation-tank/

The unfortunate part about my experience was that the building was under construction in the basement. While the construction ended by request of the owner at the time of my appointment, the men working on the building continued with a conversation....right below me...for 45 of the 60 minutes of my float. The wood and rock floors carried their deep throats into my pod. My earplugs, which would not stay in for the life of me, kept getting slick with Epsom and would spontaneously jettison out of my ears rousing me from my experience. The pod carried the men's voices deep inside of me, as it became a giant speaker.

My float sucked.

Despite all this, I felt as though I had experienced a wellness massage. I had that stoned feeling and could only imagine what I would have felt like had I been able to get a true experience. The owner of the business was eager to hear how it was for me. Calmly....supremely calmly (which is not my typical MO)...I expressed my disappointment and stated that I was still excited to try again. Then something magical happened.

HE COMPED MY FLOAT. Then something even MORE magical happened:

HE GAVE ME A GIFT CARD FOR ANOTHER ONE FREE! He believed so strongly is his therapy, and had such kindness of heart, to do these things for me.

And this is where YOU come in, dear service providers.

The kindness of heart to provide healing is why a lot of us do what we do. We believe in art therapy. We believe, often, in alternative forms of healing. But by golly, it's not cheap. I remember just a couple of years ago trying to find an art therapist in Seattle that I could afford, or who took my insurance. There aren't many of us around, which is the first challenge. I felt defeated while for months I called and visited several therapists. None of them accepted my insurance, so that was the first challenge. (I do understand the insurance issue is bigger than this. Having to report diagnoses that follow you forever is something not many of us really like doing. But that's another issue for another time.) And the going hourly rate here ranged from $90-$120 for an individual session.

I work for an agency, and of course one day aspire to private practice of my own. But being from a low socioeconomic status historically, and quite frankly supporting 3 people on less than $25 an hour putting me in that category now, makes it difficult to be able to afford counseling out of pocket.

Now, I believe our time is valuable. But this brings me to the ethical issue of sliding scale and set gratis appointments. There's an expectation that those of us in private practice provide a certain amount of these appointments. Of the 12 therapists I called, all but one, the one I currently have--who is great by the way--said that they did not have room for sliding scale or gratis. I was in some dark places when I was looking for a counselor. I had little to no access to services because of the thinness of my pockets, and I was left feeling unimportant. Part of that is on me; my own internalized oppression.

Today's news is filled with images of unwell people behaving in extraordinarily violent ways. The world is a terrifying place to be in and this global PTSD we are in, with a severe deficit in supportive systems for all, is creating armies of unwell people who really need our help.

We believe strongly in what we do and its capacity for healing. I know it may not be so simple, but I ask you to think about this the next time someone calls you, is hurting and you seem to be out of their reach.

Can you not give just a little bit more? What can you do?

You may just be saving lives.