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.