On Being a Leaf in the Stream

Book contract is officially SIGNED!
    When my dear friend Vonda Skelton asked me to tag along to a writers conference she was speaking at – I had no idea what could be in store for me. I told her – “I plan to meet with no one. No editors, no authors. I’m here to just be a sponge. I don’t know what I don’t know.”
    I’ve written all my life. I have books still stored in my brain that have yet to be put on paper. I have written manuscripts that I’ve shown – nobody! All of those were swirling in my head as I was telling Vonda “I’m not going to tell anyone I’m a closet writer.” Essentially what I was saying though, was “I won’t be vulnerable.” I was saying “I’m not ready to put myself out there.” “I’m not willing to take the risk of feeling ashamed of my work.”
    The first day of the conference, the faculty was introduced, and I saw Michelle Adams. She wears a smile bigger than Texas. That along with her long blonde locks, knockout humor and gorgeous appearance would attract anyone. But, when they introduced Michelle, I didn’t see any of that. In a flash, I saw a picture of a monster I drew. The monster reminded me of a children’s story I wrote for art therapy trauma class.
    I thought “there isn’t any way I am showing that to her,” but I felt the nudge. You know the feeling, when you know you’re being lead to do something but it scares the daylights out of you. So my next thought was, “OK, I will follow this leading, I will show it to her. What do I have to lose?”
    So before I knew it, I was signing up for a fifteen minute slot to meet with Michelle and show her my story. At that moment, I was very brave. I was sure. As sure as the sun that I was to meet with her and toss this little manuscript her way. I was risking being vulnerable.
    That night, I opened up my iPad to find the story. I couldn’t find it. In a panic I searched my iPad, and then my Dropbox. I had to go back to the original class to find the PDF that housed the story and a few messy digital monster drawings.
    I read it and thought “this is awful!” The courage was gone. I began critiquing it, and had the urge to change it up. Then I heard “no, leave it.” So I did.
    When I woke up the next morning, I felt a rush of fear. I had told no one of my  5:00 appointment with Michelle, and began thinking of ways I could go by that sign-up table and scribble my name out so no one would know it was me. Then I resisted, “no, I felt lead, I’m going to do this!”
     Three o’clock came, and I had the same urge – to go scribble my name out so hard no one would know it was me. “No, I felt lead, I am going to do this” I told myself. I made myself stay in the conference area and not even walk by the room where the sign-up sheets were.
    Ten-till-five. I felt a wave of heat overcome me. Panic. “Oh no – not now!” I reminded myself to breathe. I began implementing the self-calming techniques I teach my clients. It’s easier to teach them than it is to practice them! I reminded myself that I felt lead to share this with her, to be myself, and whatever happens – happens.
    As Martha Beck taught me, it is freeing to be a “leaf in the stream.” The stream is Gods will, and the leaf floats on the stream, and doesn’t fight the current. The leaf knows that it is a waste of energy to fight the current, so it just floats where the will of God takes it.
    As I walked into the room where Michelle was I was chanting in my head “leaf in the stream… you felt lead to do this… just be yourself.. just be transparent and tell her what lead you to sign up.. be you, it’s OK… leaf in the stream.. be you…”
    I sat down in front of her and began blabbering about everything I’ve just told you. The feeling lead to talk with her. Seeing the illustration flash before my eyes. I told her I was a therapist, going to school for my second Master degree in art therapy, and on and on… leaf in the stream. I’m not even sure if I told her my name!
    She stopped me and asked to see the story. I handed her my iPad, and she read through it. She looked at me and said “This is good. You need to publish this!” In my excitement I began sharing with her my vision for this book, a series that parents and therapists can use to help children understand emotions. She was so pleasant, encouraging, and outright amazing. She gave me suggestions on how to improve the story, to show not tell, in the most sincere, gentle way.
    Michelle stopped for a moment, placed her hands flat on my iPad, looked up at me and asked “Would you illustrate my next book?” I was stunned. Leaf in the stream Cheryl, you were lead to this place.
    “Did you just say that?” I asked.
    “Yes!” She replied in her ever-so-cheery voice. “Yes I did.”
    “How can I say “no” to that?”
    We chatted a little bit more about exchanging contact info, and my time was up. I floated out of that room. I passed a woman I had met the night before who asked me who I just met with. I told her and she asked how it went. I told her “I think I just got an illustrating deal!” She was excited for me, but shared how nervous she was for her meeting with another author. I told her “be a leaf in the stream. Be yourself. You will do great!”
    I went outside and stood on the back deck of this facility and looked to the mountains. They were gorgeous and just sang in beauty. I was still floating.
    I can’t believe that just happened! I chanted. I can’t believe that just happened!
    But it did happen, and it never would have happened if I didn’t risk being vulnerable and resisted the possibility of being shamed. I followed the guidance of God. I was sure, and I followed.
    Who would have thought that I would go to my first writers conference and come home an illustrator? I began to think about all of the amazing authors that were there and how many of them could have been looking for an artist like me. I never thought to market myself as an illustrator at that conference. I was going to be a sponge, but was rewarded with becoming an illustrator.
    So, I signed the contract to illustrate “Little Angel Gets a Big Job”. I have a swift deadline. I have been called, and I will answer. I am but a leaf in the stream. Thank you Stream for calling me. Thank you Michelle for taking a risk on me – you will not be disappointed. Thank you Vonda for taking me to this conference. I will forever be grateful!
    Tell me, reader, do you have a leaf in the stream story? I’d love to hear it!

Self Care 101: The basics of how to provide yourself with what you need.

Self care. Whether you are a client, healthcare practioner, child, adult, man or woman, you need self care. Self care refers to those things that we do for ourselves that keep us healthy physically, emotionally and spiritually. The problem with self care is that some fall into the trap that caring for ourselves makes us selfish. It is no selfish to provide for ourselves that which we provide for others on a daily and sometimes moment-to-moment basis.

My clients have heard this metaphor time and time again, but think of self care in this way:
When the air pressure of an aircraft drops and the oxygen masks drop, the passengers are instructed to first put the masks on themselves first before proceeding to put the mask on another who may not be able to do so for themselves. Is it selfish of the person to put the oxygen mask on themselves first?

The purpose of placing the mask on ourselves first is so that we are able to put the mask on others. If we do not take care of ourself first we will not be able to help the others who may need our help. In the same way, providing ourselves with self care is helping others.

Self care is not a selfish act, but a necessity. While working in hospice, I learned the importance of providing myself and my colleagues with self care opportunities. Sometimes it came in the form of group counseling, individual therapy, prayer, a painting class, meeting after work for dinner, and so on. We did that because of the stress level of our jobs. On a daily basis we talked illness, palliative care, and death. Many times we experienced first hand our clients graduating to the other side. Occasionally we were able to discharge patients because they got better. The roller coaster of emotions we experienced on a daily basis proves why working in hospice is such a high burnout career.

High burnout professions (not an exhaustive list by any means):
* Healthcare – Physicians, nurses, social workers, therapists, counselors
* Emergency response professions – EMT’s, Paramedics, Police, Fire Fighters
* Armed Services – Army, Navy, Marine, Coast Guard, National Guard, Reserves
* Law – lawyers
* Teaching – Teachers, Principals, Professors
* Parenting – special needs children, single parenting, mental illness in families

If you are in any one of the professions listed above, then you need to be practicing self care. In the next blog post I will discuss the three areas of self care:
* Physical self care
* Emotional Self Care
* Spiritual self care

Until then, remember the importance of placing the oxygen mask on yourself first before placing it on others. What areas of your life do you attempt to place the mask on others first? Do you then find that you are unable to help because you don’t have the oxygen (or energy) you need to help them?

Responsive Art making in Art Therapy


“Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.”

Pablo Picasso

Responsive art making is one way that therapists can establish a routine of self-care without sacrificing a great deal of time and money. The benefits of responsive art making to the therapist, and to their clients is limitless.

Responsive art making is a term that refers to creating a visual art-based response to something that just occurred. It is a visual response to an event, a conversation, or unspoken emotions, etc. that can clearly document the perspective of the artist. Responsive art making is a means of communicating that which one may not have the words to explain. When we create art, we are sharing a perspective; our perspective, (Leavy, 2015, p. 224). Leavy (2015) continues, “Visual art inherently opens up multiple meanings that are determined not only by the artist but also the viewer and the context of viewing.”

Moon (1998) began the discussion of responsive art making with his case study showcased in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, “The Tears Make Me Paint.” The success of the study described in this article is what sparked the researchers interest in responsive art making in the therapy session. That, along with her own trauma-related recovery and responsive art making in therapy inspired her to seek further knowledge on this subject.

In the above mentioned article, Moon created response art and recorded the powerful responses he received from the adolescents he worked with. Many trauma-related disorders keep the client locked in the age in which the trauma occurred, especially dissociative disorders which are primary in the presentation of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), (Chefetz, 2015). Rubin (2006) states that “trauma often involves and resides in the body… it can occur before a child has language, or can render the victim psychically speechless… For these reasons, and because of the frequent injunction by abusers not to tell, memories of traumatic experiences are often difficult, if not impossible to access with verbal therapy alone, (p. 10).” Responsive art making can be a unique way to communicate and relate to clients of trauma while working in the age locked parts. Because the arts help to express and contain overwhelming emotions due to the shock of the trauma, (Rubin, 2006) it is not a far jump to hypothesize that the arts will aid in the treatment of clients who have experienced trauma.

Responsive art making in session as well as out of session can be an invaluable tool to foster a deeper therapeutic relationship, especially in the treatment of CSA clients. Responsive art making allows for distance between the therapist’s reactions and response to the clients ongoing journey through the trauma. Art making in and of itself can become a mode of communication when words just are not available to the client, (Fish, 2008; Pifalo, 2007) and could serve as a reflective mirror of the therapists validating, non-judgmental response to the client.

Chefetz, R. A. (2014). Intensive Psychotherapy for Persistent Dissociative Processes: The Fear of Feeling Real (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology) (Kindle Edition. ed.). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

Fish, B. (2008). Formative Evaluation Research of Art-Based Supervision in Art Therapy Training. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 25(2), pp. 70-77.

Leavy, P. (2015). Method Meets Art, Second Edition: Arts-Based Research Practice. Guilford Publications. Kindle Edition.

Moon, B. (1998). The Tears Make Me Paint: The Role of Responsive Artmaking in Adolescent Art Therapy. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 16(2), pp. 78-82.

Pifalo, T. (2002). Pulling Out the Thorns: Art Therapy with Sexually Abused Children and Adolescents. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 19(1), 12-22.

Rubin, J. (2006) Foreword. In Carey, L. (Ed.), Expressive and creative arts methods for trauma survivors (p. 9), (Kindle Edition. ed.). New York, NY: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Copyright 2016 Childers