The news media is filled with negative stories depicting distasteful people placed into powerful positions by election (i.e. politicians), or by talent, into the realms of sports or entertainment. Newspapers often read like cheap tabloids. We are bombarded by images online of politicians who are bilking taxpayers of billions of dollars and sports/entertainment heroes whose lives are out-of-control. We are lured to click onto seductive headlines by wiggling bodies vying for our attention.
Crime on the streets and in neighborhoods is rising at alarming rates. Promises of health care reform have not trickled down into ordinary people’s lives. In fact, insurance companies more than medical professionals are dictating the treatment people choose and with whom they trust their care. Insurance concerns are in a sense representative of the “lucky ones” who have health care, access to computers to research their treatment plans, and a place to call home. Many, many more people these days are living without access.
Higher education is saddling students with heavy debt, and forcing them to gamble that the economy will improve so that they can become employed upon graduation. People who are getting older and cannot find employment are returning to school as well. They also are gambling that a career change will provide them with the resources to take care of themselves in old age.
Life’s pressures seem to be increasing without sufficient places to vent or transform the stressors of life. Instead, we have had to become more knowledgeable, more vigilant to become our own advocates in just about every aspect of our lives, including managing the care of family members who are reliant on us. Who has the time for all of this? Sometimes it feels as though we simply cannot keep up the pace.
The good news is that in general people are resilient. They find ways to cope. They turn off the television, or become more selective of what they watch. They take a break from the news or shut off the internet, thereby putting limits on the influx of information. Others pay attention to the body and mind. Yoga, for example, is a healthy answer to managing stress. Controlled deep breathing can return a person to a calm state. Meditation has been proven to reduce stress by calming the mind.
Physical activity has been shown to lift mood and reduce depression just by vigorous activity for 20 minutes at least three times a week. Music and the arts can provide inspiration. Putting one’s attention toward something that they are creating is helpful. Singing, dancing, making something that did not exist before can provide satisfaction that can feel good.
But what if your stress cannot be managed by physical activity, meditation, arts and crafts or yoga? What if the anxiety that you experience now has been with you throughout most of your life? You may have noticed that it acts up when you are increasingly stressed. Perhaps stress causes you to withdraw and isolate.
If you have directly experienced physical or emotional violence or aggression or if you witnessed violence against someone else, your anxiety and/or depression may be the result of posttraumatic stress (PTSD). If your symptoms of anxiety and/or depression are triggered by the behaviors of people at your place of employment, in your community, or in your own family, you may be feeling that your feelings and emotions are out of control. You may need professional help to process your experiences.
For some people talking is not enough to change their anxiety or depression because traumatic experiences are not only stored in the mind. They are also stored in the body and are connected with emotion. Getting to trauma memory is sometimes better accessed through nonverbal methods combined with verbal processing.
Art psychotherapy engages a person in nonverbal processes such as dreams, art making, movement, sound, video, or mixed media with the goal of entering a client’s inner world where meaning was attached to events and where coping strategies have become fixed. Creative processes can help quiet the mind and open up new ways of looking at life experiences while allowing memories, feelings and emotions to surface. Engaging in creative processes can help identify and transform those feelings and emotions on a deep level.
Recently a highly anxious person diagnosed with personality disorder came in for her weekly session. It was very difficult for her to tolerate sitting across from me without stumbling over her words, wringing her hands, and talking nonstop. I offered her four differently colored nontoxic wads of clay during the session. She took a chunk of white clay but expressed an inability to make anything.
I took two wads of clay, yellow and blue, which I mixed into a third color: green. The client became engaged in mixing different colors of clay and producing a secondary pallet of colors. She then made an object that looked like a birdbath. She made this object as she continued to talk about her experiences of the past week. The clay seemed to calm her anxiety down enough to get to a place of mental coherence.
Later the birdbath became a symbol of the therapeutic process where she, “the bird” came to drink and play. While the image may seem innocuous to someone on the outside, for her, in therapy it represented a growing trust for her process. Art psychotherapy works with symbols and metaphor that often contain threads of emotion that are connected to deeper issues.
© Copyright 2010 by By Barbara 'Basia' Mosinski, LCAT, ATR-BC, MA, MFA, therapist in New York City, New York. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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