More Than Words – Expressive Art Therapy and Brain Injury

Art Therapy

Hello, all. Hoping you’re okay.

A few months back, I posted a piece about Writing Therapy. But writing is not the only creative form to be used as therapy. Drama, dance, drawing and painting, all can come under the title of Expressive Art Therapy.

I was introduced to it in my third year of training via Natalie Rogers. She’s the daughter of Carl Rogers, and a pioneer in her own right. If you’d like to see her explain her contribution to the Person-Centred approach to counselling, click here.

But the  U.K’s so-called “Father of Art Therapy” was Edward Adamson. Between 1946 and 1981 he worked at Netherne Hospital in Surrey.  It was there he encouraged patients to paint, draw and even sculpt.  He also extended his work througjh the British Red Cross.

Watching Paint Dry

Very academic readers and viewers might like to watch a conference presentation published on Youtube by the Edward Adamson Collection. (Or some of it.) It’s in two parts and called: “Art in the Assylum – Edward Adamson’s Life & Work”. Part 1 (Approx. 30 minutes long) and Part 2 (Just over 30 minutes long.) Those of you less academic WON’T.

General Principles of Expressive Art Therapy
  • Therapy is process focused, rather than systematic
  • The therapist, though qualified and professional, offers support, not authority
  • The client is their own expert
  • Creativity, expression and reflection can lead to positive wellbeing

What do these principles mean?

One, that therapy looks to the client’s experience more than goals and strategies. Two, the therapist does not believe their opinion is more important than the client’s. Three, the therapist trusts the client’s motivation, openness and self realisation. Four, the client’s own way forward is shown through their art.

Art Therapy2

How Expressive Art Therapy Works with Brain Injury

Thinking of the symptoms of brain injury – poor short-term memory, lack of concentration, aphasia or dysphasia, difficulties specifying goals, how can Expressive Art Therapy help?

  1. As the saying goes, “one picture can paint a thousand words” – there is no pressure to mean things with words
  2. The focus is on what’s going on for the client in the moment, so that there is less reliance on memory
  3. Both therapist and client have something tangible to refer to as therapy takes place
  4. The activity of being creative has the potential to increase concentration, planning and other cognitive skills.

But don’t just take my word for it, here are a couple of shorter links:

“Art Therapy Helps Patients with Traumatic Brain Injury” published by NJTV News (3 minutes long)

“Art Therapy Activities: Art Therapy and Brain Injury” published by eHowArtsAndCrafts (2 minutes long)

This is it for July. Take care for now.

 

Busy Doing Nothing

watering holeThere are many pictures used to describe problems around motivation. One that’s used a lot is this: A horse led to water, who refuses to drink. Close to this is the picture of the proverbial “stubborn mule”. Mixing these pictures together, automatically thinking that the horse isn’t drinking because it’s refusing to – that it’s just being a nuiscance for the sake of it, can be a mistake.

Applying “stubborness” to someone with an aquired brain injury can be unfair and misleading. Yes, the person may appear disinterested, may well be unmotivated. But there are two important questions to ask:-

1) Q: What is motivation?

A: “A reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way”. (O.E.D.)

2) Q: What motivates reasoning?

A: Feeling unsafe. Due to hunger, lack of shelter or being cared for, or craving social status.

Fear

NOT being motivated (as some people might see it) might in truth be VERY motivated.

The person “not doing anything” may in truth be doing many things. Things liMotivationke:-

1) Regaining energy after doing what they did yesterday

2) Avoiding standing out from the crowd

3) Stopping themselves making mistakes

4) Avoiding making his or her self see they are unable to do the things they used to in the way they still want to.

5) “Torpor”. Torpor is a tough one. I’m using the word to describe a state of disconnection between something that in the past would have been acted upon but which after their brain injury, there is a present indifference to.

Here’s a link to a vlog entry by a young woman talking through her own problems with motivation: Click here to hear what she has to say.

What’s important to note is her linking stamina to motivation. Her ongoing research is, I think, proof of her personal motivation. She is positive that she WILL achieve what she wants.

Just to end this month’s post, here’s a little story for rescuers and readers finding yourselves stuck. I found it a big help. I hope you do too.

Cocoon

Along a dusty road in India there sat a beggar who sold cocoons.  A young boy watched him day by day.  After some time, the beggar finally beckoned to him.

“Do you know what beauty lies within this chrysalis?  I will give you one so you might see for yourself.  But you must be careful not to handle the cocoon until the butterfly comes out.”

The boy was enchanted with the gift and hurried home to await the butterfly.  He laid the cocoon on the floor and became aware of a curious thing.  The butterfly was beating its fragile wings against the hard wall of the chrysalis until it appeared it would surely perish, before it could break the unyielding prison.  Wanting only to help, the boy swiftly pried the cocoon open.

Out flopped a wet, brown, ugly thing which quickly died.  When the beggar discovered what had happened, he explained to the boy: “In order for the butterfly wings to grow strong enough to support him, it is necessary that he beat them against the walls of his cocoon.  Only by this struggle can his wings become beautiful and durable.  When you denied him that struggle you took away from him his only chance of survival.”

butterfly

May the walls of your cocoon be just thick enough to allow you to struggle just long enough to emerge strong enough.

Empathy v Sympathy

Hello everyone. This month’s post is in response to another recent email. A counsellor who, unlike myself, prefers to keep her brain injury under wraps from clients unless they ask.

There is no hard rule about it. I had my own discussions over it in supervision. For me too, how I share my experience was and is important. My most important question was: “Who really benefits from my openess?”

Answer: My therapeutic relationship with whoever my client is at the time.

Empathy
Seeing through the eyes and walking in the shoes of someone else

On the back of my business card, and on my website, I highlight that there is more to my work / life experience and skills than brain injury. It’s just that I have a more instantaneous empathy when it comes to the issues around having a brain injury than a non-brain injured counsellor.

Of course, not all clients arrive having read my website. My limp and poor co-ordination make themselves casually obvious. Together they make a warm, but brief ice-breaker. The briefer, the better. If brain injury is the issue, it is as unique for that client as mine is to me.

(Mirroring)

Speaking of “instantaneous empathy”, I feel inclined to share a conversation I had with my neurologist about it. But before I do, here’s something to whet your appetite. Click here for a cartoon on empathy. It is narrated by Brene Brown, a reasearcher-cum-storyteller.

Here’s my own story: During one of my regular appointmets with my neurologist a few years back, he did his usual thing of asking how life was going, how well I was managing my everyday work, and if I’d yet finished my training.

“Not yet,” I told him. “But I am doing some voluntary counselling on placement. In fact, the funniest thing happened last month and I wonder if you can shed some scentific light on what happened.”

I then went into a bit of a ramble about listening to and observing my client – and myself. I realised whenever my body mirrored his way of sitting. Or copied one of his gesticulations. Anyway, in the middle of doing all this, I began to get a deep sense of my client’s wider world. By that I meant my client’s hidden emotions and his unspoken distractions. It all felt so tangible, it was as if I was being him.

“Read this!” said my consultant excitedly. He quickly scribbled me a yellow post-it note. It read: “Mirror neurons”. My neurologist told me some studies had been carried out on elephants and had discovered that they too may very well have empathy. It was all down to mirror neurons located in the frontal lobe.empathic elephant

I could go on about how sympathy is often unhelpful. But I’m sure that’s a given to a lot of you out there. Above all you want people to understand what it is like to see through your eyes, walk in your shoes. Or not get up from a wheelchair for the most part of the day.

I’ll leave you with a hero of mine, Dr. Vilayanur Ramachandran, and his Ted Talk on “The Neurons that Shaped Civilisation”. Be warned, though. It runs over 7 mins.

No yawning at the back!

Enjoy.