Webinar: Addressing Eating Disorders through Art Journaling

Webinar: Addressing Eating Disorders through Art Journaling


Using art as therapy and I’ll explain that in a little more detail. But I’ve been doing for about twelve years one of the things that enhanced my work has been being at a place called Sheena’s Place in Toronto, which is a warm and welcoming centre for people who are affected by eating disorders. What I love about art journaling — I brought one of mine here — is that using a sketchbook that you are then going to create into a place where you can reveal to yourself your inner experience and you can reveal it to others if you choose. The interesting aspect of it is that you can revisit the journey that you’ve been on by opening the pages and getting the messaging that’s in there. Even if we don’t verbalize it, there’s still messaging there. I just wanted to thank all the participants that have been in my groups in the past. The photos here — many of them are also mine because I do a demonstration piece for people just for confidentiality but it’s a nice thing to see your work. Also another art therapist that does a lot of work at Sheena’s Place, her name is Sonia Thursby, and she shared some of her research notes with me in order to put this all together. Thank you Sonia. So what I’m going to do is define for everyone what art therapy is and just go over the possible presenting challenges for someone with an eating disorder because that’s important for working with people and why art journaling in particular and some art journaling invitations that I use to address eating disorders. So let’s get started. First of all, what the heck is this art therapy? Many people are intimidated by the idea, “I don’t know what to draw or anything like that.” The formal definition is “a type of psychotherapy that uses art making and the relationship with the art therapist to improve the well-being of a person’s whole self; physical, spiritual, mental and emotional. The art image becomes the other voice in the room Because it’s tangible, it’s something that externalizes your experience and becomes a reference point. Art therapy is quite a personal work where the art is a companion that allows the art therapist and the art creator to witness the journey together. You can see from something like this, it may seem like all kinds of ominous things to you but when you’re in the room with the person, I guarantee you, whatever the take is very tangible. It’s an energetic exchange beyond just seeing a clinical image. People use art therapy when what you’ve experienced or are experiencing is hard to put into words Or when you want to examine your fears This was a fierce, young 11 year old boy who had a big secret he was having a lot of difficulty dealing with. You can use it to lighten your heart This woman, in one of my groups when I was at the Gardiner Museum doing art therapy groups She made this hand through a whole two hour session. And it was her grandmother’s hand that she held during the days her grandmother was passing away and how very special it was for her to revisit that in a tangible way by holding that hand again. Art therapy helps bring your attention to the present moment If you’re doing something like this, this is a left hand-right hand exercise where you’re mirroring, the ability to worry is a little bit gone because you’re so focused on creating that it gives you physical relief as well as emotional relief. Because there are many ways to use sketchbooks or what are called art journals, or in my case, in art therapy an art journal is not an artist’s sketchbook, which can be somewhat intimidating because it doesn’t matter what your art actually looks like, it’s the process and messaging for you. It’s also not a scrapbook or craft book with pretty pages and so on, so you don’t have to worry. If your pages don’t look pretty, it’s probably a good sign that you’re diving in and thinking about things inside. And it’s not something you have to show anyone. Once you’ve created your art, you can just close the book. And the cover can provide the confidentiality that you might wish for as you go along. So why would someone want to art journal per se? Well first of all, the art therapist supplies the space It’s a space in terms of a place or room for you, but also the space to sit quietly and just be with yourself. How often of you actually give yourself those moments of self reflection? There are boundaries et within the room and also within the group. So everyone confident that there’s a lot of leeway, but there are limitations. And that provides safety. By creating invitations, the art therapist is saying, “Here’s an idea that I have that may help you explore ______” There’s enough leeway that individuals can go along the path that suits them best. Art therapists are also your non-judgemental witness which means we are there with you, but we are not sitting there with notes diagnosing in any way. We’re allowing what comes forth to be from the deepest places you wish, always keeping in mind that there’s safety involved and that you have the ability to do this without judgement. Art holds a marker for both the group members and the art therapist so as you move along and especially if you run a group — I usually run a group for ten weeks — so by the seventh or eighth week, the group is feeling like they really know each other a little bit. They’ve had little vignettes of insight into one another and a lot of resonance of what is the same. The format that I use for art journaling in a group: We may discuss at the very beginning. I like to ask, “What brings you to the group?” and “What might you’d like to discuss while we’re here or what to explore?” On any given week, I’ll identify any presenting difficulty and then how that manifests in each person and then we address that through group discussion. And then we use an art invitation to explore that topic and reconvene to discuss that process. What our feelings were and give each other feedback on what we see objectively. So coming from an eye standpoint, understanding that the only vision I’m seeing is through my own eyes and my own perspective. But it does give some people some insight sometimes into their own journey. There are some real advantages to having a group with a population that has an eating disorder Primarily because food is a factor in most social gatherings, and that means that many, many people with eating disorders are very isolated because they just want to avoid times when there’s food involved — and that’s a lot. So this kind of group provides a community or some community when there is very little. It can provide support and compassion Compassion for each other but also self-compassion And it provides a different perspective when you are seeing art — You don’t think of it as art, but you’re doing what I’ve asked and you’re creating something and then you’re wondering about it but as you see others, it starts to bring this perspective that “OK, so I see this is something different than the way I usually think and that’s the lovely outside to keep exploring.” And also in the group, witnessing each other’s art, you have this opportunity to have this deeper understanding that the outside community can have a harder time grasping. It’s helpful to understand that there are some common issues that may present in those with an eating disorder while art journaling. One of them is shame. People are worried that their inner experience or something from their past will show up in the art. It’s as hard as wearing a bathing suit. To imagine that something will be externalized, so there is that. There’s a fear of being seen. Many people might use the art in a stylized way as a kind of protection. So it’s good to recognize that coming in — to understand that whatever is safe is fine. There’s no requisite to go all the way, sort of thing and really go deep. It’s just that each time it’s good to understand that each step is a brave, brave step. There’s often a fear of making mistakes. There are no mistakes in this type of art. Really, who can judge what someone else’s inner experience? So that makes it easier if you can relax into the idea that there is no perfection involved. That can be lovely. Which brings me to a need for perfection. Because people certainly, in this group, are grappling with that all the time. But if you’re using paint, or oil pastels, or glue and cutting things out, there comes moment every week when you’re doing art journaling where you realize that you cannot achieve the perfection that you were imagining in your mind. In this way, the art allows an opportunity to let go of the need for perfect. And also to examine what you think perfection is. There are kind of two aspects that people with eating disorders tend to bring to the room — either they have a deep aversion to mess or conversely a desire to immerse themselves in the materials or “can we please have more,” “more,” “more” It becomes a bit overwhelming. The same qualities of art journaling answers both aspects of this. Because it can be overwhelming and triggering, but what happens is there are only so many pages you can cover. So the material quantity you’re using and the amount that you can show is limited. And then the cover closes and the process can continue. And it becomes that measure of privacy that helps alleviate some of the other symptoms that come up. The not good enough/not measuring up is invaluable to be in a group like this Because there’s both the support of your peers and of the art therapist. But also many start to see that their perception is erroneous. One day they create something that surprises them, using materials in new ways. For instance, abstract self-centred creating leaves room for self-appreciation. Like, “Oh, yes this is me” — sort of a thing. Sometimes something you’re creating triggers you. In that space is the potential for much learning if a person is ready. But if you’re working with people, you have to understand that not everyone’s ready at that time. So in those instances, we pace ourselves depending on the situation to perhaps push through it or walk over it or perhaps start again. During the discussion at the end of the session, the art therapist is mindful of the words that people use Because the terms that are used free one’s outlook or at least begin to reframe by saying something in a little different way than, “I never am able” or “I always do this” to point out that you could say, “at this time” or “today, I did it this way” and it’s just these times when you are aware that there is this depressive outlook of the world or of yourself that the art therapist or whoever is facilitating an art group can help people understand that this is just a passing thing and it lightens that framework. I’d like to show you some art invitations that I use that illustrate how the work can foster self-awareness, self-efficacy and healing. One thing I want you to know is that I always ask people to date their artwork in their art journals because it does help you to look back and sometimes you’re surprised that six months ago I did this and now when I see it, it seems so different to me, I have a different perspective. It’s a great measuring tool for a person. This is a great beginning exercise In the beginning, I would ask them, “Why have you come to this group?” and “What would you like to get out of the ten weeks that we’re together?” So we all write out the ideas and using the written list of ideas, we cut the paper into strips and then we integrate them into a warp that we’ve created out of another piece of paper And as you can see, there are many takes on what that really is like. The bigger picture with many angles has some of the words showing through the weavings. The other two the words are there but the one piece of paper was turned upside down so that the words are there but within. And the other one, it’s very intricately woven into a piece of origami paper. By taking all the loose pieces and meaningful words and interweaving the paper, members access vulnerable feelings while maintaining defences. Plus, they welcome everyone into their art. For this exercise, I bring in colourful work from the Internet that celebrates small phrases. So they’re already kind of a mini-poster. And again, we talk about the power of words and how, say the ones that are chosen here, “You’ll turn out normal if you are not careful,” and “Everything’s going to be alright.” So it’s many takes on that. What they do is take old plastic cards and acrylic paint and create a background to compliment the mini-poster that they’ve chosen. Introducing a new colour palette like this, because the posters are already very colourful, can be freeing and fun to explore Even the usually black background participant, the one on the left, she was intent on proving that that might not be true, or based on her inner experience that could not possibly — and yet, pink flowers started to appear and she was surprised and also a bit amazed. So experimenting with colours to express emotions like anger and frustration affirms that images can be powerful self-expression This can reduce anxiety, like “you gotta get it right” and increase a sense of self-accomplishment and self-efficacy Here again is showing that anger and frustration that feels so freeing when you put it out on paper. Something I really emphasize for art journalers is to be open to letting the inside out. And my favourite way to go about that is using something called energy sketches. In this, it’s really abstract for people to imagine, considering their inner feelings as expressible through art. This session we talked about the essence of ourselves. Who is the one who says, “my foot,” or “my head”? So the activity was keeping in mind the essence of you, and keeping your pen on the page scribble whatever you feel onto the page, and then we colour them in. This was an example of mine from years ago, I had broken my ankle and I was sitting in a chair for approximately six weeks and keeping my foot up. The scribble that came out I felt looked like a squawking parrot, and I started realizing the message was for me at that time, speak up for yourself it’s OK if you’re a little bit squawky and have some needs that need meeting. That was very helpful for me. You can see others here done different energy sketches where they weren’t sure where they were going with this but it creates an opportunity to face that anxiety or negative outlook. And in a small way, just let go. And in this is freedom and a regressive quality comes up where scribbling becomes kind of fun The result usually contains some kind of satisfying imagery to the maker in that their impulse gestures that are familiar to you — if you notice how you doodle, you’ll see — it’s a familiar shape or something that makes you feel comfortable or comforted. Adding some colour really honours the work and the bravery to do something new. Other times I’ve used energy sketches to give perspective to the voices that we obey from within. I think this is still one of the energy sketches that was a double-pager because she was thinking of about it in a spatial-energy connectedness. This was used as energy sketches where I was focusing on, in the past, the inner critic. For an eating disorders group, this is touching on a really huge nerve, because who is more apparent in your life than that voice that is so mean to you, so incredibly mean. So the idea was to bring a little bit of that out and then make it into a pop out, like a pop out card, to kind of help alleviate some of the deep darkness of it. But what I found is it’s really difficult to go there. Both of these are sketches of mine over two different sessions. And now I’ve started to use what I call the inner guide, which is the other voice — the other shoulder if you picture it as the angel and the devil although they’re both caring voices you have inside yourself, and in some way, there always out of love. It’s nice to nurture the inner guide. So to be able to have an inner sketch, talk about what words feel good to hear from others and also from yourself. And then personalize that by making it into a pop-up. Again it’s bringing it home that this is something that actually exists in some way within myself and now I’ve externalized it, so you see a bit of it too. But more importantly is that you see that little aspect of yourself perhaps in a little bit different light. Then I can take energy sketches even further where I’ll do a session where we talk about doodling and we talk about the merit of doodling. There are scientific studies that show doodling can actually be physiologically helpful and you can take it the next step. There is something called mind-mapping which is a great study tool and using doodle techniques or ideas. So this is what I call, “I teach doodling techniques.” In the day, there are a lot of pen and ink illustrative work being done there are certain ways to create texture that are quite interesting. What I do is show six ideas and we do a little workshop on that and then people created an energy sketch and start using those techniques to fill in the blanks and/or colour or even create with colour from the beginning. What it does is create visual interest and results in a kind of delight at the mastery of this drawing style. So it really develops some self-confidence and thoughts and fun. This is a whole interesting discussion of
itself in terms of using your left hand and your right hand. So depending on which hand is your dominant hand, it’s including the other one. In the discussion we start off thinking about both hands, and when you were in school learning to write or print, both hands were there for the lessons. As well as tying your shoes and playing tennis or whatever it was. But the other hand doesn’t get used half as much. The interesting thing is that when you use your non-dominant hand, you’re creating more of a bridge between the two hemispheres of your brain so that the creative side of you gets more of a mix with the other side of you — the left side — which is organized and mathematical, and so on. That’s a really interesting exercise. In this one, it’s the same as the one I showed earlier. The idea of mirroring of the motion that one hand is creating and one hand is following or doing at the same time. And you never know. These look like alligators to the participant. But it doesn’t matter. It’s just the idea that there is no correct way to do this And the non-dominant hand results kind of evoke childhood memories of drawing. This is very much unpredictable and challenges the need for perfection. As ultimately, it’s impossible because your non-dominant hand cannot be as exact So experiencing the result and freedom can be very grounding and ultimately using the both hands in this way allows for right brain expansion So then I can follow up with that continuing idea of hands This is a series of studies around our hands as symbols of forgiving and receiving. First of all, I use hands because they’re very powerful and a big part of our lives There also less volatile in the eating disorder world to discuss hands as a way of acclimating to discussion about bodies and body shape, and so on. It is upsetting sometimes. People trace their hands and the size of the tracing is not what they envisioned and that can be upsetting. But we usually can work through that. The activity is to trace your hands and meditate on one side being the giving hand and the other side being the receiving hand The discussion ahead is around that What does that feel like? When you give something, when you hold open a door for someone or help someone pick up the book they dropped on the ground or carry some groceries a little way for an old lady? And then also, what’s it like when someone does that for you? Or gives you a gift of some sort? It can be equally or perhaps more difficult to be in the receiving side. By tracing our hands, we meditate on and you’re invited to represent the feeling of such by showing what energies are surrounding those hands? An aspect of your body that you can be grateful about and thankful for the use is your hands Some are upset, like I said, but push past. And then your world experience extends beyond your body and your hands are there, but not such a big deal. There’s more. There’s this energy of feeling and thinking that your hands facilitate But they aren’t the beginning and end of it. It’s the energy that’s really there. Another often used art modality is using magazine pictures in some kind of a collage discussion. In here, we’re dreaming new ideas. In order to do that, what I usually give is a limit of two or maybe three magazines per person. And suggest that most images they’ll need will be within the pages. So then what I ask is that everyone open the magazines and without, hopefully — it’s hard to avoid — reading the article, just look at the pictures and all of the pictures are of interest to you and something that creates some kind of a reaction, pull those pictures aside. And then when you’ve gone through the magazines then what you do is assemble the pictures in whatever way seems pleasing to you on the page or two pages of your journal. And that’s when you start to develop a bit of a narrative if you’ve been able to hold yourself back during the searching time Then something else will come up during this arranging you’ll see that there’s a theme coming up or something that you hadn’t consider before. When you use the no judgement, this is what you notice. And then I ask everyone to take a look and see what messages there are and I’ll say, “If you could give a voice to your piece, what does it wish to tell you?” What notes can you make in response to that? Often, the images can create a narrative that can surprise them It can disturb them, but it can also inspire people. This one, you can see there are flames on this person’s head which represented anger What’s interesting is you are able to reveal as much or as little as you’d like about the piece in any given session. But it is your communication. This is a version of something I usually do at the last session of a ten week group where I give everyone — in this case three inch pieces of paper, I gave them 6 each where they could use on one page or spread out like this. And then there are magazines out and some watercolour paint. And again, I love energy sketches, can you tell? What makes you feel good? What gives you joy? It’s a difficult topic to discuss when you’re framing your world in the shadows of an ED. To think that there is such a thing as joy. So we do it gently in the discussion Going through feeling like gum on the sidewalk to leaping through tall trees is quite a variation a step in the direction is what we’re talking about And in this case, what we do is have that invitation out and everybody knows that if they like, they’ll share at the end with each other You create these squares and at the end, you decide how many of them must be kept for yourself And the other ones are put into a hat, and you can choose: as many as you put in, you can take back out again Oh right, before we do that though, we have everybody do a bit of processing of “this is what I have created” and “this is what I see in it” And then when everybody goes to pull out of the hat, they already have a bit of a narrative, knowing the person’s/creator’s intentions was on the square And then you bring in your own perception as well And then there’s still time at the end to assemble them into a bit of a piece in your book It then becomes, “What brilliant things did I write about that?” Emotions — there are emotions about parting with your own art and giving to someone else, and then receiving from others and receiving from others and displaying in your journal There’s usually communal delight in the outcome, in the little gifts of art from one another And there’s a collective bond sewn into this kind of sharing I wanted to say that art journaling really fosters experimenting with risking-taking and with intuition because you’re asked to trust yourself or to go with something based on how you’re feeling It fosters aspects of play which can be very releasing and letting go of control through the use of materials And by learning techniques through the art invitations, you also feel that sense of self-efficacy and a little bit more confident So certainly through art journalling, you can feel better about yourself and pride in the creation that you’ve made Every book — even if I were to look through your art journal, I wouldn’t know what most of it meant But I might be intrigued by the colours and the techniques you used But for you, this is a very personal journey and some pages, people can’t show to one another If I see some of those confidential pages that are shown to me I don’t understand why they feel so vulnerable until and if they’re explained to me and often that’s your information to know and your’s to keep if you wish Again, they can become useful tools, but only on a voluntary basis The group offers an opportunity to shift from isolation to socializing and practicing self-expression skills It allows you to express without restriction and you witness your own voice which can be very surprising and you witness the voice of others And it isn’t through sound, it’s through images My experience shows me that through art journaling, someone with an eating disorder can create a habit of self-exploration They can act outside of what they though were their limitations And reframe their beliefs to allow self-compassion and an opportunity to experience their feelings through art If you have questions, I have time now to field some and also if there’s something more that you’d like to know about, feel free. There’s my email address here and phone number if you wish. I’m happy to talk to you, and I love talking about art journaling if you hadn’t been able to tell and I’d be happy to answer some more questions as you come along If you need some help now and know someone who has an eating disorder, please send them to Sheena’s Place there’s amazing programming there and certainly, the art studio and art journaling is a great option Thank you. Alright, so I’ll just come in quickly while we wait in case anyone is typing out a question to say thank you so much to Debbie for sharing your wisdom and experience with us. I think those examples were amazing and a great visual to pair with the dialogue about how to use those activities I do see some typing, so it looks like maybe somebody has a question for us For folks who are located outside of Ontario, just to clarify, Sheena’s Place offers free group programming in Toronto. But if there are folks who need supports outside of that location, you’re welcome to call us at NEDIC and we can help direct folks to their services in their local areas as well Yeah, good point. Alright, you do have a question so I’ll pass it back over to you Hi Lindsay. Lindsay’s question is, can I expand on some examples about boundaries you would recommend in a group setting? Yes, thank you. There are set boundaries as well. But there are boundaries along the lines of not being late, you know, honouring everyone’s commitment to be on time, but especially your own And boundaries like being as receptive as a way as possible, so that Because if you are someone who likes to share a lot verbally, this may be an opportunity for you to experiment withcreating in a quieter way and allowing space for others because conversely, there are individuals coming in that do not express themselves with much confidence and we allow for as much opportunity as we can for that Something that can happen within the art programming too is that having the visuals right there can be as I mentioned, a bit triggering or disturbing, because things that you hadn’t realized were so at the surface are coming out in your art that’s why we do have art therapists there because it’s very helpful to have someone to discuss that with I almost always have an art therapy student working beside me so that there is someone there who can hold the room during creative time if someone else needs a bit of a time out to discuss Let me see what are some of the other boundaries that there are I don’t try to put much restriction on how to create or use the materials, other than flinging it across the room or disturbing others But there are certain topics that are not to be discussed or while we won’t necessary know how you’re depicting something, certainly any discussion about food or fashion or exercise is not allowed in the room Trying to think of anything else, but at the moment, I’m blanking [laughs] The training that’s needed to become an art therapist is a post-graduate degree or diploma So here in Ontario, there are several options you could do. You get your undergraduate degree, and it’s nice to have some psychology And if you haven’t taken formal art lessons, that’s OK But you then must show that you understand how to use different and varying types of art materials through some kind of a portfolio And then there are Masters programs available through the University of Wilfred Laurier after you’d get a diploma from the Toronto Art Therapy Institute Or you can go to Carlton in Ottawa and get a Masters in Arts Therapy, which includes a speciality in art therapy I have a diploma from the Toronto Art Therapy Institute which is the equivalent of a Masters but because we’re such a small school, it’s not recognized in the same way But it is certainly recognized by the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario as a type and modality of psychotherapy which can be certified — which I am! [Question] Who funds Sheena’s Place and your eating disorders work at Sheena’s Place? The funding for Sheena’s Place comes from private individuals and companies, many who’ve I guess had some experience or another or their people have and they bring it up as their corporate responsibility So it’s really a lovely thing. There are some fundraising events that happen in Toronto and the GTA of course who support it. There are some people who commute from quite far and participate when they can Somebody else is submitting a question, which is great! It’s great to have lots of discussion and thank you everyone for participating and for being inquisitive It’s wonderful that you all came to listen to this session Though we still have a few more minutes, so if you got a question, feel free to send it So the question is, do you have any suggestions for art which can be used on a one-on-one basis which is what I do in my private practice in Toronto The way that I work usually in my private practice is You are coming to me because you are feeling dissatisfied with the way life is going at any given moment. And you’d like to explore that And my idea to help you explore that by helping you find your inner wisdom so that it resonates with you and become something that you will reframe your outlook with If you come in and begin chatting with me, I will likely listen to you and then I will pull in For instance, recently, someone was discussing a dream they had about themselves as a little girl I suggested that we explore that inner child that was very angry in the dream and wanted some attention So then it becomes however you wish to apply that. It becomes interesting to see. I lay out all the art materials on the table and then people choose what feels appropriate for that feeling and for that day And what comes out in the art then becomes a continuation of the narrative that perhaps the dream started or twigged because there’s something else going on as a narrative in your life And so then, that then becomes fodder On occasion, when it’s awkward or if it’s the first time, my favourite request is to say, “We don’t know each other very well, and I’d love to have a little more understanding of you would you mind drawing yourself or depicting yourself with paint, however you want to use it, what would you be like if you were a tree?” And I don’t necessarily mean “Are you a maple tree or a pine tree?” But it could be any tree. It could be a tree that doesn’t exist anywhere else — it’s just you. Think about the tree and aspects about it. Where it is, what the weather is, And then we go from there That really helps a person get used to thinking in metaphor That who they are is not confined to just the body that they are in, that they’re using at this time You can be represented as an eagle in the sky, a puppet that you make, But it isn’t your whole self, it’s just an aspect of yourself And so that can be an interesting exercise OK. There were a few thank-yous form the participants as well Thank you for sharing and thanks again everyone for tuning in I do see one additional person typing. So if there are additional questions, please send them in. If anyone doesn’t quite make it before it closes, you’re welcome to email myself or Debbie, and I can pass your questions on to her as well Thank you everyone, we’re going to end our meeting now. Have a great rest of your day!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *