Mindfulness is Key

 

woman meditation on the beach

Written by Chrissy McClain MA, NCC, LAPC

Life is non-stop. We are constantly on the go and ready to move on to the next task. Multitasking isn’t a privilege, but a necessity. My guess is that most days, when you wake up the first thing you do is reach for your phone. From that point forward, you are consistently stimulated until that night when it is time to fall asleep. The problem with this rush is that you may find yourself losing your connection with the present moment – missing out on what you are doing and how you are feeling.

The art of mindfulness is, essentially, paying attention on purpose. Focusing attention on the present moment, observing thoughts, feelings, realities, and then accepting life as it is, in that moment, without judgment. There are now, more than ever, studies examining the benefits of mindfulness. The American Psychological Association (www.apa.org) lists more than 7 researched benefits of practicing mindfulness.

  1. Less Over-thinking. Studies show that people who are practicing mindfulness daily have seen decreases in symptoms of depression and anxiety. Those practicing mindfulness tend to have a clear mind – retaining more information and maintaining attention.
  2. Less Stress. Meditating has been shown to shift peoples way of thinking in a way that allow them to process events in a calmer way.
  3. Better Memory. Findings say that working memory capacity is increased in those individuals practicing mindful meditation exercises regularly.
  4. As you might imagine, taking time away from the constant stimulation of the day and replacing it with a mindfulness exercise has been directly related to increased attention spans.
  5. Stable Emotions. Regularly practiced mindfulness activities help people to disengage from upsetting situations and events in a healthy way.
  6. Flexible Thinking. Meditation activates the brain, which causes more adaptive responses to stressful situations.
  7. Healthy Relationships. All of these benefits of mindfulness help individuals respond more positively to stresses and conflicts within a relationship. These exercises are also able to help develop self- insight, which can lead to affective conflict resolution and overall positivity.

Now, you may be thinking that you simply do not have time to “practice mindfulness”, and this is why I am providing some easy ways to incorporate this practice into your daily life.

  • Deep Breathing- Begin your day with 5 minutes of silence and deep breathing (in through your nose and out through your mouth)
  • Download an app- (example: Headspace)
  • Youtube meditations- (example: TheHonestGuys)
  • Use your senses- Take a few minutes and engage with your 5 senses…notice everything that you can taste, smell, see, hear, and touch in that moment
  • Body scan-(example: https://youtu.be/obYJRmgrqOU)
  • Do something that is out of your normal routine (example: drive a new way to work or school)

Getting in the habit of practicing mindfulness may not come naturally, but stick with it and you will see results!

Happy Meditating!

Helping Children of Divorce Through the Holidays

Written by Hannah Page, MEd, NCC, LAPC

A sweet young girl holding a Christmas present

While working with Children in a therapeutic setting, I have met many divorced parents who are stressed on a daily basis trying to provide their children with equality in both homes and trying to ensure that their child is able to cope with the many changes and transitions that come with divorce. This stress can reach an all-time high for you and your ex- spouse during the holiday season, as tension increases from managing the busy events and schedules that accompany the holidays.

Unfortunately, it is not only the parents who are stressing out during this time. Often, children pick up on the stress and can feel the tension that you feel during the holidays, which can lead them to feel anxious, depressed, and overwhelmed as well. The holidays stir up a lot of mixed emotions and feelings for your children, especially if this is their first Thanksgiving, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, etc. following your divorce or separation. Keep in mind that this may be your children’s first holiday without certain family members and family traditions that include the entire family.

Although this time may be incredibly demanding and painful for you, your ex, and your children, one of the best things you can do as a parent during the holidays is to rebuild a sense of family and redefine your holidays with your children. By planning ahead and managing conflicts between you and your ex, divorced parents can still find ways to maintain their sanity and create happy holiday memories with their children. Here are some things you can do to help your children of divorce enjoy and embrace the holiday season:

Communicate and plan with your child’s other parent:

If this is the first holiday season as a divorced family, this will most likely be a year of many changes. It is important to be on the same page as the other parent about the new holiday plans. In some divorce cases, the court will decide how families are to spend the holidays. In other cases, it is up to the parents to determine how the holidays will be spent. Make sure to communicate and plan the schedule ahead of time. Lack of communication and planning between parents typically leads to arguments and will only confuse and overwhelm out your children.

Plan ahead with your child:

Before the holidays approach, be sure to talk with your children and let them know what the holidays will look like this year. Discuss what will be different this year, and what will remain the same. Allow your children to express their feelings about these changes with you. You might ask your kids what they think will be hard about the holidays this year, or what they are most excited about.

Refrain from competition:

Remember what the holidays are all about! The holidays are not a competition, and your children will pick up on if you try to make it one. Communicate with the other parent about what gifts you each plan to give your children. Try your best to give equally. You want to teach your children the true meaning of holidays. Be an example for your children and teach them that the holidays are not a competition about who can give the best or the most gifts, and show them that the holidays are about love and spending time with one another.

Encourage your child to enjoy, even if it isn’t with you:

The most important thing for divorced parents to remember is that the holidays are about their children and not them. Keep in mind many children may feel guilty about enjoying their time with the other parent, and the last thing we want for children is for them to feel guilty about finding joy during the holidays. If you are unable to spend the holiday with your child, encourage them to have fun with the other parent and other side of the family.

The Importance of Mindful Play with Your Children

Written By: Cristine Seidell, LAPC

parent-child-play

 Most parents have been asked by their children to come play with them.  It is a dreaded question for many parents, as they feel they have “forgotten” HOW to play or they feel guilted into playing.  Yet, research has proven that playing with your child not only provides fun for both child and adult, but also an opportunity for bonding, acceptance, and the development of new skills for the child.  SO for all of the reasons why, here are a few ways to get started:

1.      Allow your child to invite you to play.  Children love to be creative in their play and may design a game that sounds familiar, yet they have made completely new rules to play by.  Give them the time to discuss them with you, ask questions, but don’t correct them.

2.      Desire to play with your children.  Children are notorious for approaching us when we are juggling 150 different things.  We may be on edge for a deadline or trying to gather ourselves to be able to prepare for a dinner party.  If your child requests to play with you, but you are unable to freely play at that moment.  Explain you can’t play right now, but really would like to play in ______ minutes/hours.  Whatever you say, make sure you follow through with it.  Children are amazing score keepers.

3.      Be open to different types of play.  Not all children play the same way.  Just because you like video games, doesn’t mean your child has to play what you want if you play with them.  Rough and Tumble, Board Games, Figures, and Sandlot Sports are just a few you can suggest if your child is clueless on what he/she would like to play.

4.      Play should be a two-way street.  Neither the parent, nor the child should be 100% in control.  If your child creates a game and agrees to play by a certain set of rules, but decides to change them.  It is important to remind your child that a set of rules were established and it important to play accordingly.  Similarly, if your child chooses to play figures and is building a wall that you feel could be built better, withhold from interjecting your opinions and allow your child to problem solve or be content with it as it is.  It is about play nor perfection.

At first parents finding playing feels a bit awkward and forced, but as they continue, they find that they enjoy the time and they themselves reap the same benefits that their children do.  So, put whatever electronic device you are reading this on down and get out and PLAY!!!

Inside-Outside Emotions Mask Activity

Written by Catherine Barton, MA, LAPC

inside-mask

I use the following art intervention or activity with clients in a group as well as individual setting to help the clients identify and express emotions; recognize that the emotions they show on the outside may differ than those within; and to provide a safe platform to discuss internal conflicts. This mask is extremely fun to make and often engages clients due to its tactile nature.

After making this mask, I find that adolescents often want to bring their parents into the session to discuss specific emotions and the weight they carry. This makes it a great conversation tool and allows the client to talk with his or her parent(s) about emotions, which may be difficult to verbalize.

Materials Needed:

  • Vaseline
  • Headbands
  • Plaster bandaging strips
  • Water
  • Paint
  • List of emotions handout (in photo)

Purpose:

  • To identify and express feelings
  • To develop self-concept and self-esteem
  • To identify and process healthy and unhealthy methods of self-expression
  • To develop perspective on how the client feels inwardly in comparison to what he/she expresses externally

Part 1

The activity is usually done in multiple sessions as the plaster takes a couple hours to dry.  It begins by the group or individual brainstorming what colors should be paired with which emotion on the handout.  In a group setting, this activity encourages the group members to compromise in a productive manner.

Part 2

The second part of this activity consists of the client or group members composing their masks (in a group, I recommend being intentional as you partner group members with one another).

The following is step-by-step instructions to making the mask:

  1. Cut the plaster gauze into strips (start with 20-30 strips that are 1” wide by 6” long).
  2. It is important to keep the hair out of the individual’s face. Therefore, tie the hair back and put a headband on the individual (remember that this plaster will stick to hair, so tie it back and put Vaseline on the edges).
  3. Instruct the individual to put a thin layer of Vaseline on his/her face. Make sure you supervise this part closely. The Vaseline keeps the hair from being pulled off the face and makes it easier to pull the mask off afterward, so make sure it is covering his or her entire face.
  4. Place towels or plastic bags on the ground for the individual to lie on. This activity can get messy!
  5. Place a bowl of water next to the individual’s face, and your stack of plaster strips next to the bowl.
  6. If doing this activity in a group setting, focus on the importance of communicating and self-advocating. Ask the person to communicate with their partner if they want their eyes, mouth or nose covered. Instruct the partner to consider going around the eyes, nose or mouth based on the individual’s preference.
  7. Now, working quickly, fully immerse a strip in the water, pull it out, and then remove excess water by running it through two fingers.
  8. Place the strip on the forehead, smoothing out any creases in the bandaging; repeat this step for the whole face. Start by outlining the individual’s face and then fill it in with the plaster strips.
  9. Give the face another layer or two, making sure there are 2-3 layers on the entire face.
  10. Running a wet finger over the entire mask will smooth out any bumps and combine the individual strips.
  11. Let the mask dry for 5-10 minutes. Make sure you tell the group that his or her face will feel warm right before it is ready to be taken off.
  12. To take the mask off, work around the edges slowly pulling away from the individual’s face.
  13. Carefully sit the mask onto a surface to dry for 3-4 hours.
  14. The individual will have to wipe the Vaseline off his/her face with a towel and then wash with water.

Part 3

After the mask dries, it may be painted with Acrylic or Tempera paint. Use the printed Emotions Handout to encourage the individual(s) to pair colors with specific emotions (as he/she or the group has designated). Discuss with the individual or the group that there are some emotions that we choose to show, even though we feel something different inside.  For example, someone might be embarrassed, but instead of showing embarrassment, they show anger.  Another example is that we may feel sad inside, but choose to display happiness.  Using the Emotions Handout, encourage the individual to paint the inside with colors representing emotions that he/she does not always allow others to see. Then paint the outside with colors representing emotions that he/she does allow others to see. Make sure to encourage that he/she is intentional with the size of the colors to represent the intensity or frequency of the emotions.

For parents, teachers, or therapists:

This project gives parents, teachers and/or therapists an insider’s guide not only to how the individual feels, but also to the feelings that they refrain from expressing and the impact of these trapped feelings.  It also opens the door for productive discussion using skills other than talking, such as creative expression. The individual may use this art project as an avenue to help explain internal feelings and conflicts, which may allow insight to complex emotions.

 

Preventing Bullying

bullying

Written by Laura Le, LCSW

October is Bullying Prevention Month. As it approaches, here is information that can help prevent bullying and support your child if bullying is already occurring.

Whether your child has shown bullying behavior, experienced bullying, or has not encountered bullying, talking about bullying is important. When parents create an open dialogue about a topic, it communicates to their child that it’s ok to talk about these things. Waiting for your child to confide in you may unintentionally send the message that talking about teasing and bullying is taboo. Share about your own experiences with mean teasing, being excluded, or being bullied. Ask your children how they define bullying, being excluded, and the difference between good-natured and mean teasing. To foster this open dialogue, many parents also find it helpful to ask questions that can give insight into their child’s peer relationships. For example, you might ask, “Who did you sit with at lunch today?” “What’s recess like?” “Have you ever seen another kid at school get picked on?”

Responding to Bullying

We do not recommend using physical responses to bullying, as many schools have a zero-tolerance policy. That means that hitting or pushing back can cause the child being bullied trouble as well. Instead, we encourage children to try these strategies:

  • Find power in numbers. Children in a group are less likely to be singled out. Stick with friends or acquaintances. If making and keeping friends is difficult, stay near a trusted adult.
  • Stand up for yourself. Tell the bully, “Stop,” in a direct, firm tone, using eye contact. This response can be difficult to accomplish when upset or scared, so be sure to practice with your child.
  • Tell a trusted adult. When it comes to safety, telling an adult is not tattling. Talk to your child about who are the trustworthy adults in their life.
  • Talk about it. Knowing you’re not alone and learning that bullying is not your fault can help cope with the stress of bullying.

If you’re child engages in bullying behavior:

  • Be clear about what bullying behavior is and how it’s harmful to others. The definition involves an imbalance of power and repeated or persistent talk early and openly about the effect of mean words and actions.
  • Communicate that this behavior is unacceptable. Be sure to model respect as you discuss consequences.
  • Help your child identify alternative ways to interact and strategies to use when tempted to bully. If you need support in this area, reach out to a child/adolescent therapist.

If you’re child has never experienced bullying behavior, he or she can still play an important role in stopping and preventing bullying. For example:

  • Display respect and kindness to all students. Encourage your child to be brave and sit, play, or partner with others who don’t make friends as easily.
  • Stand up when you see someone being bullied. Your child can help end an incident by getting the other child away. For example, your child might invite the person being bullied to play or tell the child that a teacher needs to talk to him or her.

Preventing Bullying

For all children, regardless of how or whether bullying has impacted their lives, developing confidence and self-esteem is critical. An important way to accomplish this is helping your child find something he or she loves. Feeling competent and successful feels good! Joining clubs, classes, sports, or other groups or volunteering also offers the opportunity to meet others who share similar interests. Being with like-minded people can potentially create friendships, a critical protection against the impact of bullying.

Stay in touch with your school. Many school districts have rules and procedures about bullying in their Student Code of Conduct. Read and know the policy so that you know how to support your child. As much as possible, read the school newsletter and attend open houses and parent conference nights. Having a relationship with the other important adults in your child’s life can help you be an advocate if bullying arises.

Bullying can feel isolating and humiliating; collaborating and speaking openly can help prevent and heal.

What is art therapy?

Teresa Woodruff, LPC, ATR-BC, CPCS, is leading an Art Therapy 101 Workshop on Thursday, March 3, 2016 from 9:00am to 12:00pm. For more information about art therapy or to attend our art therapy workshop, email Teresa at: teresa@artitout.com

paintbrush

Art It Out Therapy Center’s founder and director, Teresa Woodruff, is the president of the Georgia Art Therapy Association. Teresa defines art therapy, how art therapy can be beneficial and the requirements for becoming an art therapist.

what is art therapy?  Art therapy is a form of counseling that uses a combination of art and psychotherapy. Unlike talk therapy, which relies solely on the use of words, art therapy can be especially helpful for those who have difficulty putting their feelings into words and makes difficult issues safer and easier to discuss.  Within an art therapy session, a trained art therapist often encourages the client to engage in a specific art directive or activity, allowing the client to: express feelings, gain perspective, increase coping skills, improve communication skills, improve “flow” or creativity, and discuss difficult feelings. Specific art directives are intentional and planned by the art therapist to achieve the client’s goal(s). Research demonstrates that art therapy is beneficial for: reducing depression and anxiety, improving social skills, managing pain, improving inter-family relationships, and decreasing negative behaviors.

According to the American Art Therapy Association (http://arttherapy.org/aata-aboutus), “Art therapists use art media, and often the verbal processing of produced imagery, to help people resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight… Art therapy provides an alternative means of communicating for those who cannot find the words to express anxiety, pain or emotions as a result of trauma, combat, physical abuse, loss of brain function, depression, and other debilitating health conditions.”

who can benefit from art therapy?  Art therapy is used with children, teens, adults, families, seniors, and groups. It is helpful for discussing strong feelings or feelings that are difficult to put into words. In addition, it can be helpful for children and teens who use art as a natural way to communicate. When feelings or experiences (such as problems with peers, chronic pain, parental divorce, or excessive worries) are difficult to verbalize, art therapy may be a way to allow clients to express feelings, work through difficulties, and gain skills for coping. While art is often the vehicle for communication or the conversation-starter, art therapists do use words with their clients. In art therapy sessions, clients may feel more at ease to express and then discuss topics that are difficult to talk about.

Previous art experience is not necessary and the focus is often on the product, or the act of making art, as opposed to the product, or creation.

how do you become an art therapist?  Art Therapists must receive master’s level training in art therapy. Unfortunately, those who receive a master’s in counseling cannot obtain a certification in art therapy. One must attend a graduate school specifically for art therapy. The art therapy master’s program includes rigorous coursework in psychology, group therapy, theories and techniques of art therapy, counseling, ethics and standards of practice, assessment, human development, and research methods. Graduate programs are 45-60 course hours and include supervised graduate internships.  For a complete list of accredited graduate programs, visit the American Art Therapy Association: http://arttherapy.org/aata-educational-programs/

Before attending a graduate-level program, undergraduate prerequisites often include 15-18 hours of psychology courses and 15-18 hours of art courses. Specific school requirements vary and are available on each graduate school’s website.

Art therapy programs in the southeast include the Georgia College and State University and Florida State University.  Additionally, Georgia residents may also receive in-state tuition with the University of Louisville or Florida State University through the Academic Common Market. For details, visit: http://www.usg.edu/academics/academic_common_market/

what are art therapy credentials?

Criteria to become a Registered Art Therapist (ATR): a master’s degree or higher in art therapy from a program accredited by the American Art Therapy Association (AATA); a GPA of 3.0 or higher; a supervised practicum/internship with a minimum of 700 hours; 1,000 hours of post-graduate work providing art therapy to clients; a minimum of 100 hours of supervision (at least 50 of which must be with an ATR or ATR-BC; the other hours may be with a master’s level trained mental health professional).

Criteria to become a Board Certified Registered Art Therapist (ATR-BC): must be a Registered Art Therapist (ATR) and pass the Art Therapy Credentials Board Examination (ATCBE), demonstrating comprehensive knowledge of the theories and clinical skills used in art therapy. Exams are typically offered once per year and are offered at the annual American Art Therapy Association conference.

can art therapists accept insurance? Currently, Georgia does not have a license for art therapists. However, art therapists may be on insurance panels or clients may receive out-of-network insurance reimbursement if the art therapist is also licensed, such as a Licensed Professional Counselor or Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, or if the art therapist is supervised by another licensed professional.

is it necessary to be an art therapist to use art with a client? No, many therapists use art in therapy sessions, and art is a great tool for all therapists. However, art therapists are extensively trained in art therapy interventions, assessments, and implementation and have experience with a variety of art materials. They have knowledge of specific characteristics of materials and know what materials to use with specific clients.

is a coloring book “art therapy”?  There are many wonderful coloring books that allow individuals to reduce stress and relax while coloring in someone else’s design. While these are great stress-relievers and can supplement art therapy, they do not replace a trained art therapist.

 

 

 

Temple Grandin and Teresa Woodruff at the Art Therapy Association Conference

Teresa with Temple

Teresa Woodruff, Art It Out Director, got to hear Dr. Temple Grandin speak at the American Art Therapy Association conference. Temple is such an inspiration. She emphasized that as a person with autism, she learned to recognize her strengths, which were visual thinking aka “seeing in pictures.” She learned to use her strengths and tried to see as cattle do, which greatly influenced her work and greatly contributed to the cattle industry. What a great lesson- we need to recognize and emphasize the strengths in our children!

To learn more about Temple and her story, click here!