Agent of Change

As a counselor and art therapist I consider myself an “agent of change”. I see my role as assisting my clients in becoming their own agents of change (assuming most people seek Counseling because there are aspects of themselves or their relationships or lives that they would like to change or “improve” or just be “different” than they are).

This is the time of year many people are motivated to make changes. January is often seen as a fresh start: a new year = new opportunities. Some people call them resolutions or goals, some decline to name them or declare any plan of change, but may still have ideas of things they would like to have happen this year. Often these are things that perhaps didn’t happen last year for whatever reason.

There’s what happened and what didn’t happen, what we want to have happen and what we don’t. But where are WE in that? Being passive about what we want, changes or improvements we want to MAKE will NOT make things happen. In order to make something happen, we have to take an ACTIVE stance. This is the obvious hard part. This is why, right around now, or a week or so ago, many people have already abandoned their New Year’s goals. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Motivation ebbs and flows depending on energy, priorities, time, obstacles, etc but there are ways to keep it going.

I’m an advocate of baby steps and backwards thinking. I’ll explain: In my experience, many people want change and make valiant efforts to do so. At first. But if the level of effort is unsustainable, they give up. They are using an “Either/or” approach. An example is “Either I work out every day for at least an hour or there’s no point”. That’s a self-defeating strategy and a set up for failure. A more realistic approach would be to first make a plan working backwards, starting with the desired outcome. So if the desired outcome is to lose weight or just be healthier, stronger, more fit, what have you, what steps are needed? Is a daily hourly exercise plan the only way to achieve that outcome? No, it’s not, and it may be more easily sustainable to work out for 20 minutes 3-4 times per week, or 7 minutes intense workout 5x/wk, or WHATEVER WORKS FOR YOU. The point being that SOME exercise is better than NONE. Some progress toward a goal, no matter how small, is better than none, and often provides the impetus to keep going.

Experts generally agree it takes about 2.5 weeks to make a new habit. This means that when embarking upon a plan of change, it’s wise to start with actions that are sustainable over the long haul, and easing into them may make that so. It seems to be about finding that balance so that doing something new, differently or adding a new routine to our busy lives is achievable. Sometimes this means re-prioritizing, re-organizing, simplifying or tweaking the routines we already have in place. It’s also important to encourage oneself by eliminating overly negative and unrealistic self-talk and replacing it with what you would say to encourage a friend attempting the same thing. So to summarize:

  1. Start small: Take Baby Steps
  2. Work backwards from your desired outcome, developing realistic action steps before proceeding.
  3. Be active toward your goal(s).
  4. Be kind to yourself (encouraging self-talk)
  5. Remind yourself small progress is better than no progress
  6. Keep it going 

The Creative Process: Manifestation

To manifest is to make something visible. In essence, creating is making something known that was not before. Art making is self-actualizing. Through the act of making things, we define aspects of ourselves. By cooking a wonderful dinner for example, we foster the idea of ourselves as capable of cooking a tasty, nutritious meal. Similarly, by making art or building boats etc, we identify ourselves as artists, builders, artisans or other self-defining roles.

How we see ourselves has an impact not only on our self-esteem, but on what we offer those close to us and the communities we live and/or work in. When I worked in settings with people who had been identified as having serious mental illness, I was often struck by the pervasive stigma of being labeled “mentally ill”. In many cases it was as if this designation had taken over and instead of “having” or “experiencing” mental or emotional health issues, people had come to define themselves AS their diagnoses. Saying “I’m Bipolar” is different than saying “I have Bipolar disorder”. One of the most rewarding parts of working in community mental health was watching the transformation and expansion as my clients came to identify themselves ( or aspects of themselves) as “artists”.

The same goes for the many people who think and will often say ”I’m not artistic” or “I don’t have a creative bone in my body”. In most cases these are folks who just haven’t discovered or been encouraged to explore this aspect of self. They may have internalized ideas about who they are, what it means to be creative, and what they can and cannot do.  Frequently people employ creative strategies and don’t even realize it. Given encouragement and the freedom to explore or recognize what they can do (and in some cases, the support of a credentialed art therapist) many people can discover, or uncover their artistic side.

When we feel creative we feel alive. We can make things happen. We can channel physical, mental and spiritual energy in satisfying and life-enhancing ways. This can be an individual and a collaborative process. Imagine coming up with an idea for a community mural to enhance an underserved neighborhood. Then picture enlisting others to help bring this idea to fruition. Then the work itself gets underway and perhaps draws more people in. There is action and energy gathering as things manifest, on an individual level, and/or in ways that engage and define communities.

Donald Seiden, in his book Art Works, called this action stage of the creative process “definition”, and also pointed out that the stages need not be linear. The creative process is organic, alive, and free to change and shift as the work comes into being and as we begin to define it and ourselves.

Creative Process







The Creative Process: Incubation

I have been thinking about what kind of content I want to publish here, mulling over different ideas and even started writing a few articles. This part of the creative process is “incubation”.

Many times we have to go inside ourselves and find the mental space that houses the Source of our thoughts, dreams, beliefs and ideas. This source is not always as forthcoming as we’d like it to be. It may need to incubate for a while. After that it may need coaxing, poking, massaging, stimulating, cuddling or coddling (or some other action to make it yield or appear).



In my experience, many people (including “creatives”) are very self-critical. This often translates into a whole lot of negative self-talk. Over time this can cause the Source (as described above) to close up shop and shut down. Imagine an onslaught of verbal abuse and criticism. It’s very hard to feel good during and after that. It’s a struggle to maintain belief in yourself and your ideas. Decision making becomes mute.

That creativity requires discipline and work is true, but it also needs nurturing. Without nurturance we don’t thrive. Talk to yourself and your ideas the way you would talk to someone else whose creativity you are trying to encourage. Creating is a way to give voice to your ideas, dreams, hopes, secrets, etc. In my work I’ve seen many people give voice to things they’ve kept silent for years. I’ve witnessed first hand how empowering this is for people. Sometimes it’s a whisper, other times a scream, but always something is released and freed.

If you are struggling to create, go inside yourself. Look for the Source. Ask it what it needs. If this seems too odd to you, ask yourself what you need in order to create. Is it a quiet space? A block of uninterrupted time? A clear desk? Someone to see or hear the work? Try to figure this out then get close to meeting the need. There may be an ideal and a real. It doesn’t have to be perfect to work. Just start somewhere. Set reasonable small goals for yourself. Maybe invite a friend to be “goal buddies” or start a small goals group on Facebook. Or seek out a mentor. Connection also nurtures creativity. First there’s the connection with yourself and your Source. Then the connection with others.

If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” — Vincent van Gogh

Thoughts on Suicide and Prevention

I’ve had lots of thoughts about suicide prevention since the announcement of Chris Cornell’s untimely death last week. No one has all the answers but having worked in community mental health for 18 years, I know there are many instances where suicide can be prevented. If anyone you know mentions anything about wanting to end their life, or wishing they were dead, it’s better to err on the side of caution, and immediately get that person to an emergency room, or somewhere they can receive professional help. Do one better and notify the triage nurse or admitting staff of the situation so that they know to screen for suicidal thoughts and/or plans. An active plan constitutes immediate risk and necessitates urgent treatment.

Sadly (and sometimes tragically) if a person is misusing prescription medication, abruptly stops without doctor’s guidance, combines with other prescription or OTC medications, alcohol or street drugs or even mistakenly takes the wrong dose or inadvertently skips a dose, there may be serious, even fatal consequences. It is vitally important that people follow doctor’s orders and only take their own medication as prescribed. For people combining prescribed medications, with other substances, there are harm reduction protocols you can follow to use as safely as possible. Whenever possible, do not isolate yourself when taking medications or using substances. Sometimes another person is a lifesaver.

Here is an article I found to be very compelling:

Disclaimer: The information in this article should not be used in lieu of professional medical advice, assessment, diagnosis or treatment. The use of this website does not imply or establish any type of therapeutic relationship. Further, the links in this article are for referential or informational purposes only.