Student Art Therapist

This week, a few days ago actually, we worked on an abstract family genogram in one of our courses.  In the past we had been working in groups but this week we worked independently.  Part of our work for this class is to write up responses to our experiential exercises.  The following is what I wrote in response to the abstract family genogram.

I was very relieved to be working independently for this exercise.  I did not want to consider making up a fictitious family genogram with our family/ team groupings.  Even though, from past experience in this class, our actual family dynamics could have emerged to some degree, I did not like to consider addressing these issues and dynamics obliquely as we would have done had we worked in a fictitious family grouping.

I was quite startled to have my inconsistent affect pointed out to me when it became my turn to process my family genogram.  It is something I have encountered in personal therapy sessions but to confront it so obviously is something that kind of shocked me.  It disturbed me  to some degree as well because I felt or it became obvious to me how out of touch I was/ am with my true feelings.  In a way I have kind of always disregarded them.  Like, “Oh well.  It is what it is.  Don’t we all have messed up relationships with our families.  No big deal.”  And that is the attitude I displayed when discussing my abstract genogram.  In describing it to myself I took on the attitude that I was “just messing around” when it looked as though my “mother” object was “bashing” me in the face, and chirped, in reference to the fact that my “sister” object was pointed on one end, “Yeah, my sister was the tool my mother used to bash me in the face.”

I was curious by the wording I used to describe my parent’s divorce.  I started by pointed out the fact that my “father” object wasn’t secured in the same way as my other family members were to my central piece because “I was in Middle School when my father chose to leave the family.”  I wasn’t really aware of my wording until it was pointed out to me later by my group members and the instructor.

Something else that really intrigued me was the suggestion I look up the symbology of teddy bears, an object that I’ve frequently used to represent myself.  In doing so I found out a lot of information but I’m unsure of how it relates to me as representing myself in such a way.  In an article about Experiential Play Therapy the teddy bear is described as a “self-object, a baby, security, familiarity, protection, warmth, regression, tactile, companionship, and supportive.  In an article titled, “Gifting the Bear and a Nostalgic Desire for Childhood Innocence” it is stated, “Adult teddy bear culture, by the 1920s, privileged the toy as a redeemer of individual human frailty and of human social failings.  In this same article the teddy bear can represent “transformative love” and ” a means for alleviating the alienated emotional self.”  In this I can see an object that can be emotionally burdened by relieving the cares, worries, and ills of its possessor.  In this I can also see an object that facilitates passive emotional communication.  During times of tragedy the teddy bear is often given as a means to support and comfort victims.  When gifted to the elderly or anyone really it is an effective means to avoid emotional and social communication.  It is thought a teddy bear can communicate all of the complicated and, at times, uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that the giver cannot or will not express.  It is a way to say, “I’m sorry” and substitutes companionship at the same time.  It is a deferral of responsibility.  What does this mean for me?

It was suggested, briefly, that I look for areas of “accountability” in my family and life experiences.  Very often I have taken in the role of or perceived myself as being in the role of victim.  Yes, I can see this as being true.  Things happened to me and I has/ have trouble finding the strength to take on the responsibility of changing those things and changing how I react to those things.  I have felt I have had very little control of these things and felt afraid to assume control.  If I push back, I’ve felt, it will destabilize my world and in what then can I place my trust?

Emotional Phobia

My therapist said this week that there are times when I leave that she feels I haven’t said everything I’ve wanted to say or expressed everything I have wanted to express.  She did not know how true this was/ is for me.  But even having the issue addressed was not enough for me to unload all of the “stuff” I’ve been carrying from week to week.

Fear is a very large factor in all of my interactions and relationships with people.  With my therapist, someone a client should be able to trust implicitly, I still fear a lot of things.  Judgement, being an imposition, boring her, irritating her… Part of me feels like I know too much, being a student studying the same thing my therapist practices.  I know about transference and countertransference, the shoulds and shouldn’ts, the techniques and stresses that go into being a therapist while also being human.  I am afraid to let go.  I am afraid to let my therapist see the good, the bad, and the ugly.  I am afraid to disclose my thoughts entirely.  I am afraid to get too emotionally involved.  That is the bottom line.  I am afraid to get to emotionally involved.  I am afraid to surrender to the therapeutic relationship entirely because I know (as a student) that the relationship isn’t “real” in the sense that it is based on transference and lacks reciprocity.  I care deeply about what she thinks of me.  I am so afraid to surrender to the emotions brought up in session, pain and fear and longing for the ability to be vulnerable being primary.  And so the support, what I want more than anything, is always always accompanied by the thought, “This isn’t real.”

What I want is the relationship I never had.

Inside Your Head

This week I told my therapist about a little boy I babysat for a while.  He was spoiled and very picky.  There was this one incident I related specifically.  He cried, threw a tantrum really, for 45 minutes because I took the straw off of the back of his juice box.  I ignored him because I wasn’t going to cave into his hissy fit like so many others may have done.  My therapist asked if I could do the same thing with my internal critic, my “bully.”  It will whine and rage and eventually wear itself out like the little boy did.  This makes sense, yes?

It was only this morning though that I saw my state of mind, my state of being, with such clarity though.  Also during this session my therapist thought it was interesting that my “bully” refers to me as something separate from myself.  When I beat myself up (frequently) my critic uses the pronoun “you.”  As in, “You’re such an idiot, tool, fucking ass, etc.”  Of course this had occurred to me before but I wasn’t really aware of it in the same way that I am this morning.  What or who in the hell have I allowed to get inside of my head!?  Even if “you” isn’t used in my mental self-abuse it comes from outside of myself.  It is only occasionally that a criticism or observation comes from what I know to be me.  Usually it is something along the lines of, “Well that was dumb.”  But even then it is sometimes hard to tell.

A Milestone

20 years ago today I began keeping a written personal journal.  It took me a number of years to fill that first journal but now I have more than 63 volumes in my collection.   Below is my very first entry:


Today I went to school.

I got my report card.

I got good grades.

Today was Monday.

I had gym.  I had

CCD.  Some people

call it the Cape Cod

Dump.  It is not

very nice.


ps. I liked my grades.


Every week my therapist asks me how my anxiety was during the week, higher, lower, or the same.  I don’t know how to respond.  I never know how to respond.  I’m always anxious.  Even when I don’t feel significantly anxious, I am anxious.  I’m never entirely at rest.  I don’t know what it is not to be anxious.  It is the same.  It is always the same.  The only thing that might make it different is the edge or lack of edge of excitement to my anxiety.  Sometimes that excitement manifests itself as energy and drive to get things done but this is so sporadic that it can hardly be relied upon.  Sometimes my anxiety borders on panic and I have to find a way to release it, often by walking Twin Lakes or by some other physical activity.  At other times it manifests as depression and feelings of being stuck and inadequate, tired, restless, and cranky.  At still other times it is like this low level hum or noise or song you can’t get out of your head.  It is what drives me because I am never comfortable, never satisfied.  Even in sleep I don’t entirely escape.

I long for the ability to make decisions and take actions with purpose and deliberation and not out of a sense of panic.