Art Therapist Interview!

I’ve got a new interview for you! I met with art therapist, Elana Kaiser, to learn about art therapy in general and also how it connects to happiness. She didn’t have a ton of time to talk so she just dove in and gave me a great explanation of art therapy and what she tries to do with her clients. She had a really interesting perspective on happiness and I’m excited to share her thoughts with you! I even had the chance to do some art with her and try it out for myself, but that will be my next post. For now, enjoy reading her interview, or you can listen to the interview here:

Elana Kaiser: “So I’ll just talk about art generally. So art, it is kind of a meditation in a way too, it can slow you down and can be like a concrete record of your existence cause I think depending on what’s going on in your life sometimes you can feel that it’s either hard to describe in words cause you know there’s a part of our brain that when we dream is only in pictures. So when people do art, they slow down, they relax, they also can feel, especially if you’re very clear as an art therapist to say there’s no right and no wrong, this isn’t about what it looks like…I mean some people get really excited about what they do and other people are like ‘you can just keep it’…but it’s a record of a moment in time. It’s like when you have a dream if you remember your dream you’re like ‘I don’t know what it means’ and then a few months later you’re like ‘oh yeah, I know what that dream means.’ Sometimes dreams can kind of be predicting the future or sometimes the symbols in the dream start making sense. If you do art a lot, it actually becomes a narrative of your life, like you get to see what your interests are, and you get to see how you organize your world whether it’s you know visually in terms of a story…and then you can feel like ‘Wow! My life makes sense, it’s not as all over the place as I thought it was, like there really is some kind of order.’ When I stop, and I look, and I see it…That can make people feel good. I mean obviously it could do the opposite. So what I try to do with people is actually connect it to, clearly people who are depressed they might really feel like they’ve, that’s on a continuum also. But with depression comes a lot of negative thoughts, like self loathing or ‘I can’t do anything right’ or ‘I’m unloveable’ or ‘I don’t look good’, all those negative cognitions that go with feeling out of control with your moods, anxiety, depression. And then what I try to teach people is ‘You are not your thoughts’ and that actually it does take more discipline and effort to change some of those negative thoughts and realizing that some of those negative thoughts like ‘the depression is a part of you’ and that your true essence is being calm and relaxed, and really helping people feel calm and relaxed, and be able to be mindful about their thoughts and say ‘okay so the thoughts when I’m feeling really down are really bullying me, okay so let’s connect and anchor in that calm and relaxed place.’ So the calm and relaxed place is connected to the breath, and also just when the body slows down you know the thoughts become, well they can slow down, or you can have a better perspective on watching the thoughts and then you can say ‘okay so let’s try to connect some positive thoughts to the calm and relaxed place’ so it could be like ‘hey, okay I’m okay the way I am’ or ‘let me think about a time when I felt good, and what was I doing, I was probably active in some kind of way’ or you can connect that calm place with drawing or painting and you could ask that negative part to step back and say ‘So if I have a part of me that’s really critical and judgmental, I’ll let that part just rant and rave’ and know that that’s not who I really am and it could just be connected to bad parenting or bullying in your past or a variety of things, but how can you balance it out or become more regulated, so I’ll suggest maybe teaching people meditation or doing yoga or exercising, but the thoughts are really what’s the most powerful thing. And so really the key to happiness…I mean clearly some people have better chemistry in their body and in their brain and they’re lucky they don’t need to effort as much, or their upbringings were different, but if you don’t have that kind of good’s kind of like, you know, some people math comes really easily for them, other people math is really tough. So, if you wanna get better at math, you’re just gonna have to work five times as hard. So if you wanna have positive thoughts, and you don’t naturally have them, you have to consciously effort to say ‘okay, every time I have a negative thought I’m gonna say change’ quietly to myself, I’m gonna connect to my breath, I’m gonna slow down, and I’m gonna have some positive thoughts. Because the negative part, the primitive part of the brain has been there forever, and it’s design to have like lightening fast reactions to protecting us. And so, the more evolved part of the brain, which is in the pre-frontal cortex is the one that has to be engaged in positive thinking. So, you have to exercise and develop that part of your brain. So, if you can understand the physiology of depression, an understand it from a psyschoeducational point, of just like ‘this is what happens when I start thinking negative thoughts or when I feel bad and the negative thoughts happen so quickly, I need to quickly put a stop to it, cause when the stress hormones start flooding me, then I’m like a lost cause.’ And stress hormones double, they just go really really really fast. So, how do you slow it down? You have to be super conscious to say ‘well I don’t want to be flooded with stress hormones right now, and maybe I just need to have a lot of compassion for myself, maybe I need to go for a walk, or maybe I need to call a friend, or maybe I need someone to remind me that I’m a good person because right now I’m not able to use my full brain.’ So I think art therapy, meditation, thinking about how to have a regulated brain you know, is all in the mind-body connection and it’s like how can you realize that you do have some amount of control over your body, over your breath, over your thoughts, and how they’re interconnected. So that’s kind of how I work. And I can do that with like from children, to helping parents, to adults, to couples, you can spread it across because it’s all about just being human. ”

LD: “So in your head is the calm, relaxed state is that happiness?”
EK: “For me it is. I would say happiness is, yeah, calm-relaxed state. I mean for me, being happy is being yeah, calm and relaxed, but being active. I like to be active. So like, if I can be calm and relaxed and go on a long bike ride. Or calm and relaxed and go for a long hike. Or calm and relaxed and paint. You know, when I’m not happy it’s because I have negative thoughts, so you know it doesn’t take a lot for me to be happy, as long as my body’s calm. And compassion. That’s a huge word for me. If you can have compassion for yourself, for whatever state you’re in, you’re gonna get there sooner.”