Archives for September 2012

Another Fateful Journey

While every art therapist has a unique story as to how he or she became interested in the field, there always seems to be at least one similarity – everyone seems to have that seemingly fateful moment or some kind of epiphany that leads to the realization that art therapy embodies two passions into a real job!

In undergraduate school, I experienced that typical identity crisis approaching adulthood, trying to decide who I was going to be and what I was going to do with my life… I found myself regularly glaring at the college form that was going to (at least in my mind) determine my future. I needed to “officially” declare my major… and I had to choose between psychology and studio art. They seemed to be such different fields, but I truly loved them both and could not imagine finding personal satisfaction in a career that focused on only one.

Then, I found my path to art therapy – I majored in studio art and essentially double majored in psychology, perfectly combining my two passions to prepare myself for graduate school.

My interview at the graduate art therapy program at the George Washington University (GW) provided me with another fateful opportunity. I had always wanted to do something in pediatric oncology – a combination of additional interests, children and healthcare. But I knew there was absolutely no way that I would ever have a job providing art therapy in a pediatric oncology setting…

Until I met a graduate student interning at Tracy’s Kids during my interview at GW – I finally knew that my dream job existed and felt that I had truly found my place. I was lucky enough to have my second year graduate school internship with Tracy’s Kids at Children’s National Medical Center. I was then fortunate enough to be able to transition from student intern to full-time employee. It has been a truly wonderful experience that completely validated my fateful journey to the dream job that I could not have ever imagined would actually exist. And now, I get to do something amazing every, single day.

Bob and his dog, Bob

When a person has cancer most people’s thoughts go towards the physical and emotional hardships the person and their loved ones will have to endure.  What is an afterthought is the financial hardships.  When a child is diagnosed with cancer the treatment is started quickly, often very intense, and fluctuates as to how much time is spent in the hospital or the clinic.  At least one parent/guardian needs to be with that child at all times. It is not uncommon to hear of a parent losing their job due to missed days. If that parent is the sole breadwinner, or insurance carrier, the financial strain is devastating.   If the family has enough support a fundraiser in their hometown can be a huge help with keeping them on their feet, or even in their home.  One such family recently had a fundraiser where another guest of honor happened to attend.  Meet Bob and his dog, Bob.

 

The Greater Good

Our beautiful silk hoop and origami mural at Life With Cancer

Patients and their family members often create art and then leave it in the art room to be completed or displayed. Pieces of origami and an assortment of silk hoops wait to be strung with beads to create a hanging art piece or a mobile. Sometimes interest in one technique or medium is shared by many kids and parents at the same time. This is often the case with both folding origami and painting on silk. When this happens a variety of artists often agree to combine their pieces to create a larger group art piece. Unlike the individual art pieces that reflect each artist personally, these group pieces represent the parts of their lives that they share; specifically the common bond of creating while waiting during weekly visits to the clinic for treatment. These group pieces become a beautiful representation of the collective group and they reflect the combined efforts and inspiration of the all the children, teens and parents who contribute pieces. The art making process helps to provide a different spin on this weekly experience. When the individual pieces join together they reflect the connection, cohesion and support that the children and parents provide to each other during this time. It is moving and beautiful, and it is an honor to witness.

The final piece becomes a legacy of those connections and experiences as well and a means to inspire others to create and explore.

"It is moving and beautiful, and an honor to witness."

Happily Hungry: Smart Recipes for Kids with Cancer

We are excited to announce the publication of Danielle Cook Navidi’s new cookbook, “Happily Hungry: Smart Recipes for Kids with Cancer.”

You can buy the book here, and be sure to check out the Forward by Georgetown University’s Dr. Aziza Shad, MD.

Happy reading and cooking!

Happily Hungry: Smart Recipes for Kids with Cancer

Author Danielle Navidi has turned her experience as the mom of a kid with cancer into an amazing resource for anyone who wants to cook and eat healthily!

 I first met Danielle when her 11 year old son was diagnosed with cancer. He and his siblings were active participants in the Tracy’s Kids art therapy program at Lombardi throughout his treatment and recovery—creative, open, bright and funny despite the intrusion of cancer into their family’s life!

 She was already a caterer, but something Fabien said shortly after he finished treatment inspired her to pursue an MS in nutrition. One night at dinner Fabien said, “This is my new favorite soup, Mom. It tastes like someone is taking care of me.”

 Happily Hungry

While the recipes were in development, Danielle did cooking demonstrations in the clinic at Lombardi—filling the whole clinic with the colors, smells and sounds of delicious food being prepared. Kids would take a break from their art-making to help Danielle chop vegetables or prepare smoothies. The kids and their parents gave Danielle feedback on her recipes—“not sweet enough;” “it tastes healthy”; “I like it, but I didn’t think I would!” and she chuckled and encouraged them to keep an open mind.

 Happily Hungry is already available on Amazon.com (click here to go to the link at Amazon). Here’s an excerpt from one of the online reviews:

 This cookbook is the most awesome cookbook I’ve seen in years. Of course, it was written with an eye for kids with cancer, but anyone who has a picky eater in their household can benefit from these great recepies and tips. I have made the chicken soup, the muffins and the smoothies. The kids and I have a plan to make all the recipes before the end of the year. The recipes are absolutely fabulous and the book itself is beautiful, moving, fun and enticing to both adults and kids.

 As an art therapist in pediatric oncology, I see kids and families dig deep and come up with the courage and resilience to fight through some really tough stuff. It is an incredible privilege to share Danielle’s story and the amazing accomplishment that is Happily Hungry.

Becoming the “Art Lady”

People ask me all the time how I became an art therapist. Most of the time they have never heard of art therapy, but they can tell I have a lot of fun and, frankly, are a little jealous that I get to make art with kids all day. Of course, there’s a lot more to art therapy than just making art with kids all day, but I do completely enjoy being with people in the art-making process. I get to do something I really enjoy for a living, something that comes very naturally to me, and for that I know I am lucky. But, to all those jealous people – I will never make a million dollars doing this. Keep that in mind before you quit your stockbroker job.

I have always been an artist. As a child, it was hands-down my favorite thing to do. Playing with Barbies was, admittedly, a really close second. I’m pretty sure I ruined a trip to Florida for my best friend when I was 8-years-old because I was more interested in drawing imaginary rock stars with my smelly markers than swimming in the pool or going to Disney World. Did I mention I was a strange child?

It was only natural, then, that I auditioned for an arts magnet program for both middle school and high school. It was never a question, really. I was always compelled to make art and I was good at it. I was also really, really bad at all sports, cheerleading, and most normal extracurricular activities. When I look back, though, I never thought I would be an artist as a career. I wasn’t necessarily prolific or driven to be an artist as a trade. I never imagined I would make anything that anyone would buy. I was very confused when I started college because while all of my artist friends were trying to get into art institutes, I was not really sure how to channel this ability. As if by fate, I came across a book at my public library – Approaches to Art Therapy by Judy Rubin, and I felt like I had found the perfect fit. I loved art and I was always interested in helping people and understanding human behavior. Also, Judy Rubin is awesome. Just a little bit of trivia – she was the “art lady” on Mister Roger’s Neighborhood.

Of course, like most people in their late teens and twenties, I meandered to my goal with a few detours. I was a psychology major in college and an almost art minor, because my last semester I spontaneously decided to do a politics program in Washington, DC and did not finish my art credits. One semester in DC and I knew I had zero political aspirations, but I’m glad I explored that avenue and got to know the city. After graduation, I still had art therapy on my mind, but just wasn’t quite ready for graduate school. I was a preschool teacher and then a middle school teaching assistant. I loved working with kids, but these were tough, thankless, money-less jobs. I’m not going to lie, this kind of work got me interested in going back to school VERY QUICKLY. I did some research and became interested in the George Washington University in Washington, DC. I already knew the city and the program has a rich history, founded by some of the most influential art therapists in the field.

How did I join up with Tracy’s Kids? Most art therapy graduate programs have at least two separate, year-long, intensive practicum components. My second year, I worked under Tracy’s supervision at Georgetown, though I was actually working with adult oncology patients. I loved my internship there, but more importantly I became familiar with Tracy’s work with pediatric cancer patients and I really connected with her style. Toward the end of my time there, Tracy’s Kids was on the cusp of expansion to Children’s National Medical Center. They would need an art therapist to lead that expansion, and I wanted that job. BAD. There was about a year between my graduation and when this job would be up for grabs, so I worked with a wonderful family as their nanny and hounded Tracy for information on a monthly basis until the job was posted. Luckily, the team at Children’s thought I was a good fit. In 2006, I embarked on the most challenging, rewarding job I have ever had, and I’m so thankful to still be part of the team today.

What I love about being part of this field is that people really believe in the work they do. I have met some very colorful characters over the years through school, conferences, and workshops and I don’t always understand everyone’s style, but I have never met an art therapist who didn’t truly care about the work they do and the people they serve. Art therapists are hard-working people who often spend a lot of time justifying their jobs to budget-cutters, explaining the importance of the work to people who don’t know the field, and fighting for licensure and equality with other mental health fields. And yet, almost every art therapist I know is energized by the art-making they see every day and the positive changes they see in the people they help. I am proud to be a part of this profession.

And for any men who might be interested in art therapy, there really are some guys in the field. At least one or two, I promise.

Gretchen’s Story

 

As I sit at the art table with children and their parents, they often ask how i came about this work. Initially the questions will center around art therapy; its role, purpose, and education. After those questions the parents often want to know my personal story. Why did I choose to work in this profession? One where the outcome can be heartbreaking.

The truth is, i did not initially want to work with children. I wanted to work with adults, to help them regain the joy of childhood. 20 years ago in undergrad as a anthropology/sociology student i took an expressive therapies class. While the music and the dance were not enjoyable to me, the art was. I realized i was using art as an emotional release for myself most of my life. I even chose not to take art classes because my creations were too close to my heart and my feelings.

After graduation i traveled the country with a friend and met a woman in California studying art therapy. As we lay in our tent on the side of the road talking about our futures i had an epiphany. I wanted to become an art therapist and work with adults who were HIV positive and/or suffering from AIDS. I had a purpose and a plan. I rounded up a few friends to move out to California so i could get residency and go back to school. Ah the best laid plans…

Ten years later I find myself as a single mother in Maryland with the chance to go back to school. As The George Washington University was right in D.C. and had the oldest Art Therapy program in the U.S., I knew the time was right. I had talked with Tracy at Georgetown to get a feel for the program and the profession and decided to take the plunge. I still wanted to work with adults, until my internships exposed me to the joys of working with children. By the time the Children’s clinic in Falls Church had an opening I had gotten my Masters in Art Therapy and my Graduate Counseling Licensure. I was ready for Tracy’s Kids. What i love best about this program is the whole family work I am able to do. Helping adults and children brings me joy at the end of each day.

A Bear & A Healing Garden

Over the past two years, the Tracy’s Kids art therapists in the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders have collaborated with other art therapists at Children’s National Medical Center to create two large murals which now hang prominently in our hallways – bringing the children and teenagers who worked on the murals a great sense of pride and accomplishment.

The art therapists first pieced together blank canvases of various sizes and drew the basic outline of the mural image. The canvases were then taken apart again, so that patients and siblings all over the hospital were each given their own piece of the mural. Without knowing what the final image would be, children of all ages (and with all different kinds of diagnoses) painted, glued and collaged the canvases.

Collaborative Mural of A Healing Garden

Each canvas stands alone as a beautiful artwork, but once the individual pieces were put back together, the results were even more amazing. Our first mural depicts Dr. Bear, the mascot of Children’s National Medical Center, and the most recent mural shows our “Healing Garden.” Once each mural was displayed, patients and siblings marveled at how their small piece of artwork contributed to the larger mural. The murals created a great sense of community – even though many of the patient-artists had never met, they became more aware of other children who share their experience in the hospital by collaborating in this project.

The Tale of Two Bad Mice: Anger in Young Children

At one time or another, parents, teachers, and other caregivers encounter the wrath of the young children in their charge. Temper tantrums, testing limits, and refusing to cooperate are inevitable and developmentally appropriate as young children assert their independence. But little ones’ anger can test the limits of their grownups’ patience and equanimity. If it comes to a power struggle, I always bet on the kid to win. Kids are smaller and less powerful, so they have a lot more at stake, and they tend to keep on until the adult gives in or loses their cool.  

 Kids with cancer have a lot to be mad about. They have gotten a raw deal. They have to go through a lot of awful stuff for no discernible reason, and their parents and caregivers have to insist that they take medicines, get checkups and infusions, and keep on plugging away for a very long time. But kids tend to be amazingly resilient—they might be enraged and pouty and silly and relaxed all in the span of the same half-hour. Keeping up with all that requires a lot of emotional intelligence from grownups.

 

Stories from children’s literature can be a great resource in articulating the emotional life of children and helping both children and adults develop resilience and coping. One of my all-time favorite kids’ stories is “The Tale of Two Bad Mice,” by Beatrix Potter. Miss Potter is best known for “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” but the story of Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca, the mice who lived in the nursery, offers wonderful insights into what makes kids tick.

 

The two mice see that the nursery is empty, so they go exploring in the dollhouse. A beautiful feast is laid out upon the dining table—ham, fish, lobster, pudding, fruit—but they soon discover that it is all fake—made of plaster. Potter writes “there was no end to the rage and disappointment of Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca.” It is important to note that they are not just angry, they are disappointed—they have been duped! Appearing foolish is especially difficult for young children to tolerate. They have limited knowledge, but they want to be competent, so it is terribly painful to be shown to be wrong!

The mice proceed to wreck the doll’s house, destroying everything in their path—but then Hunca Munca realizes that she would like to have some of the things they are destroying. They take a feather bed and a cradle, among other things, to outfit their mouse hole, as Hunca Munca is about to have babies herself! The dolls return, and the people with them to find the dolls’ house wrecked. The little girl stations a policeman doll outside the house to guard it, and the nanny sets a mouse-trap.

 

The mice are too clever for the trap, and they return—but they do not destroy things again. They find a sixpence under the rug and leave it in the dolls’ Christmas stocking to pay for what they have destroyed, and Hunca Munca comes early every morning to sweep the dolls’ house. The mice have gone from being angry and out of control to being responsible, cooperative citizens of the nursery–showing young children the pathway back from a scary, angry place to one of fairness and self-control.

Care for the Caregiver

 

All staff members in the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders work very closely with families and patients, some of whom we have known for months or even years.  Working alongside these families, staff members naturally witness and experience a large range of emotions.  As a traditional workday on the unit doesn’t always allow for very much downtime, theTracy’s Kids art therapists host regular Care for the Caregiver sessions for staff members in the art therapy room. 

Care for the Caregiver sessions allow a time and space for any and all staff on the Hematology/Oncology unit to take time out of a busy day for themselves.  During this time, staff members are encouraged to draw support from one another and to use the art materials provided to facilitate the process of relaxation and reflection.  Mandalas, or circle drawings, are a very popular choice amongst staff – the containing and centering qualities of the circular form have long been used in cultures around the world. During a sometimes hectic workday, the art making creates an opportunity for self care that enables staff members to continue to provide first class care for patients and families.