Monday, November 14, 2011

Gratitude Therapy : )

So tomorrow I have to co-lead a support group at the Cancer Center. The Topic is the Healthy Harvest, where... "Registered Dietician (Cheryl W.) and Art Therapist (me) will facilitate this demonstration on how to make pumpkin smoothies, and discuss how to make use of other fruits and vegetable from autumn's cornucopia."  

Ok. This has to beg the question: "What does an art therapist have to do with pumpkin smoothies?"  Well, anyone who knows me knows that I cant resist a good pumpkin anything.  In addition, I often just say Yes to things before I fully know what is going on.

For my part, I was planning to ask "the group" to make some Thanksgiving-related project while Cheryl whipped up the smoothies.  I found a simple pumpkin centerpiece that could be made by anyone with any ability.   However, this concept tends to move away from my style of practicing Art Therapy.

I often answer the question,"What is Art Therapy?" by describing a continuum where on one side is "Art-making for Joy" and the other side is "Projective Assessments that Allow Analysis and Insight."  Art-making for joy can be therapeutic, but in my opinion it is most effective at creating first order change (in this case, the change of mood of the person for the moment).   However, in my practice, I attempt to create interventions that at least have a shot at allowing for second order change (the lasting change that comes with the changing of a system). This could result from introspection and increased insight into the self as a result of creating some meaningful art product (even if that product is not very "good" and even if that product was made for fun.)  

What this means for me is that I am now scrambling to create some directive I can give to a group of unfamiliar people that would allow them to experience the joy of art-making, while also giving them the opportunity to change themselves... in one session.   What to do... What to do...

And then the light bulb went off.  I will ask them to create Thank You Cards.  But to who?  Maybe to themselves?  But that just seems so... first order.

I think people are so fast to see the negative, especially on a cancer unit.  Fortunately, John Gottman discovered in his studies about Positive and Negative Sentiment Override (in married couples), that what people focus on in the present has a huge impact on how they recall experiences of the past.  How the past is remembered will greatly impact how people anticipate the future.  If we focus on the positive in the present, we also tend to recall our pasts in the most positive light and therefore expect nothing less of the future.  If we focus on the negative in the present, we are more likely to remember the past in a negative light and expect the future to be just as bad.

As a result, there is some value is spending some time thinking about the people in this world that have positively impacted our lives.  In fact, a little Googling has uncovered that a man named John Kralick has discovered just how powerful thanking others can be.

I find his story fascinating.  In brief, Kralick was a lawyer who had practiced over 30 years in LA and had his own firm.  He found his firm was crumbling and his relationships were failing.  On a hike through the mountains, while on the brink of depression, he found the inspiration to write a Thank You note a day for 365 days.  One year later, he found that his life had completely changed for the better. He has since been appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger to be a Judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court.  He has written a book that explains his story. http://www.365thankyounotes.

The part of his website that I find most fascinating is that if you click on About the Author, he has chosen to include two action photos of himself:  (1) one of him racing the Napa Marathon and (2) one of him racing a half marathon with a friend.   Both of these images are noted to be a depiction of some story described in the book.  Hmm, I am beginning to feel compelled to buy a copy :)

Well that is a lovely story, but is it therapeutic or even just wise to ask cancer survivors and patients to make Thank You cards to others during what is likely one of the worst times of their lives?  According to an article by Rita Watson in Psychology Today, published just last week:  "A blessing a day can keep the doctor away."  Watson shares that it is harder to count your blessings in sad times, but it can be life changing to do so.  A four step gratitude plan is shared and stated that it will open the door to more happiness in life.  I am not sure I agree with all steps of the plan, but I find this all quite interesting and simple to do.

The Psychology Today article mentions Kralick and concludes: "It was through thank-you notes that Kralik turned his life around. Kralik said: 'We get so wrapped up in the day-to-day that we lose touch...When someone receives a hand-written note they know it came from a person who evaluated their decision to write. Hand writing for me is greater admissible evidence of concern.'" 

Watson adds,  And it works in love relationships as well: Revitalize Your Love Life with a Three Day Gratitude Plan"

So now Thank You Cards feel so much better to me as a directive.  This interventions leaves me with hope that some people will at least have a shot at second order change if they continue on with this exercise in gratitude outside of the support group.

And now it is my turn and I will start with you.

Thank You so much for reading and following my blog.  It gives this endeavor so much more meaning than it could ever have if my words were never given the chance to reach anyone but me. :)

- Shannon


  1. Broken link. Good read to start the day. It will be food for thought today. Not sure I even know 365 people ...

  2. You have no idea how much I needed to read this post. Great thoughts and insight-we need reminders for this at certain junctures of our lives, or everyday!

    Stay the course.

    Adrienne L.

  3. This is my first visit to your blog, and you just gained a follower. Awesome.

    My only knowledge of Art Therapy comes from a time when I was in a facility for depression. It is amazing how much you can learn about yourself in a seemingly simple exercise, and how that can change your outlook for decades.

    Thanks. I needed this reminder.

  4. Thank you, Pensive, for your comment and your following me here. It is nice to know that art therapy has a meaningful impact on people. It is not for everyone, but when it makes a difference it is wonderful to hear!

    - Shannon