By Sibel Ozer
(Below is a post by Sibel Ozer, psychotherapist and art therapist in Ann Arbor. Sibel is an ongoing contributor to the CWCJ blog, exploring topics in art therapy and offering exercises and "food for thought" for readers. Her essay "Art Therapy for Inspiration, Guidance, and Healing" was published in our January through April 2014 issue.)
A psychotherapist’s “bag of tricks”/toolbox/medicine bag consists of various modalities and techniques that we’ve learned over the years. After years of formal training and countless workshops, one tool/way/concept has infiltrated everything I do as a therapist, and shapes and informs how I work and live — mindfulness.
As defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn, “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
What I love about mindfulness is that it is a practice as opposed to something to succeed at, a way of life as opposed to a quick fix, a path to walk as opposed to a destination to be reached, a terrain to explore as opposed to a map to follow, a fortress to reinforce as opposed to a battle to win.
I love that it replaces judgment with curiosity, either/or thinking with alternatives, masks and roles with authenticity, constraints of time with expansiveness…
It generates qualities of gentleness, openness, empathy, integrity and respect — things I find easy to respond to.
A very close friend who recently completed years of training to become a psychoanalyst said that it was a brutal journey for her, that it wasn’t for the faint of heart, and that she would not want to repeat it, or easily recommend it. I was more than a little surprised because I have a lot of respect for that path, as well as my friend. Also because my own trainings have had such a different effect. I usually can’t wait to offer my clients a way that has helped and worked for me, or to return to get another dose of process painting or equine mirroring.
I’ve often thought that it is not fair that people who have gone through a lot and already suffered the pain of whatever trauma it is that got them to my office have to hurt more as they are working on their healing…
Revisiting traumatic memories hurts our entire being; meeting our resistances grates at our pride; realizing a shadow part shakes us to the core; grieving includes feeling the pain of the loss; changing a thought pattern that is faulty or insufficient requires humility and discipline…
So if there is a way to make therapy gentler, I am all for it. If a particular framework can decrease the hurt of the healing process, there is no way I’m not making use of it.
I was foolish enough to get a sunburn during our last vacation. The skin stings the first few days, then begins a process of peeling, and then finally is shed to be replaced by new, slightly tender skin from underneath. So, I was using cream more than usual to ease the discomfort.
We can think of mindfulness like a balm to the psyche, offering gentle relief and soothing, a way to respond, a choice we can make again and again, as we attend to our psychic hurts.
Sibel Ozer is a licensed professional counselor and board-certified art therapist. You can contact Sibel at firstname.lastname@example.org.