Using Art and Mindfulness for Pain Control

Using Art and Mindfulness for Pain Control

Using Art and Mindfulness for Pain Control

 

“Art gives a face to the ambiguity of chronic pain…it gives a visual expression to something that is often elusive.”

– Dr. Steve Feinberg, American Chronic Pain Association

 

It’s Not Easy Being In Pain

 

How many of us have pinched a finger in a door, have sprained or broken a limb, have woken up with a back ache or gone to bed with a searing migraine? In some form or another, we can relate! After all, we are human. For some of us, however, either due to injury or illness, the pain never goes away. Day in and day out, pain follows us all the time. It is no surprise then, that pain impacts all aspects of our lives: our sleep, our ability to work or go to school, and even our social connections and family relationships. Using art and mindfulness for pain control can be an extremely helpful tool for our journey. Before we get into that, let’s look at some of the information on chronic pain and illnesses.

 

The Statistics

 

Did you know that nearly 8 million people in Canada live with chronic pain (or pain that persists for than three months)?i This means that 1 in 5 people suffer from prolonged pain. 1 in 5 children and youth experience ongoing pain and 1 in 3 adults 65 and older experience chronic pain.ii This can include but is not limited to conditions such as endometriosis, cancer, neurological disorders, fibromyalgia, and Lupus.

Like other chronic illnesses, the chronic pain experience is also impacted by other factors such as poverty, mental health and substance use issues, diversity in gender, race, ethnicity, abilities, and concurrent medical conditions.iii

 

The Stigma

 
Some of us have been on the receiving end of a dirty glare when parking in a handicap space, using the elevator meant for those with physical disabilities, or for not offering your seat on a bus to another person with physical disabilities. If only they knew! Because chronic pain is largely invisible, those affected by it can often feel disbelieved, unheard, or dismissed. The stigma builds as individuals are labeled as a “problematic and frequent patients,” mainly because they seek medical treatment regularly. The huge range of symptoms that one can have related to chronic pain makes it difficult to reach a diagnosis and plan for treatment. What begins is a search for effective, compassionate and quality help.
 

Facing Challenges

 
For people living with chronic pain or illness, getting help is not always straightforward.
In my own pain experience and in my work with others with chronic conditions, this seems to be a reoccurring experience. Navigating through our medical system is complex and confusing at times. For patients with chronic pain it’s certainly not a walk in the park!

To be fair, medical professionals do their best to care for their chronic pain patients but struggle to work within a health care system that is not always well-equipped to manage the complex nature of pain. With nearly 900,000 British Columbians without a family doctoriv, the limited amount of time with each patient, and long wait times in walk-in clinics and emergency wards, medical professionals are not always able to spend the time they need or want to with their patients.

As a result of this, chronic pain sufferers are faced with considerable challenges when seeking help?

  1. The need to review their medical history for every new practitioner. With each new doctor or specialist, patients are asked to review their medical challenges and ‘pain history’ and it is exhausting! If there is no continuity of care or no regular doctor who can follow your progress and prescribe effective treatments, those with chronic pain can be left with feelings of despair and frustration.
  2. Self-advocacy is hard. With many chronic pain symptoms being invisible, those of us with chronic conditions need to be forthright, consistent, and clear when we articulate our symptoms, and defend our state of being and need for treatment. This not a skill that everyone has and it forces already vulnerable people to go outside of their comfort zone or find an advocate who can be their spokesperson.
  3. It is hard to get timely help. It can take many months and even years to see specialists, receive surgery, or gain access to public pain programs. In the meantime, patients are left to cope, to seek out alternative forms of treatments. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to look, and see if they are accessible (financially, geographically, or demographically).
  4. Building a support network is not always easy or within reach. With prolonged reliance on friends and family for practical, financial, physical, emotional, and spiritual support, those with chronic pain may be left with changed or strained relationships. Asking for help regularly or relying on others may not always be an option due to life circumstances. Feelings of loneliness and of being a burden often weigh heavily on those with prolonged pain.

 

How Do We Address These Issues and Improve Quality of Life?

 
How many times have you heard, “You’re going to have to learn how to live with your pain?” We groan, yes, but it’s true. There is no magic wand, so how do we do this? The chronic pain experience is riddled with complexities; because it has both physiological and psychological components, taking a holistic approach in tackling chronic pain is the most effective treatment plan in retraining our body and brain. For a good discussion of the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach to pain management, check out this video.

When used together, interventions such as pain medication, surgical procedures, counselling, body work (occupational therapy, physiotherapy, massage therapy, exercise, acupuncture), and the arts (visual, performance, music, dance, literary), can reboot our nervous system, teach us productive skills to manage symptoms, and help us to connect with ourselves and others and have a better quality of life amidst our pain experiences.
 

The Role of Art and Mindfulness For Pain Control

 
Using the Arts and mindfulness for its health benefits is widely becoming a critical component of healthcare to positively enhance, impact, healv and strengthen overall health and well-being.vi Research shows that mindfulness, or the act of paying full attention to the present moment without judgement,vii is a very effective practice to provide relief for both physical and psychological symptoms of chronic pain. Jon Kabat-Zinn, leading researcher of MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) advocates that mindfulness can alleviate symptoms of pain, reduce stress in the body, alter our negative thought distortions to more positive ones, create emotional balance, and enhance overall health.viii

It’s no surprise then, that combining the art making process with mindfulness can be an effective way to tackle pain management. The very act of creativity and expression can promote body awareness,ix be an effective practice for rehabilitation and lead to significant life changes. It also offers a tangible and fun way to learn mindfulness skills, and encourage self-compassionate creativity.
 

What types of art activities can we do to learn mindfulness?

 
There are a wide variety of artistic activities that can help us learn to be mindful. Here are a few ideas:

  • Activities such as drawing, paper marbling or knitting can provide temporary respite or healthy distraction from physical symptoms of pain,xi xii and allow chronic pain sufferers to lose themselves in the moment or artistic process.xii xiii
  • Reflective journaling and guided meditation connects both the physical body and the psychological mind, using the art making process to encourage positive self-care, and experimentation and risk-taking, two essential qualities of the art-making process.xiv
  • Creating a self-portrait or vision board is a way to explore understandings of self, improve self-confidence,xv process suffering or significant life changes, and provide a visual representation of the life you want to have moving forward.
  • Making art with others in a supportive environment can help us feel connected and understood by talking to others about pain experiences,xvi building companionship, and having a sense of belonging, and decreasing social isolation and loneliness.
  • Selecting from a range of colours, shapes or images in an art activity encourages experimentation,xvii affirms a sense of control over surroundings and the decision-making process, and builds upon and improves cognitive functions (memory processing and problem solving).xviii

 
Using art and mindfulness for pain control, along with healthy changes to our diet, sleep, and exercise regimes and with attentiveness to empathy and creativity can help lower stress levels, give our nervous system a rest, and helps to promote self-care habits. By using a variety of creative processes, health difficulties can be better expressed, understood, accepted, and help us build our resilience. xix

I hope this article has given you a taste of the benefits of using art and mindfulness for pain control. If you want to try something fun, meet others who understand and support you, and learn how to manage symptoms through the process of creating, join us in our Pain in the Arts class, where we will learn how to make art with a mindfulness lens.

If you want to learn more about our Arts in Health Program at Alongside You, please visit our page on Arts in Health.
 
 


i. Canadian Pain Task Force Report. 2021 Accessed July 13th, 2022. Link
ii. Canadian Pain Task Force Report. 2021 Accessed July 13th, 2022. Link
iii. Canadian Pain Task Force Report. 2021 Accessed July 13th, 2022. Link
iv. Xu, Xiao “Nearly 900,000 British Columbians don’t have a family doctor, leaving walk-in clinics and ERs swamped.” Globe and Mail. April 29 2022. Accessed July 13th. Link
v. Fancourt, Dr. Daisy; Warren, Katey and Augusterson, Henry. “Evidence summary for policy: The role of arts in improving health and wellbeing.” Report to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport. April 2020. Accessed July 5th, 2022.
Link
vi. Link
viii. Gardner-Nix, Dr. Jackie and Lucie Costin-Hall. The Mindfulness Solution to Pain. New Harbinger Publicaitons, Inc. 2009: vii.
ix. Callahan, Margaret Jones. Mindfulness Based Art: The Sparks Guide for Educators and Counselors. Friesen Press. 2016.
x. Ann Behav Med. Eds. Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Pain: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.2017 Apr;51(2):199-213.Link
xi. Kabat-Zinn, J., Lipworth, L. & Burney, R. J The clinical use of mindfulness meditation for the self-regulation of chronic pain. Behav Med (1985) 8: 163.
xii. Dr. Daniel Potts. How art therapy enhances the life for Dementia Patients. 2014. Accessed September 15th, 2016. Link
xiii. “The Art of Pain Management.” American Chronic Pain Association: Link
xiv. McNiff, Shaun. Chapter 2: The Role of Witnessing and Immersion in the Moment of Arts Therapy Experience. P. 41. In In Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies: Theory and Practice. Laury Rappaport ed. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 2014: 38-50.
xv. McNiff, Shaun. Chapter 2: The Role of Witnessing and Immersion in the Moment of Arts Therapy Experience. P. 40. In In Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies: Theory and Practice. Laury Rappaport ed. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 2014: 38-50.
xvi. Monti, Daniel W., Caroline Peterson, et al. A Randomized, Controlled Trial of Mindfulness-based Art Therapy (MBAT) for Women with Cancer. Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, PA, Psycho-Oncology 15:363–373 (2006)
xvii. McNiff, Shaun. Chapter 2: The Role of Witnessing and Immersion in the Moment of Arts Therapy Experience. P. 41. In In Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies: Theory and Practice. Laury Rappaport ed. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 2014: 38-50.
xviii. Quintana Hernández DJ et all. The effects of a neuropsychology program based on mindfulness on Alzheimer’s disease: randomized double-blind clinical study. Revista Espanola de Geriatria y Gerontologia [2014, 49(4):165-172]
xix. McNiff, Shaun. Chapter 2: The Role of Witnessing and Immersion in the Moment of Arts Therapy Experience. P. 40. In In Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies: Theory and Practice. Laury Rappaport ed. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 2014: 38-50.
Arts In Health – Why We Should Be Using Art In Healthcare

Arts In Health – Why We Should Be Using Art In Healthcare

What is Arts in Health?

 

The idea that The Arts have a role in the health of individuals and communities has a long history in cultures around the world.i Arts in Health (also known as Arts in Medicine or Art in Healthcare) incorporates The Arts (visual, performing, literary, music, and dance) to support and enhance the continuum of care and plays a critical role in the overall health and well-being of people seeking help for various conditions.

This growing field of research and inquiry is developing world-wide, especially in The United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, and across Europe.ii Increasingly, medical professionals are ‘socially prescribing’ non-medical, community-based activities and services that provide patients and practitioners greater health options when faced with complex medical and social problems.iii Though not as developed as in other countries, there are various health initiatives that incorporate The Arts with diverse creative holistic approaches to health across Canada.iv

This multi-disciplinary approach to health is becoming recognized both as an effective and creative way to positively impact health outcomes in both inpatient and outpatient healthcare and community settings, and boost mental, emotional, social, physical and brain health.

Specifically, participating in the art-making process:

 

  • Reduces stress, anxiety and depressionv
  • Improves self-confidence,vi self-awareness and empowermentvii
  • Encourages positive self-care skills
  • Provides a supportive setting to socialize, decreasing loneliness and social isolation
  • Is an effective preventative tool to manage symptoms of chronic pain and illness, and diseases such as Dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease
  • Improves and maintains neuro-spatial functions, memory processing and problem solving as we ageviii
  • Fosters emotional resilience, confidence, and personal growth
  • Is a healthy outlet and distraction tool to heal from physical, emotional, and psychological issues

To learn more, check out this infographic based on the research of Alain De Bolton and John Armstrong “Art As Therapy.”

 

Where does Arts in Health take place and what does it actually look like?

 
If you have ever been to a museum, a hospital, or community-based care home, you have most likely come across both art work and programs that fit under the umbrella of Arts in Health.

Museums and art galleries are accessible places where art can be viewed, questioned, created and bought. Artists and craftspeople are culture makers; they often play a huge role in cultural education and wellness. They are catalysts and bring people together through exhibitions, celebrations, ceremonial performances, and demonstrations. Artists can also showcase their work and sell their handcrafted art pieces.

Art work or painted murals are displayed in hospitals in hallways, waiting rooms, intensives care units, palliative and hospice wards, treatment and operating rooms and children’s wards. Outdoor art installations are also found on hospital grounds, music is played in high stress areas to benefit the patients and health-care staff, art activities are used at bedsides or during treatment (chemotherapy, radiation, and dialysis).

Community-based organizations such as rehabilitation and addiction centres, women’s shelters, day programs for people with diverse abilities, and immigrant services are just a few examples of where recreational forms of art-making are used to strengthen, to heal, and to communicate.
 

Who Benefits from Arts in Health Programs?

 
Along with other therapeutic interventions such as counselling, neurofeedback, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), occupational therapy and physiotherapy, The Arts allows us to discover, explore, practice, connect not only with others, but with ourselves. More specifically:
 

  • Kids and Teens: Approximately 20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder.ix Extracurricular activities such as art making can be especially beneficial for both teens and children because it provides a fun, non-threating, and inclusive setting where they can be introduced to new skills, learn coping strategies, shore up defenses and can develop deeper understandings of themselves and others.x
  • Socially Isolated Individuals: Approximately 1 in 5 Canadians say that are not satisfied with their number of friends.xi Loneliness is real. Making art with others can promote social satisfaction and allow individuals to connect with others with similar interests
  • Caregivers or other individuals with overwhelming stress and anxiety: Using The Arts is good place to begin when coping with the stresses of everyday life. Picking up a paint brush or writing in a journal can be small but positive self-care steps to improve everyday life
  • Individuals with diverse needs, abilities, and diagnoses: People with diverse physical, intellectual, developmental, and emotional needs thrive when art activities are tailored to suit their individual interests and needs. Those with chronic pain or illnesses also benefit from the art making experience which helps in pain management
  • Individuals who just want to have fun! Making art in a beautiful space with a variety of different art, alongside others can really boost our mood. We can also receive individualized and collective support and guidance while working on creative projects
  •  

    Who is considered an Arts in Health practitioner?

     
    Arts in Health practitioners are composed of a variety of individuals: professionally trained artists, artists-in-residence, expressive arts practitioners (who use multiple forms of art), arts or health educators, art consultants, community-based support staff, other health-care professionals, recreational instructors in hospital or community programs, or other creative individuals who incorporate art in health disciplines.xii

    These practitioners provide patients, family members, and caregivers with opportunities for creative engagement in a variety of ways. Many artists are involved in fundraising efforts for health-related causes. From auction items, art commissions, internet sales, art shows, and community events, artists are uniquely woven into the commercial market, bridging artistic development to benefit healthcare initiatives. It is common for artists to work as educators inside schools or workplaces. They lead students, teachers, businesses and organizations in creating collaborative art pieces, and provide training and professional development on how to practice self-care and how to infuse wellness in their classroom or organization.

    Artists have always played a pivotal role in places of religious expression and places of worship, such as churches, mosques, temples and more. They help bridge creative expression (music, building architecture, prayers) with spiritual health and healing.

    Musicians, performance artists, dancers, visual and literary artists play a huge part in improving our collective quality of life, especially during challenging times. Throughout the pandemic, we have seen how The Arts have brought us together and helped us cope anxiety and stress.
     

    So why does Arts in Health matter?

     
    Increasingly, the health-care system is going thought a shift, one that focuses on treating the whole person (body/mind/soul), not just the condition. Medical programs are integrating the arts into training, teaching and research because of the overwhelming evidence-based research that shows a direct correlation between healing and the arts.xiii

    This infographic provides a great visual on the importance of community-based Arts in Health.

    Both on an Individual and community level, at Alongside You, we seek to reduce the burdens of illness, to foster connection, provide hope and build resilience so we can help others live vibrant and thriving lives. It is for these reasons that we offer Arts in Health programs at Alongside You. If you have any questions about how our Arts in Health programs can help you on your journey, please reach out to me and I’ll be glad to hear your experience and talk about how including arts in your health plan could help!
     

    “An active engagement with the arts – whether as a participant, or as a viewer – is one effective way for individuals and communities to address issues of public health. We recognize that prevention and health promotion are important in avoiding the costs and issues associated with acute care later on, down the road. This is where the arts are effective in health promotion.”

    – Sarah Chilvers, (former Program Director for Health and Social Development for the Vancouver Foundation)


    i. Clift, Stephen, and Paul M. Camic (eds). Oxford Textbook of Creative Arts, Health, and Wellbeing: International Perspectives on Practice, Policy and Research. Oxford University Press. 2016. Page 3.

    ii. Clift, Stephen, and Paul M. Camic (eds). Oxford Textbook of Creative Arts, Health, and Wellbeing: International Perspectives on Practice, Policy and Research. Oxford University Press. 2016. Page 4.

    iii. Wouldn’t it be great to have this in Canada?

    iv. To name a few: Dalhousie University’s Medical Humanities Program called Heals, that combines the arts and humanities with healthcare; The University of Prince Edward Island’s Advancing Interdisciplinary Research in Singing (AIRS) Research Environment that connects researchers across discipline with singing and well-being; McGill University’s leading researcher in neurosciences, Daniel Levitin’s work on the impact of music and the brain; Arts Health Network is hub that links research in arts and health knowledge across Canada; In Manitoba, University of Victoria’s Health Initiative (UHI) aims to enhance health research, healthy aging, indigenous health, and mental health.

    v. Repar, Patricia Ann DMA; Patton, Douglas Med. Stress Reduction for Nurses Through Arts-in-Medicine at the University of New Mexico Hospitals. The Departments of Music and Internal Medicine.

    Holistic Nursing Practice: July 2007 – Volume 21 – Issue 4 – p 182-186. University of New Mexico. Accessed July 14th, 2022. https://journals.lww.com/hnpjournal/Abstract/2007/07000/Stress_Reduction_for_Nurses_Through.4.aspx

    vi. McNiff, Shaun. Chapter 2: The Role of Witnessing and Immersion in the Moment of Arts Therapy Experience. P. 40. In In Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies: Theory and Practice. Laury Rappaport ed. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 2014: 38-50.

    vii. McNiff, Shaun. Chapter 2: The Role of Witnessing and Immersion in the Moment of Arts Therapy Experience. P. 41. In In Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies: Theory and Practice. Laury Rappaport ed. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 2014: 38-50.

    viii. Zeki, Semir. Art and the Brain. Journal of Consciousness Studies 6(6-7). 1999. Accesses September 14th, 2020. Link

    ix. Canadian Mental Health Association Statistics: Mental Health and Mental Illness. Link

    x. Coholic, Diana. Arts Activities for Children and Young People in Need. (2010). P. 11.

    xi. Canadian Mental Health Association. Coping with Loneliness. Link

    xii. Dewey, Patricia, Bettes, Donna et.all. Arts, Health and Wellbeing in America. (2017). Accessed July 15th, 2022. Link

    xiii. This is evident with the growing recognition amongst Canadian physicians the establishment of medical schools such as Queens University, Memorial University of Newfoundland, the University of Alberta that bridge medical training with The Arts.

Developing a Healthy Sex Life After Sexual Abuse/Assault – Part 2

Developing a Healthy Sex Life After Sexual Abuse/Assault – Part 2

This article talks about some skills and strategies to heal the traumatized part of your brain and move toward the intimacy you deserve. If you missed the last article about the ways that sexual abuse/assault impacts intimacy and sexuality, I’d recommend going back and reading that article before beginning this one.

Remedies

Every nervous system is a little different. What works for one person may not work for another. There are many options for healing trauma and developing a healthy intimate and sex life, so I encourage you to choose options that resonate best with you.

Shift Ideas about Sex

A good place to start might be with the ideas you and your partner(s) hold about sex. Often survivors of sexual assault hold negative beliefs about sex. These beliefs result from parts of our brains confusing sexual assault (violence) with sex (consent, pleasure, equality). The two are not the same, and we need to rewire our brains to reflect this. I recommend having a look at Wendy Maltz’s comparisons chart here https://healthysex.com/healthy-sexuality/part-one-understanding/comparisons-chart/. This will help explain the difference between ideas about sex that come from experiences of abuse, versus healthy ideas about sex.

You can continue to develop a healthy sexual mindset by avoiding media that portrays sexual assault or sex as abuse or talking about sexual attitudes with friends or with a therapist. You can also educate yourself about sexuality and healing through books and workshops. One book I strongly recommend is Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski.

Communication with Partners

This may be the most important recommendation in this article. You cannot have consensual sex without communicating about it. That’s true for anyone, whether they’re an assault survivor or not. Sex remains a taboo subject in our culture, even though sex is very normal and most people have some form of sex at some point in their lives. When things are taboo and not widely talked about and understood, people develop feelings of shame about the taboo subject. Shame lurks in the darkness. This feeling of shame or embarrassment or even just awkwardness keeps many people from talking about sex with their partners despite engaging in sex.

  1. Consent is dynamic: It can be given and withdrawn at any time

All people, and especially survivors of assault/abuse need to be able to give and withdraw consent AT ANY TIME during a sexual or intimate act. Many survivors will experience flashbacks or triggers at various times through physical or sexual activities. Because they don’t feel safe to tell their partner to stop (often out of fear for making them feel bad), they will instead dissociate and push through the sexual experience. When you do this, you are telling your brain and body that what you feel doesn’t matter and that the other person’s pleasure or comfort is more important.

While it may feel frustrating to have to stop mid-sex or mid-kiss or mid-hug because something has triggered you, listening to your body will actually help the healing process go much faster. Each time you override what your brain and body needs, the trauma gets reinforced and the triggers continue to come back. Slower is faster when healing from trauma. This is something partners need to understand. If a survivor is saying no, it’s because they trust you enough to say no, not because they’re not attracted to you. Every “no” is sexy because it’s getting you closer to an enthusiastic, consensual “yes”

  1. Understand and Communicate your preferences

In addition to understanding and respecting the need to withdraw consent at any time, it’s important to talk about sexual preferences. What feels good, what feels neutral and what doesn’t feel good. Communicate when something felt uncomfortable and explore together to find what does feel comfortable. When sex is approached with curiosity and exploration rather than rigidness and shame, it becomes increasingly safe and pleasurable for both parties.

  1. The need to take a break

Sometimes survivors of sexual abuse and assault may need to take a prolonged break from sexual activity. This can happen when the individual is in a relationship or not. The break allows space to focus on healing and figuring out what feels good and what doesn’t without worrying about the anxiety of managing their partner’s advances. When you are ready to engage in sexual activity again, do so when you want it, not when you believe you “should.” You have a right to be an active participant in your own sex life. Communicate your likes and dislikes and give yourself permission to say no at any time.

How to Manage Triggers and Flashbacks

As mentioned above, some survivors will experience triggers or flashbacks during physical touch or sexual activity. Flashbacks and triggers are often thought of as images of the traumatic experience. But they can also be experienced as unpleasant sensations, or a lack of sensation, an experience of disconnection, or an experience of overwhelm. When this happens it’s important to stop whatever is triggering the flashback, i.e. stopping the sexual activity or the physical touch. When you have a flashback, a part of your brain thinks it is in the past when the trauma happened, You need to remind that part of your brain that you are in the present moment and that the danger has passed. Another word for this is “grounding.”

Grounding Strategies/Orienting back to the present moment

  • 5,4,3,2,1
    • Name 5 things you can see, 4 you can touch, 3 you can hear, 2 you can smell, 1 you can taste
  • Deep breaths
    • Breathe in for 4, hold for 7, out for 8 (or any variation of that where you breathe out longer than you breathe in
  • Box breaths: in for 4, hold for 4, out for 4, hold for 4 (repeat 4 times)
  • Stand up and move your body – get the adrenaline out
    • Run on the spot, go for a walk, jumping jacks
  • Watch youtube video that makes you laugh (laughter is grounding)
  • Play a categories game
  • Say the alphabet backwards
  • Show these strategies to your partner and do them together

Once you’ve successfully grounded (and give yourself as much time as your nervous system needs for this, remember slower is faster), take some time to rest and find comforts. Your nervous system has just gone through a lot. It can also be good to think about what triggered you and to discuss with you partner how to change that in the future. You may want the help of a counsellor to determine this.

Counselling

Trauma counselling can really help you to overcome the impacts the trauma has on your life. You may also want to incorporate some couples counselling to help improve communication so that the two of you can work as a team on this.

There are 3 types of trauma counselling that can be beneficial. You may benefit from a mix of all three.

  1. Top-Down counselling:

This type of counselling helps you to change the thought patterns and behavioural habits that have formed as a result of the trauma. You will learn to notice the emotions and to change the behaviours and thoughts that tend to come as a result of the emotions. Some examples of this include CBT and DBT.

  1. Bottom-Up Counselling:

Emotions and survival responses are physiological. You may notice a tightness in your chest when you feel anxious, a lump in your throat when you feel sad, a pit in your stomach when you feel embarrassed, or any variety of physical manifestations of emotions. When we feel an emotion our bodies are automatically mobilized to do something with it. For example, if you see a grizzly bear, your body might instinctively run or freeze or even try to fight it. You don’t even have to think about it, your brain does it automatically! Your body also knows how to heal from the trauma, but often circumstances prevent us from being able to allow our bodies to do what they need to do. Bottom-up counselling approaches such as EMDR, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, or Somatic Experiencing can help you to process the trauma by mindfully allowing your body and brain to do what it needs to do to heal. This will also greatly improve your relationship to your body

  1. Mindfulness Counselling or Practices

Through mindfulness practices you can train your nervous system (brain and body) to become fully present. You learn to notice when triggers are happening while keeping a foot in the present-moment so that you don’t become overwhelmed. With mindfulness you can learn to allow emotions to come and go naturally without being swept away. If you’d like to start mindfulness on your own I’d recommend starting with short 2 minute practices and slowly working your way up. Examples of mindfulness-based counselling include Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.

I hope these tidbits can help you get started, or to continue on your healing journey. You deserve a healthy intimate life that includes boundaries, consent, pleasure and joy. Slower is faster; trauma takes time to work through, but it is very treatable, and you don’t have to do it alone.

Sources

Maltz, Wendy (2021). Healthy Sex: Promoting Healthy, Loving Sex and Intimacy. https://healthysex.com/

Nagoski, Emily (2015). Come as you Are: The Surprising New Science that will Transform your Sex Life. Simon & Schuster Inc: New York.

University of Alberta Sexual Assault Center (2019). Sexual intimacy after sexual assault or sexual abuse. https://www.ualberta.ca/media-library/ualberta/current-students/sexual-assault-centre/pdf-resources-and-handouts/intimacy-after-sexual-assault-2019.pdf

Developing a Healthy Sex Life After Sexual Abuse/Assault – Part 1

Developing a Healthy Sex Life After Sexual Abuse/Assault – Part 1

Note: This article speaks in broad terms about sexual assault and abuse. If you feel overwhelmed at any point reading this article, I encourage you to stop reading (or skip to the section on “grounding”) and allow your body to do what it needs to do to come back to the present. Whether it’s going for a brisk walk, doing some deep breathing, or calling a trusted friend. As this article will discuss, there’s no need to push yourself past the point of overwhelm. Healing can only take place with patience.

Many survivors of sexual assault face difficulties with intimacy and/or sexuality at some point in their lives. While this is a very common experience, it’s certainly not the case for all survivors. Traumatic events affect people in a variety of different ways dependent on each person’s life experiences and their unique nervous systems. This article will focus on the people who do struggle with sex and intimacy after traumatic events. It will show that even though it can feel really hopeless at times, there are some amazing ways forward to achieving a healthy and satisfying sex life. We have some powerful innate abilities to heal trauma, but it often takes patience, support and work to get there.

Understanding the Impacts

Sexuality and the Central Nervous System – Stress and Love

Sexuality is impacted by the emotional systems managed by a very primal part of your brain often called “the reptilian brain.” This part of your brain is responsible for stress feelings as well as love feelings, all of which have helped us to survive as a species. Stress and love are also the main emotions that impact intimacy and sexual desire.

Stress responses are the neurobiological processes that help you deal with threats. Your brain prioritizes one of the following three main components based on survival needs: fight (anger/frustration), flight (fear/anxiety), or collapse (numbness, depression, dissociation).

Love is also a survival strategy; it’s the neurobiological process that pulls us closer to our tribes and bonds humans together. Love is responsible for passion, romance, and joy. It’s also responsible for the agony of grief and heartbreak.

Common Reactions

When a person lives through a traumatic event, the stress response in their central nervous system (brain and body) often gets locked into survival mode. It has detected that there is danger and so it learns that it must always be scanning for any sign of danger. As a result, there are two very common reactions to sexual trauma that affect a survivor’s sex life.

  1. Sexual Avoidance/Difficulty Experiencing Pleasure

The main function of the central nervous system is to prioritize survival needs in order of importance. For example, if you can’t breathe, you’re unlikely to notice that you’re hungry until you get oxygen again. Similarly, although love is indeed a survival mechanism (bringing us together with our tribes), the brain tends to prioritize attention to stress over love because stress points to a more immediate threat: the possibility of another dangerous and violent act.

After a sexual assault, sensations, contexts and ideas that used to be interpreted as sexually relevant (like physical touch) may instead now be interpreted by your brain as threats. So sexual situations actually make your brain sound the “danger” alarm bell. Our central nervous systems confuse sex (an act of consent, equality and pleasure) with sexual assault (an act of violence and power over another). Remember, your nervous system’s primary function is to keep you alive and safe, so anything that feels in any way similar to a violent situation from the past will sound your brain’s alarm bell.

Basically, you may be experiencing love or desire, but your brain is still stuck on survival mode. This makes it almost impossible to experience pleasure, desire and closeness.

  1. Engaging in Compulsive Sexual Behaviours

Remember how love is also a survival strategy? It draws us closer to others and makes us feel whole. So instead of stress hitting the sexual brakes, some people get locked into patterns of feeling out of control sexually and having multiple partners. In this case, sometimes the innate survival strategy prioritizes closeness for that feeling of being whole; however, when this is a survival mechanism, it’s often happening from that “collapse” stress response, or a more dissociated place. People stuck in this pattern may experience a brief feeling of relief but may still struggle with the deeper components of intimacy.

  1. Additional common symptoms
  • sexual avoidance/anxiety
  • sex feeling like an obligation
  • dissociation during sexual activity/not present
  • negative feelings associated with touch
  • difficulty achieving arousal/sensation
  • feeling emotionally distant
  • flashbacks/intrusive thoughts or images during sexual activity
  • engaging in compulsive sexual behaviours
  • difficulty maintaining an intimate relationship
  • vaginal pain in women; erectile dysfunction in men
  • feelings of shame
  • negative beliefs about sex

This is a short list of reactions, there are many more impacts on a person’s sense of self and experiences in relationships. If you’d like to get a better sense of how your traumatic experiences may have impacted your sex life, you can have a look at Wendy Maltz’s Sexual Effects Inventory here https://www.havoca.org/survivors/sexuality/sexual-effects-inventory/

Remedies: Developing a Healthy Sex Life 

This short article was just to give you an idea of some of the many ways that sexual assault can impact intimacy. These impacts sometimes show up directly after the assault and sometimes show up years later.

Stay tuned for the next article which will talk about some of the many ways to heal the parts of your brain that are impacted by the trauma and to help you to find safety and pleasure in intimacy.

Sources

Maltz, Wendy (2021). Healthy Sex: Promoting Healthy, Loving Sex and Intimacy. https://healthysex.com/

Nagoski, Emily (2015). Come as you Are: The Surprising New Science that will Transform your Sex Life. Simon & Schuster Inc: New York. 

University of Alberta Sexual Assault Center (2019). Sexual intimacy after sexual assault or sexual abuse. https://www.ualberta.ca/media-library/ualberta/current-students/sexual-assault-centre/pdf-resources-and-handouts/intimacy-after-sexual-assault-2019.pdf

Pressure on Children: How to be a Supportive Sports Parent

Pressure on Children: How to be a Supportive Sports Parent

As parents, we try to support and guide our children in every way possible. Unfortunately, what parents tend to think is supportive can sometimes emanate significant amounts of pressure. Parents often want their child to be the best and inherit the mindset that their child will be the next Wayne Gretzky. When a sports parent thinks this way, it can affect their parent-child relationship. As an athlete, you want your parents to be proud and express their validation towards you. If a child feels like their sports parents aren’t proud, their words and actions are frequently perceived with pressure.  This is why it is crucial to understand what may hurt your child instead of what may benefit your child’s involvement in sports.

Three things that hurt your child’s confidence

1. Expressing appraisal ONLY when they are doing well

It is essential that you are constantly being supportive no matter the outcome of your child’s performance. Regardless of whether they make a good play or make a mistake, your support should remain constant. Giving your child support no matter the circumstances will show them that you are proud of them despite the outcome. When they look over at you and see you cheering for them, it displays direct approval and encouragement.  What if they look over and see you are unhappy or distracted by your phone? It may make them feel like you are disappointed in them. You may not think that your child notices your presence in the stands, but really, they are.

The correct approach would be to exude positive energy and cheering, even when nothing is happening. Do not make your supportive habits dependent on your child’s performance.

2. Telling your child how they could have done better on the car ride home

The car ride home is always a challenging situation. As an athlete who pressured themselves, I was already upset with myself if I had a bad performance. I definitely didn’t need to hear my parents say to me, “you should have done this.” Or “what happened on that one play where you made a mistake?” It would make me even more disappointed in myself than I already was. As sports parents, it is crucial to support and encourage your child without interfering. It is essential to focus on the positive attributes of their game instead of constantly reminding your child of what they did wrong.

3. Stop delivering clichés

Parents often believe that speaking in clichés is suitable for their child, but it does the opposite for kids. For example, if your child is getting worked up in games because of a mistake they made, it probably is best to avoid making certain remarks. Avoid statements such as “stop overthinking’ or “when you are out there, you have to be focused.” Most likely, the child is already trying to accomplish these things. Still, it’s not something that will immediately help them after you tell them to. Telling your child these clichés can develop into pressurization. It might make them believe that they are not doing a good job. Instead of saying these clichés, it would be more beneficial to say something like, “nice effort, you will get the next one!”

Here are some ways you as a sports parent can support your child when playing sports.

1. Provide emotional support

No matter the outcome of your child’s performance, it is vital to prioritize and provide unconditional love. Whether it is giving your child a hug or a high five after the game or telling them how proud of them you are, a little goes a long way. This is crucial after a game where the player may feel like they had a bad performance. Hearing how proud their parent is will make your child feel better. This will give your child the affirmation that being proud of them is not wholly dependent on their play.

2. Emphasize the importance of effort over outcome

Often, we think of the end result as the ultimate achievement instead of understanding the progress made. There is a lot of hard work that has to be done to reach an end result. If children constantly think about the outcome instead of thinking in the moment, it can become detrimental to their performance. When you put too much emphasis on a final product or winning, it can cause the child to feel pressure or anxiety because of you. This is why it’s more productive for a sports parent to focus more on the child’s efforts and relate their efforts to success. For example, after a game, tell your child, “I really liked how you hustled in and out of the dugout” or “you made a great effort on that one play. ”

3. Encourage independence

It is crucial for you as a sports parent to be involved in your child’s sports. Still, it is also important that your child is allowed to pursue their own independence. It’s okay for you to have boundaries and set rules. Still, when your child is involved in sports, it is beneficial for your child to gain independence within these boundaries you set. This is how your child learns to hold themselves accountable and grow in their independence. For example,  you may tell your child that “you must always be prepared for practices.” Instead, tell your child, “I will be home to drive you to your game, but you must be ready to go when I get home.” This compels your child to get themselves prepared for their practice or game without your assistance. Altering how you give your child direction may fuel the desire for them to embrace independence.

4. Communicate and share goals

Open communication is vital when guiding your child through sports. Developing the habit of solid communication between you and your child will provide an understanding of how you can better support your child. This will also allow the child to express what they want from you as a sports parent. Ensure you are regularly checking in with your child by asking them how they are doing with their sports. Allow your child to make goals for themselves instead of you making them for them. This encourages children to be independent and control what they want out of the sports they play.

5. Behave in a way that your children want you to before, during, and after a game/practice

Strong communication between you and your child will help strengthen your relationship. This allows your child to express what they want from you before, during, and after a game. Every child is different, so it is important to understand the likes and dislikes of your child and how you can better support them through that. For example, your child may be nervous before a game and want your help with relaxing. During a game, your child may not like it when you approach the dugout and tell them something they need to do. Because of this action, your child may not want to talk about the game or express openness regarding the game’s events.

If you need help guiding your child through sports in a supportive way, book an appointment today with us at Alongside You. We can help you strive to have a strong relationship with your child!

Art In The Time of COVID-19

Art In The Time of COVID-19

We live in strange and difficult times. When the Covid-19 pandemic made its debut, our world was rocked by devastating loss of life. Our schools, businesses, and essential services were shut-down. Even still, both travel and the distribution of goods has been disrupted. Our medical system is being inundated with those fighting COVID-19 along with other illnesses. Though we are in the process of re-opening some of these things, the reality is setting in; Covid-19 has radically changed every fiber of our society. I wonder, how can art inspire us, and be a force for resilience in the time of COVID-19?

While social distancing requirements have forced the cancellation and suspension of many social, cultural, and artistic events and services, the arts have always been and continue to be a way to illustrate the resilience in our society, foster self-reflection and connection with others in profound ways. The role of artists and the arts is not just to record, commemorate, or comment on socio-cultural events, but to uplift, encourage and give hope to all those who see experience it.

It’s no surprise, then, that this health crisis has inspired artists to create. At this time in history, artists are illuminating the world around us. All around us, we can see a wide range of COVID-19 inspired artistic endeavours.

 

Examples of Art Emerging During COVID-19

 

Painted Posters and Rocks

 
Early on in this pandemic, many participated in the communal effort to cheer on frontline and essential service works with posters and scripted messages of hope and love to isolated populations, such as seniors in care facilities. With children home from school, painted rocks also became one way for youngsters to express their gratitude and connect with a seemingly intangible concept of a pandemic and quarantine. Placed discretely around town, happening upon these gems still reminds us that we are all in this together.

 

Street Murals

 
Across the Lower Mainland, street murals have been springing up everywhere. Murals adorn exterior walls of elementary and high-schools, under over-passes, downtown buildings, and malls. Locally, a mural was recently completed at Tsawwassen Mills Mall by artists Jan Rankin and a Natalie Way. Its beach scene reminds us of the connection we have to the nature around us. In downtown Ladner Village, a recently-completed mural done by artist Gary Nay helps depict the vibrancy of Ladner and the region.

What do these murals do? They help to create a sense of community, offer messages of hope, and add cheer, all of which we need during this time!

Across the Lower Mainland, “Open Air” art galleries are expanding. There is a new-found vigour as artists respond to the issues of today and the fight against COVID-19. Over 200 public art pieces in and around Vancouver are part of The Vancouver Mural Festival and range in subject matter, but they provide overall messages of love, community, strength and resilience. All art pieces are accessible online if you can’t get out to see them.

 

Online and Social Media Platforms

 
From the comfort of our homes, we can tour the world’s greatest museums, historical sites, and have access to online exhibitions. The University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology, for instance, gives you digital access to their collections, and a range of podcasts, stories, and research.

Instagram and Facebook have some interesting links to innovative and timely art. On Instagram, the account @covidartmuseum consists of themes and art work related to Covid-19 and shows how, in tough times, art can be used for serious contemplation but also offer comic relief. On Facebook, “Dr. Bonnie Henry Fan Club” tells us of a tribute art show at the Ministry of Health showcasing artwork, such as paintings, signs, mosaics and fibre arts, sent to Dr. Bonnie Henry from people all over the province and world.

We can also peek inside the life of an ER nurse, Anna Trowbridge, who sketches the scenes at work and posts them to her Instagram account. Her drawings show us how things really are on the front lines. Though this may be hard for some to take in, it captures the human side of the pandemic and highlights the heroic nature of our health care workers.

 

The Importance of Art Through COVID-19

 

Making art is one way we can practice self-care and learn positive coping strategies, both of which builds resilience

 
Viewing, and even more so, making art can be an important part of your self-care routine. Setting aside time to do something creative has been shown to reduce stress, protect against depression and anxiety, and can improve self-confidence and problem solving skills. Enjoying the mindful process of creating can help in pain-management, and it offers positive distraction tools and healing. Whether it is journaling, painting, singing, dancing, or knitting, our chosen activities helps to shore up our defences and learn healthy habits that we can use to sustain us during tough times. As we head into Fall, with the possibility of further shut-downs, we need the arts now more than ever. Its times like these where art can make all the different to keep our spirits up.
 

Making art together feeds our needs as social beings

 
Making art with others brings with it social benefits; it allows a space for relationships to be built, fosters a sense of belonging, and provides an outlet for self-expression. As we face COVID-19 fatigue and social distancing measures, doing something together with others is becoming more and more important for our mental health. It is not the art itself that has true value, it’s the ideas, conversations, choices, and connections we have made with ourselves and with others as we create that matters. Whether it’s connecting with a small group of people in person or online, the social nature of art helps us to not only to share our stories or voice our own opinions, but to listen to others with a compassionate ear.
 

Self-expression through mindful making helps us make sense of the uncertain world around us

 
This pandemic has compelled us to look at what matters to us, what we deem as essential, and to reflect on our lifestyle. Tuning into the present moment with self-compassion allows us to stop, breathe, observe, acknowledge, contemplate, and respond to our current state. Approaching the art making process in a mindful way can be very relaxing as well as restorative. Thoughtful experimentation can help us cope with the chaos around us and help us to express our beliefs and opinions and be open to new ways of thinking and doing. Giving yourself permission to question your own thoughts carefully, and without judgment, is an effective way to learn more about yourself and to rest and regroup.

 

How Can We Infuse Art Into Our Lives During COVID-19?

 

Art can be a major benefit for all of us as we head into the the Fall season, and into further unknowns. With school starting up, work shifting, and all that comes with this, we need now more than ever to take care of ourselves. Here are a few ideas on how we can use art to manage through this challenging time:
 

  1. Check in with your local community centres, artists’ guild, or private classes in the arts. There are so many wonderful artists in our communities and many are offering classes or experiences you can take part in.
  2.  

  3. Create or buy art for your loved ones. Whether you make something yourself, or buy from a local artist, your gift can show others you are thinking of them. Supporting local businesses and donating to local causes also creates a stronger community! At Alongside You, sales of our jewelry, cards, and art help to fund our Step Forward Program, a program that has become increasingly important in subsidizing services for those in need of financial assistance.
  4.  

  5. Learn a new skill online. How we do art has changed, and with many programs facing shut downs, artists and organizations are finding ways to adapt their art making offerings. Online learning tools and YouTube videos are a great way to try something new. Finding a live class can also help connect those who may feel isolated. Learning to dance, paint, draw, sing, knit, write poetry, or play an instrument with the help of online tools is a great way to pass the time as we stay home!

  6.  
    What we’ve learned over time is that the creative arts are essential. They enrich our lives, they help us practice self-care, encourage connection, embrace challenges, share our stories and knit our community together. Creative connection is crucial, especially now. May you be safe, be calm, and be kind.

     

    EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT! Open Studios are Back! COVID-Style.

     
    After long last, we are excited to announce the opening of Open Studio Sessions, COVID-Style. We’ve made some changes to our operations and programming to keep people safe and healthy while being able to open the studio back up! We can not express how excited we are to welcome you into the studio again!

    Click here to read about some of the changes and how to register for Open Studios again. We look forward to seeing you!
     
     


    1. Herring, Daniel. Mindfulness-Based Expressive Therapy for People with Severe and Persistent Mental Ilness. P.171. In In Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies: Theory and Practice. Laury Rappaport ed. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 2014: 168-179.
    2. Kabat-Zinn, J., Lipworth, L. & Burney, R. J The clinical use of mindfulness meditation for the self-regulation of chronic pain. Behave Med (1985) 8: 163.
    3. McNiff, Shaun. Chapter 2: The Role of Witnessing and Immersion in the Moment of Arts Therapy Experience. P. 40-41. In In Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies: Theory and Practice. Laury Rappaport ed. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 2014: 38-50.
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