Care begins with the self

“Many clinicians have been overextending themselves in an attempt to meet the increased needs of a society that has been isolated and experiencing various levels of trauma and loss,” Graham observes. “I often see this trend being deeply compounded for women of color in the field who have historically been saddled with carrying the burdens for everyone. 

“We do not have to continue this trend of sacrifice that embodies the literal definition of ‘to slaughter.’ I always encourage clinicians of color in particular to consider sacrifice as ‘being an offering.’ An offering is always giving away something that is our best; and if we are the offering, then we must be dedicating time to take care of ourselves so that we can be at our best and ultimately give our best.”

Fortunately, Graham notes, these ideas are more and more a part of the contemporary conversation: “I’ve noticed that a lot of people (both colleagues and folks in our society) are really leaning into the value of self-care. I’m noticing an increase in people taking time to address their mental and emotional well-being, which is great for us in our field as well as in society at large.”

Well-being happens on a spectrum

“One of the biggest challenges related to health and well-being that we are facing as a society is recognizing how true it is that there are various levels of accessibility to well-being. We often overlook that there are many free and inexpensive ways for people to take good care of themselves, or we often look at very extreme all-or-none approaches to self-care,” Graham says. 

She notes one example of a care resource with multiple points of access: time with nature. If going for a hike immersed in the wilderness can’t happen, would a walk in a neighborhood park touch some of the same registers, or, if that is out of reach, time spent tending to plants in the home? 

Self-care and addressing our mental and emotional well-being can and will look different for each individual. What is most important is that we as a society not only carve out that intentional time for ourselves, but that we also respect, encourage, and support the people around us to do the same.”

Limitations reveal possibilities

“One of the creative adaptations I’ve noticed [during the pandemic] is considering what it means to engage in an art-making process without always having or using traditional art supplies,” Graham says, noting that she and her creative arts therapist colleagues began to incorporate household items and found objects when materials weren’t immediately at hand for therapy participants. 

These items can also offer new insights into a person’s experience, Graham notes. “It’s opened the doors for participants to be able to share personal items with me that they would not otherwise be able to access with us being in an office or studio setting.”

To make change, start with play

“As creative arts therapists, I think it’s really important for us to remember the creative aspect of the work that we do,” Graham says. “Right now, we need to be able to imagine a new society, including new ways of being and interacting with each other, if we are to successfully create sustainable changes for the equitable world that we want to live in.” 

This means exercising imagination and play. “After so much pain has occurred in this past year, it’s very important for us to intentionally and actively invite or create moments of joy. I find that as a creative arts therapist, we need to remember that the work is not always about processing the trauma and the pain, but that it’s also about using our creativity to offer spaces that promote celebrations and playful joy. 

“Not only does play help us to exercise our imagination, but it allows us to connect with our inner child. The child inside holds great wisdom that is based in deep authenticity, honest needs, and radical hope; we need to be nurturing our inner child so we can tap into that wisdom.”