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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Art Therapy through Imaginary Barbeque Party
By Yoona Lim

Invitations to BBQ parties are one of the joyful signs that tell me the summer is coming. People in America enjoy the festive culture. Potluck is one of the themes in this culture where everyone who is invited to the party brings in a dish he or she enjoys and shares with other guests at the party. It is the reflection of the cultural diversity that is celebrated here in America. Considering the diverse cuisines in America, I become curious about the kinds of food that my clients might enjoy. At the same time, I realize that going to the parties may only be an idea for my clients, who are often bound to stay at the hospitals or the nursing homes. The physical and economic conditions of most of those patients bind their feet at home against their wish. Those readers who have ever experienced feeling depressed may be able to empathize with feeling helpless and hopeless about their own life circumstances. The negative perceptions towards one’s life often kick in when one is experiencing depression. These negative ideas about one’s life are usually irrational. For example, a client who lives at nursing home feels depressed about not being able to go to a party like he used to when he was young. He is not happy with the rules at the nursing home. Soon after, such unhappiness leads him to feeling “miserable” about his living situation and ultimately affects his life. “What is wrong with my life?” is the question that circles around in his mind. One negative thought feeds another and soon, he finds himself in a “black hole” of the depression. Art therapists usually encounter their clients at this “black hole.” Art therapists’ job is to help clients to see where their negative thoughts lead them to and stops the cycle of those negative thoughts.

Here and Now (Carl Rogers): Why do I feel depressed?
Are there any solutions?

During group therapy session at the counseling center, I asked clients to plan an imaginary potluck party, based on their past experiences of hosting and/or attending a party. “Let’s pretend that we are invited to a potluck party this weekend. What kind of food is everyone going to bring?” I asked. At first, the clients just smiled at this unexpected question. Then each individual shared their ideas about this imaginary potluck party at their turn. A client who was sitting at the end of the table volunteered to start the group discussion. “I would make the seafood lasagna. I used to make this all the time. Now I feel too old and weak to even cook.” Then another client who struggled to remember the name of an Italian dessert spoke. Soon she appeared as disappointed at herself not being able to recall her memories. “I bet the people at the party loved your Italian dessert! Do you remember what it looked like when you made it?” I prompted to motivate her describe the dish. “Hmm…it is rolled up like a shell. You put sweet jam inside to make it taste good. It is a very popular party dish,” As she began to describe parts of her dessert dish, the smile came back to her face.
People I see at the counseling center do not only struggle with mental illness, but they also have to deal with the low socioeconomic status. They are often isolated in their communities. Their physical, mental, emotional circumstances and isolation feed into developing a low self-esteem. A twenty-something-year-old therapist like myself could easily forget to see the rich life stories of this population who have been buried in their past. The insights and wisdom of my elderly clients manifest their invaluable life experiences. Despite their physical disabilities and mental illness, my clients have managed to keep a smile on their face. Their inner-strengths are amazing to see.
Our discussion about the imaginary potluck party gives me a chance to learn about all those incredible dishes that my clients used to be able to make when they were “healthier.” While I am discovering the great talents and qualities of my clients from this activity, I hope that they would also be able to recognize their strengths as well. In reflection of the favorite food and cooking meals for friends and families, the clients capture a moment to think back on their good times in the past. As reminiscing past experiences, their positive energy/perception cast light into the “black hole” of depression, leading towards a better place.

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