As the summer transitioned into autumn, I found myself falling into a bit of a slump. I was struggling over where I stood regarding my expressive arts therapy degree; it was difficult to get myself motivated, and I questioned whether I should stay with it or not. This came as quite of a surprise because I was so in love with my chosen path just a few months earlier. Spending July at EGS was one of the most inspiring things I’d ever done. I felt calm and grounded, yet excited and challenged at the same time. It was very fulfilling to be immersed in the expressive arts every day and surround by like-minded people, all while being held and inspired by the abundant beauty of the landscape.
I returned home in August after summer school ended; being alone in my apartment in the city, was a stark contrast to the life I was living just days before. I tried to settle back into “normal life” by spending the rest of the summer unwinding in nature and catching up on life at home. I was also preparing to get back into school mode once September rolled around; I was excited to get started with my practicum again so I could integrate my new learnings and experience.
Unfortunately, things initially did not go as smoothly as I expected, I hit some delays with getting my practicum going and found myself frustrated and discouraged. I also started to feel the pressure of time. I needed to accumulate some hours; I had a late start with practicum last year and was worried I would fall even more behind this year.
Eventually, I did get a few placements, but the stress of the delay hampered my enthusiasm, and my focus became more narrow on what my time with clients was about. In my first weeks back in practicum I was focused more on getting hours, and I could not see the big picture of why I was there. I forgot the reasons why I went into expressive arts therapy in the first place and what I had gained since my journey with it began just over a year ago.
I compared how I felt doing the work this school year to how I was last year and wondered how to reignite the passion I once had. Life is so different now to how it was then; I could not exercise or go outside to explore, socializing drained me, and holding a job was completely out of the question. My commitments to school and cancer treatment was enough to handle so I didn’t get involved in much of anything else. Since school was the only thing I had in life that gave me enjoyment, I naturally tried to relate learnings and experiences from school to the rest of my life.
Somewhere along the way, I stopped viewing school as something I could integrate with the rest of life. Instead of only school, many things in my life excited me. But since I can’t give my attention to everything at once, time became more divided than it was previously. Initially, I didn’t know how to work with being more dependant on a schedule. The physical division of my time and attention caused a mental division; aspects of my life felt compartmentalized rather than flowing together. I forget that the work I do is about so much more than accumulating hours to finish my degree.
Thankfully, I realized that my practicum is still offering me ways to grow, and as I grow, my work benefits. In the last couple of weeks, I have been present for my clients and also been able to take in nourishment for myself during the sessions. The ability to take in nourishment as a therapist is essential for an effective practice; without it, loving kindness fails to circulate, and the ability of the client to open up and get into the work is affected.
Life must be viewed as a cohesive whole; different aspects can’t be separated from each other. As Catherine Moon writes in her book, Studio Art Therapy, “We are influenced by what is going on around us, by the events of our daily lives. Connections are made between seemingly unrelated events, feelings, or experiences.” She explains how there is an “intimate interweaving of the different roles we play in life; aspects of work, love, and life complement and enhance one another.”
When I first reflected on allowing my personal and professional life to be intertwined, I wondered how not to become consumed by work, then I understood that having flexible boundaries is different than a lack of boundaries. We still manage the practicalities of life, making decisions and distinctions between our professional appointments and our personal time. Catherine Moon elaborates; “having flexible boundaries [enables] me to think of qualities I possess – for example, my capacity to nurture – as pervading many aspects of my life rather than being compartmentalized according to the role I take on… An artistic conception of my work can help me understand how the different roles I play complement and fuel one another. When I strain to keep these roles separate they become competitions for my time and energy.”
With this expanded outlook, I see how the personal and the professional aspects of life enhance and enliven each other. I now have a better understanding of why I felt stressed when I was stuck in a compartmentalized view of life. With a more integrated approach to life, I feel inspiration flowing again; instead of feeling like I am falling down, I’m rising up to meet life again.
Photo: Michelle Leela Grace