Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Expressive Arts Therapy and Perfectionism

I was reading this article about expressive arts therapy on NEDA, and something struck me about my own treatment. Dr. Deah Schwartz explains,

The quest for perfection and control are feelings often shared by people with an eating disorder or body dissatisfaction.  Trying to live up to an unattainable ideal of beauty, trying to please others, and judging oneself primarily based on physical appearance are persistent driving forces that lead to disordered eating.  But, because the primary focus of Creative Arts Therapy is on the process of creation and NOT the final product, the goal is for the client to learn how to appreciate who they are in the moment, explore reasons for their behaviors, and establish new barometers for self-acceptance.  From day one in my sessions, I explain that in Expressive Arts Therapies there is no right or wrong in what you create. No one is judging you based on any standardized measure of talent, beauty, or success.  In fact, it is a space where there is respect and admiration for individuality, and each person is given permission to explore what qualities make them unique.

I was in residential treatment at Roger's Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc, WI for a few months in 2008. Art therapy was an important part of their program, but I did not get much out of it at that time. I remember not being able to even start an art project because I was so worried it wouldn't be perfect, that it wouldn't accurately portray what I wanted it to or sufficiently convey what I wanted others to understand. I spent most of the time in that group trying to decide what I wanted to do.

While working on a collaging project, I remember spending weeks cutting things out of magazines, but I never collaged them onto my medium. When the other people in my group were collaging them onto a poster board or mask (I can't remember what the medium was), I was still perusing magazines and cutting things out. When the group moved on to different projects, I remained on the collage because I had not finished it (or really even started it). Upon leaving treatment, I still had not finished that art project. I believe the pieces are still stored in my old closet at my parents' house.

I wish someone like Dr. Deah Schwartz had told me that the important part is the "process of creation and NOT the final product," to just start and see where it takes you. With this idea, one could argue that I did finish the project as I engaged in the process of creation, but I feel like my perfectionism had stunted my artistic ability and that it would have been more therapeutic to collage those clippings onto my medium.

Years later, I've been able to start and complete many art projects. I cannot over emphasize the importance of expressive arts in my own recovery journey. The most therapeutic of projects for me have included criticisms of our society's ideals of beauty, media, distorted beliefs that are held by the majority regarding the "importance" of selflessness, perfection, beauty, control, etc.

I'm curious what others have found to be therapeutic. What was the most therapeutic art project you have started/finished and what about the project makes/made it so helpful for you? Has perfectionism ever stopped you from starting/finishing a project?