Misadventures in Art Therapy

Most of my ED treatment was outpatient. Around the mid-way point, my treatment team felt I required more support. I was referred to the Partial Hospital Program over my winter break. (For those of you unfamiliar with psychiatric hospitals, it’s like being inpatient, but then going home to sleep in your own bed. But you return to the hospital again, first thing in the morning). In PHP, we received weekly art therapy. What other patients found to be soothing, and at times, provided insights into their inner psyche, caused me a great deal of frustration. The images in my head never resembled what I could produce with clay, paint, or a pencil.

Pieces created by previous patients decorated our little ward of the adult psychiatric hospital. Most of them were displayed in the art therapy room, like this scale which documented a patient’s milestones in recovery:

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But in the room where traditional talk-therapy took place, there was a scale that appeared to have been smashed with a jack hammer. All that remained was it’s outer shell. The digital screen had been removed, and this opening was used to hang the scale on the door knob. Various patients had scrawled on phrases with sharpie. But the only worlds I remember were the two biggest and boldly written:”DAMN TWIGGY!” ( Twiggy being the iconic supermodel often blamed for the glorification of emaciation).

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Around the time of my discharge, this became my inspiration. Months prior to this, I had shoved my own bathroom scale in the cupboard under the sink, and it’s battery had run dead.  I would give it a new life.

And yes. On my first scale collage, I used scotch tape…

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On the next several, I used some rubber cement. The craftsmanship still leaves much to be desired.

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The additional scales were purchased from Good Will. I also began to collage on notebooks and plates. I recently found that modge podge makes for a better adhesive.

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Some of the words and images in these collages are meant to be positive affirmations. Others are more negative. They are not meant to encourage the eating disorder behaviors, but rather give a voice to the thoughts and impulses patients struggle with daily.

With encouragement from friends, I decided to list my scales on Etsy. (A website to sell vintage clothing and anything handmade.) In December of 2009, the black one was purchased. I wasn’t too proud of its quality at first. But then the woman who purchased it told me it was a Christmas present for her daughter.The young girl was also in treatment for an eating disorder. After receiving it, the women sent me a copy of their family’s Christmas card. She wrote to me, “I received it today and couldn’t resist giving it to her as we had just come back from a counseling session. It make her cry she loved it so much and it means a lot to her. She wanted to contact you and tell you herself if that’s ok. Would you mind if I send you a little more for the scale? You lost money on the transaction with the shipping and I (WE) really love it. I didn’t mean for you not to profit. You are very talented. Have a Merry Christmas and if you ever visit Florida from cold Wisconsin make sure you drop us a line so we can show you the area.”

Being the first time I ever sold something online, I grossly underestimated the shipping cost and lost money in the transaction. But I intended to take the loss, and plan better for the next sale. But this woman was so kind as to pay the fee I charged, as well as offer a little extra.

I have since sold most of these collages on Etsy. Others are in the hands of a local youth gallery. 

I am considering a master’s degree in Art Therapy, but have time to decide.

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2 Responses to Misadventures in Art Therapy

  1. The Real Cie says:

    I love these. Art therapy would be a wonderful road to take, I think.

    • Thank you. The art therapy program at my grad school of choice is very competitive. They don’t take a lot of undergrads fresh out of college. But I plan to apply for the counseling program there as well, and at a few other school and hope for the best.

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