Yesterday, I immersed myself in cosmic color, awe and ahhh, song and soulfilled to overflowing dance and delight as I offered a training for professionals whose work in the world is with clients who have mental health diagnoses. The organization is called COMHAR and is based in Philadelphia. I love its vision for those they serve who are referred to as ‘members’.
We believe in the inherent value and dignity of every person;
We believe that an individual with a disability is a person first;
We believe every person has strengths and the capacity to grow.
These values are in alignment with my own as someone who has been in the mental health field since 1979. I believe in strengths based treatment for the whole person, focusing on what’s right with the situation and not simply what’s wrong. I believe in being a solution finder and not a problem solver. The term ‘mental illness’ never sat right with me. I sometimes refer to them as ‘mental health challenges’ that any one of us can be privy to. Challenges call out for resilience, flexibility, strength and creativiy. Thus came the class I taught.
I was excited and a wee bit nervous as I headed from my clean suburban community in bucolic Bucks County to a neighborhood in Philly that on the surface appears to be disheveled and downtrodden. As I drove throught the nearby byways, it occurred to me that I could have grown up there had my parents not moved to South Jersey in the 1960’s since I passed the street on which my family lived when I was born; Rorer Street near Hunting Park, for those familiar with the city. When I pulled in front of the professional looking building, near Kensington and Allegheny, it occurred to me that the folks who are served there may fall into those same categories and be judged accordingly as ‘disheveled and downtrodden’. Walking through the doors, I entered an entirely different world, one filled with bright hues, thriving plants, smiling people, evidence of the caring that the staff exudes. Setting up art supplies, props and music, getting the tech stuff (thank goodness there were professionals who knew what they were doing in that regard, since I am high touch/low tech in my presentations) taken care of….we were ready to roll. Twenty some co-workers with varying degrees of experience in the field, hailing from different corners of the globe, some Peer Support Specialists who once upon a time had been consumers themselves, jumped right in to the fun. My intention was two-fold: to offer them portable skills and tools that they could use as therapeutic intervention and enhancement for the members and to assist them in good self care, since those of us who work with clients that face major life challenges and who carry serious mental health diagnoses sometimes fall prey to vicarious traumatization and can be impacted by hearing painful stories on a regular basis. It was also an opportunity to develop their own creative gifts and let them shine….and that they did!
One of the exercises we did, the name of which came to me as I woke up yesterday morning…I could hear the words in a sing-songy fashion in my sleepy ears was called “Creativity Tree”. I invited them to draw a tree…even if it was a lollipop version harkening back to pre-school and then embellish it with pictures and words that symbolized their own creative genius. I was amazed with what they produced as they proudly played ‘Show and Tell’. They wrote poems, entered the Imaginarium, ate chocolate and strawberries in a mindfulness exercise, danced to a song that beckoned forth silly sounds and childlike wonderment. By the end of the morning, the room was alight with love and laughter and literally love was sprinkled upon them.
I found myself in the creative flow as well, allowing the spirit of play to guide me in each interaction. Every day, I enter the Imaginarium, a room in my mind where all manner of A-mazement and A-Musement flows~
This is the song to which we wiggled and giggled at the end:
Imagination by Jenny Heitler-Klevans, © 2011
To hear the song, go to www.twoofakind.com
www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZ-uV72pQKI Pure Imagination from Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory