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Rhyme or Reason
By Jordan Venema
Photos by Erin Claassen
There usually comes a time in everyone’s life when a little therapy is necessary. From torn ACLs to situational depression, physical and mental health should be complemented by appropriate therapies, yet the very word therapy causes our noses to wrinkle with medical dread. Not all therapies have to be a chore, though, and some forms of health care can be downright pleasant – or at the very least, not so threatening.
Sometimes the best way to get to a problem isn’t directly, but from another approach. That’s what Therapeutic Poetry and Writing Facilitator Claudia Mosby teaches when using writing as a therapeutic tool.
“There’s a safety net in using poetry or literature as a therapeutic agent, because you’re coming at it obliquely and not straight on,” explains Mosby. “If you’re sitting in a therapist’s office, then it’s just you and the therapist,” which she says can be intimidating, “but if everybody is focused on the poem, that allows for a very individualized response.”
Mosby, an educator and expressive writing coach, has created expressive writing programs for Mercy Regional Cancer Center and Shasta Community Health Center, and is developing a program for juvenile probation and incarcerated youths, which should launch early next year.
Like any good writer knows her audience, Mosby considers hers as a therapeutic writing facilitator. Whether she is working with cancer patients or incarcerated women, she prepares a relevant poem and question, which serve as springboards for an organic problem-solving process.
“When you use an appropriate poem, with an appropriate purpose, with the appropriate person or group, you can stimulate them in such a way that they become aware and able to articulate that which they couldn’t before,” says Mosby.
The discussion about a poem, read or written, and especially in group therapies, can create what Mosby describes as “the moment of recognition that I am not alone,” which for many is the first step toward emotional health.
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If art is a universal language, then sometimes it’s the necessary translator between our rational and irrational minds, and can help us understand even the most confounding parts of ourselves.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Alena Marie Farver incorporates art therapy into counseling sessions at the Expressive Arts Studio and Counseling Center in Redding, and she believes it can be the nonverbal complement to verbal therapy.
“It’s a nonverbal way of expressing what you’re feeling, and especially for children, when they aren’t even sure what they’re feeling,” says Farver.
A sketch or painting can be a useful starting place for conversation, says Farver, since “art therapy bypasses your left brain, the rational mind. It helps people get in touch with what they’re feeling, and then we can work together to set up a solution.”
While anybody can sketch at home, it takes training and education and experience to interpret certain signs and symbols. “Once we do an art expression, we do give a voice to it,” assures Farver, who plays that guiding role.
The Expressive Arts Studio is stocked with a variety of art material, lending itself to “anything from drawing on paper with oil pastels to painting with acrylics, or we can also do collage by selecting different pictures that express what is happening to you,” Farver says.
“Every session is individually designed to meet the needs of that person and what those issues are,” says Farver, because like art itself, each problem is unique and deserves its own approach.
Expressive Arts Studio and Counseling Center
1127 Parkview Ave. #A, Redding
Therapy dogs are more than just pets in red vests. Donna Conrad of Therapy Animals of Redding, an Intermountain Therapy Animals Instructor, says that since her dogs became therapy pets, she sees them with different eyes.
“They’re always talking to you, telling you things with their body language,” says Conrad. She went through a class in 2000 after seeing an advertisement at work. “I wanted to do it the minute I read it,” she says, and since then she and her dachshunds Coco and Shane have volunteered at nursing homes, hospitals, mental health facilities, schools and libraries.
A therapy dog can serve different purposes, whether it’s calming an anxious child who is learning to read or providing familiarity for a patient in the otherwise unfamiliar setting of a hospital.
“The day before yesterday, I got a call about an ICU patient that was intubated,” says Conrad. “She couldn’t talk, she had a tube in her mouth, but a nurse called me and I brought Coco to visit her. The minute he was next to her, she picked her arm up to pet him. She hadn’t moved any of her extremities up to that point.”
A therapy dog may be found in diverse settings, but one thing is certain: People rarely feel threatened by this “therapy.”
“We never get a ‘no’,” Conrad says.
Pet therapy is just one part of the interdisciplinary spectrum of healthcare, but from Conrad’s perspective, “it touches your heart to bring something real into their lives, because to be in a hospital is already surreal.”
In February, Therapy Animals of Redding will offer a one-day class to train new therapy dogs, which is important for this community since, according to Conrad, as there are never enough dogs to go around.
“We can never have enough therapy dogs because everybody wants to see them,” she says.
Therapy Animals of Redding