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The Institute For Expressive Analysis: The Next Chapter…

I am honored to have been elected to become the next President of the Institute for Expressive Analysis after having served my term as the first Director, after the Founding Director, Dr. Arthur Robbins stepped down from his position 20 years ago. During the years that followed my original tenure I have continued to evolve in both my own artwork and my clinical understanding of how expressive art media can be integrated within the more classical theoretical constructs of psychoanalysis. I hope to use my experience gained of over 35 years as a teacher, psychoanalyst, creative art therapist and artist to help guide the Institute through challenging times and continue to promote the vision and mission of the Founding Director: to integrate the concepts of both creative, expressive therapy and psychoanalysis into a powerful, depth-oriented treatment modality that promotes personal growth; to help people to become the best that they can through personal insight, introspection and the nurturing of ones creativity as an important part of our everyday lives in achieving and sustaining a sense of emotional well being. Bringing the unconscious into consciousness is central to this goal and expressive modalities provide a portal through which we gain access to our unconscious. It is only then that we are able to mobilize the resources of our more mature ego to re-experience and process unconscious material to bring ourselves into a higher state of emotional harmony that promotes a sense of peacefulness and well being.

It is my personal vision, as President, to continue to refine the training process at IEA to be particularly relevant for those with masters level training in the creative art therapies who would like further their in-depth clinical training in preparation for private practice.

Looking at The Past: Revitalizing the Future

How refreshing to come across this wonderfully succinct article that, from a layman’s point of view, supports the main theoretical construct of psychoanalytic therapy. As a psychoanalyst and creative art therapist I was deeply moved by the description of how the pop-culture singer, “Sting” was able to work through his creative block by going back and reliving parts of his childhood. Over the past years I have worked with many creative clients who have also benefited from going back into their childhoods, through the psychoanalytic process, and re experiencing their past from the vantage point of now being an adult with much greater life experience and capacity for insight and compassion. Over and over, I have witnessed these clients; writers, artists and creative thinkers in many disciplines discover this method to overcome their creative blocks and become more productive and emotionally fulfilled. This process is the core of deep emotional healing and enables people to relive the past and work through difficulties that had originally been overwhelming. The analyst’s couch provides the vehicle for such exploration. It’s refreshing to see this process so eloquently described in lay terms, for the NY Times’ readers to reflect upon in sharp contrast to the ‘prescription drug culture’ and cognitive ‘quick fix’ attitudes that so often are viewed as superior treatment modalities. As a psychoanalyst in private practice for almost 40 years, the analytic process has proven to me, both personally and professionally, that while certain chronic or acute symptoms may require immediate or ongoing medication or a focus on changing behaviors, many people benefit in the improvement in their quality of life from the kind of deeper emotional exploration that the analytic process offers. In the words of the Op-Ed author, David Brooks, we are reminded “to go forward with a backward glance, to go one layer down into self and then after self confrontation, to leap forward out of self…. and be reinvigorated for the future by a reckoning with the past.”

STONE SCULPTURE: a Portfolio of Work by Robert Irwin Wolf

View online or purchase a Portfolio of currently available

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A Brief Photographic Tour of Chile

Here is a brief selection of photographs that I took while traveling through Chile during December 2013 – January 2014. I hope to convey the vastness of the experience along with the diversity of the ecological system. Chile is an extremely tall and narrow country, spanning from being close to the equator to close to the South Pole, and the variety of ecosystems and micro-weather systems create a magnificent range of visual experiences.

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New York Art Therapy Association: Reflections; Past and Present

It was indeed a pleasure to receive the Pam Clark Award for contributions to the field of art therapy and service to the association last Sunday at the Queens Museum. As I attended the General Membership Meeting, during which I was presented with this award, I had an opportunity to briefly speak about my experience with NYATA, over the many years that I have been involved. first, as a student representative to the organization during it’s formative years, then as President during the exciting Creative Art Therapy Week and unique Conference that was created as a result of the joint effort of the then national associations of Dance, Music, Art and Psychodrama, held here in NYC during the mid 1970′s, and finally today as an active member and award recipient.
As a student Rep I remember our first meetings held in a drafty storefront studio of Vera Zilza, then a Pratt supervisor for the Art Therapy Program and later a supervisor for NYU. The first President was Gladys Agell, then also a Pratt Supervisor and later to become the hear of Vermont College’s Art Therapy Program after moving to Vermont. Of course it was a delight to have Edith Kramer at the Board meetings (which were actually also the general member ship meetings since all of our members were part of the original Board!)Back then the field of Art Therapy was polarized between those who embraced Edith’s point of view; ‘Art As Therapy” and “Art Psychotherapy” as most clearly represented by people like Art Robbins (one of the founding forces of the Pratt Program and later the Institute for Expressive Analysis) who promoted the deeper theoretical constructs that utilized transference and countertransference as part of deeper insight oriented art psychotherapy.
Of course our meeting were often filled with this kind of debate but the energy was helpful in forming an identity that eventually embraced both of these constructs and blended them into an ‘inclusive’ one that we, as a field utilize today. It would be remiss for me to not mention Elaine Rapp and her wonderful loft space on LaGuardia Place that we used for many years for creative workshops and presentations. It was a time prior to any State licensing regulations and therefore open to much exploration in an unrestricted manner. This of course was a mixed blessing; while we did promote and explore some of the most creative uses of art in both healing and promoting personal growth, we also had to endure some ‘wild’ and often experienced as ‘crack-pot‘ ideas and presentations by some people who tried to monopolize our meetings (think Tea Party?).
I recall two events that took place during my tenure as President of NYATA during the mid 1970′s. First was representing NYATA at the News Conference when the then Mayor of New York City, Abraham Beame declared ‘Creative Art Therapy Week’ in New York City. The other event was when I had the privileged to introduce Joseph Campbell as the keynote speaker at the Large Ballroom of the Roosevelt Hotel, to the membership of all four creative therapy associations. These events will remain with me forever.
It was indeed, an exciting time. We were still influenced by the human potential movement of the 1960′s from which our field had it’s origin. In fact, the original title of the Masters Degree from Pratt was “Art Therapy and Creativity Development“. Unfortunately, years later, as a result of trying to align ourselves with other mental health professions, Pratt dropped the “Creativity Development” part of the degree. We lost one of our most important competences as a result and today, as part of my own personal crusade, I try to re-ignite the spirit of “Creativity Development” as an important potential capability of art therapists to offer clients outside the medical model; not simply using art to heal, or ‘cure the ill’; but as a driving force in our universal desire for personal growth; to become the best we can be, by learning who we are through personal insight and introspection and nurturing our creativity as an important part of our everyday lives.
Having had a piece of my own artwork; a stone sculpture that was started along with students in my “Imagery Transformation” class at the College of New Rochelle where we promote the development of each student’s personal artwork while training for their degree, in the one day Juried Art Show that NYATA had sponsored as part of their General Meeting, I felt a wonderful sense of Synergy being able to demonstrate my own personal devotion to this important concept.

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Integrating Expressive Modalities with Psychoanalytic Concepts: NPAP Meets IEA

I had the pleasure, last night, to present a Seminar on Using Dreams to Process Countertransference, as the Winter Scientific Meeting for the Institute for Expressive Analysis. The event took place at the headquarters of the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis. This was a special experience for me on many complex levels that I will attempt to describe.

First, I had completed my own psychoanalytic training at NPAP and taught courses on Countertransference there for many years.

Next, I had previously been involved in IEA as a former Director, twenty years ago, and now serve on the Board of Directors. Furthermore, I had originally trained as an art therapist at Pratt Institute where I met Dr. Arthur Robbins, first as a professor and then as a mentor and friend. He was the person who had suggested NPAP for my further training since, at that time, IEA had not yet existe. Many years later he had appointed me Director of IEA when he was ready to step down as the Founding Director.

Finally, having taught graduate art therapy students for over 30 years at both Pratt Institute and The College of New Rochelle, I was pleased to find many former students in the audience, as well as members of both IEA and NPAP.

So this event gave me an unusual opportunity to offer my expertise to an audience with a richly diverse background and provide for them, what I felt to be a most valuable integration of the diverse areas of my own training and experience and demonstrate a powerful new tool that can be used clinically both with clients as well as for gaining deeper self understanding.

The evening began as we moved from a brief PowerPoint review of psychoanalytic, dream theory, early developmental theory and expressive therapy theory to an experiential exercise where participants drew dreams that they had where a client had appeared. These classical “Countertransference Dreams” were then explored by having the audience respond to the dreamers visual images. This process led to insight into the unconscious connections the analysts were having with their clients.
For me, this way of working demonstrates what makes the Institute for Expressive analysis stand apart from other more traditional psychoanalytic training programs. It was a pleasure to see more traditionally trained analysts exploring the use of their creativity as a new tool to process the inevitable challenges of countertransference.

Who Is Collecting The ‘Evidence’ for ‘Evidence Based Therapies’?

A graduate art therapy student in one of my classes recently reported a disturbing discussion he had with a friend who is studying psychology. His friend casually dismissed ‘creative art therapy’ as being an inferior form of therapy as compared to the ‘evidence based’ CBT (Behavioral) therapy that he was studying.
This comment brought to mind how the current trend in ‘evidence based’ approaches in psychotherapy may be to cherry pick the ‘research’ that tends to validate a particular approach. But research needs to be examined very closely as statistics may be interpreted in many ways, often having some subjective or prejudicial (conscious and unconscious) elements guiding the results. If you believe, as I do, in the power of the unconscious, then you will understand how this powerful force may subjectively influence even the most ‘objective’ of intentions. First we need to ask, who in funding the research? Is it the pharmaceutical industry, the insurance industry, the medical establishment or a more neutral unbiased source? While short term research may indicate some results, will they stand up to a long term study? For example, do we know what the long term results will be for people taking psychotropic medication for a long time, say 20 years, or 30 years? What are the long lasting effects of behavioral therapy as compared to psychoanalytic therapy?
Having been in private practice for close to 40 years I feel qualified to offer some observations regarding the effect of long term psychoanalytic therapy. Clients of mine who have undergone a complete psychoanalytic process (and don’t drop out before completion) learn how and why they have suffered from and struggled with emotional adversity, leaving them better prepared to address future challenges. Effective treatment helps one to understand and remove previously unconscious obstacles that had interfered with their ability to achieve their full potential in areas of interpersonal relationships and professional (career) growth. Freud’s definition of mental health was based on one’s ability to “love and work”. The result is improvement in ‘quality of life’ in areas of deepening of interpersonal relationships and removing unconsciously created obstacles in one’s career path; often leading to an increase in one’s ability to move forward and increase potential income. They are left with a way of thinking and observing themselves and others with deep respect for the existence and power of the unconscious and it’s effect on our lives.
I welcome the evolution of brain research technology that has already begun to identify and collect ‘evidence’ of the benefit derived from ‘talk therapy’. It’s only a matter of time until this research extends to examining the benefits of creative art therapy by documenting changes in the brain as a result of this treatment process.
Just because we have not until now been able to create a stream of ‘evidence’ to validate what we have intuitively believed and experienced, doesn’t justify the often contemptuous dismissal of our work as being less effective that other forms of psycho-therapeutic treatment.

Integrating Photo Therapy and Play Therapy

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I am pleased to announce that the new book: Integrating Expressive Arts and Play Therapy , Edited byEric Green and Althea Drewes and published by John Wiley & Sons, has finally arrived and is now available for sale at a discounted price. You can order the book at 877-762-2974 and refer to Promo Code #3-4006.

I have authored the Chapter 8, on Photo Therapy, where the main content of is focused on the various therapeutic uses of photographic modalities, both hard copy print and digital, within the framework of Play Therapy with adolescents and children. While this chapter has a great deal of detail on the uses of photography in various therapeutic settings, I am pleased that I was able to also focus on my deepest belief that expressive therapeutic techniques can be beneficially utilized by everyone; normal healthy people; to enhance quality of life and not just for ‘curing illness’ in psychiatric facilities.

As an example of the benefits of everyday use I was able to include a photograph taken by my three year old grandson who I had given my camera to use and describe how this enabled his family to become more sensitized to how he experienced a world that was primarily designed for much larger people.

Work of the Summer: “EVOLUTION IN BLUE”

The summer has traditionally been a time for me to unwind from the sometimes frantic pace of my typical work year; full time college teaching, private practice, professional presentations and articles, as well as trying to keep up with my fine art photography and sculpting. This summer I had the luxury of slowly completing a piece of rare blue alabaster that I had begun, as I worked along with my graduate art therapy students in a class that explored countertransference issues through stone carving. Several years ago I wrote a paper originally published in Psychoanalytic Perspectives: An international journal of integration and innovation, Volume 7, Number 2, Fall 2010 and later expanded with additional illustrations and re-published as a book that described a complex clinical case where I utilized this technique to manage challenging countertransference issues that emerged during a schizo-affective client’s treatment. As the past Spring semester came to an end I felt that the form that I had begun with my class needed further ‘Evolution’ so I spent a good part of the summer working on it on weekends at the beach. With the ocean as a backdrop the form slowly emerged. Below is a series of photos that document this process.

Work Station on the Beach
My portable work station an the beach

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The work in progress…

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Mounting the piece in the garden

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“EVOLUTION IN BLUE”

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Another view…

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Final view!

Mental Illness: The Problem With Diagnosis In An Age Of Dysfunction

The recent article in the New York Times Science section, Mental Illness and Vulnerability describes a serious misunderstanding that currently implies that those with a diagnosis of mental illness are more likely to commit violent crimes, when they are in fact, statistically more likely to themselves be victims of violent crimes. My own perspective as a psychoanalyst working with clients who seek self improvement in their quality of life, rather than seeking to cure an illness, brings me to reflect on another misconception that is often promoted into the public’s view by misinformed media. “Diagnosis” is a term taken from the medical field and applied widely in the mental health field. This, however, does not cover those who have an undiagnosed, “functional dysfunction“. For example those with mild sociopathic personality disorders may go undiagnosed and even admired for their ruthless but lucrative business acumen or those with mild obsessive compulsive disorders may be quite successful in fields that require delicate attention to detail, while being undiagnosed and experiencing serious problems in their interpersonal relationships due to their symptoms. In addition, some professional athletes, giving into pressures to perform on ever increasing higher standards, often resort to steroids and other human growth hormones that seriously effect their ability to control their anger, resulting in anger management problems.

So when we look at the model for mental health to include only clearly diagnosed illness we may overlook other less clearly documented or diagnosable dysfunctions that may lead to more dangerous, potentially violent behaviors than those actually diagnosed with mental illness.

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