Creativity as Survival

Creativity as survival

Second Story Dolls

–guest post by Nicole Wilkes Goldberg–


The Beginning…

In the summer of 2015 I was seven months pregnant with my fourth child. The pregnancy was considered moderately high-risk because my third child had been born premature and had multiple birth defects. Though my anxieties had been focused on the risks of my pregnancy, my stress was increased when my husband started getting sick. Initially, he had digestive issues, skin irritation, and trouble sleeping. He was anxious from work and over-stressed, but his symptoms were more severe than stress could explain. After our daughter was born in October, he could hardly sleep or eat, and he was mentally absent at home and struggling with everyday activities. One urgent care doctor told him, “you have a newborn; you’re stressed” and prescribed a hormonal anti-itch cream and sleep aid. He was itching so badly all over his body he used the whole tube of cream in a matter of days. He still could not sleep.

After about three months of chasing symptoms without a diagnosis, he became visibly jaundiced. His eyes were yellow and skin was sallow. Our primary care doctor ordered an ultrasound of his digestive system, suspecting gallbladder problems. He was scheduled for gallbladder surgery the Monday before Thanksgiving, a short procedure that usually only takes about thirty minutes. An hour and a half later, he was still in surgery. During the surgery to remove his gallbladder, the surgeon found a mass—a large tumor wrapped around his liver, pancreas, and hepatic portal vein. A biopsy revealed it was cancer. Because of the holiday, we were unsure whether the cancer was treatable or if the tumor would end his life within the next several months as the cancer slowly devoured his vital systems.

Fortunately, the tumor was found to be metastasized testicular cancer, which responds well to chemotherapy, rather than the chemo-resistant pancreatic cancer we had feared. My husband had undergone an orchiectomy in 2008 and had been clear for seven and a half years before the tumor began to grow. He was scheduled to start an intensive, four-cycle regimen of chemotherapy on a three week rotation. In his first week, he would get chemotherapy treatment every day for four to five hours. The other two weeks required a once-a-week treatment that would induce hallucinations and severe fevers.


“Caretaking is a lonely endeavor”

My oldest child was eleven. My sons were five and three, and my youngest was about two months old. My husband, who had been my partner and confidant, spent most of his time in treatment,  sleeping, or vomiting. He would try to engage in his work or family life, but he was too sick to be fully present. I continued to work, relying heavily on family, friends, and neighbors as much as I could.  However, caretaking is a lonely endeavor.  At the same time, my sister was out of state with her oldest son who had a failed transplant and was fighting for his life. Other problems plagued our families in 2016 from mental health crises to marriage dissolutions. My support system was strained.

After the fourth cycle of brutal chemotherapy, the oncologist nonchalantly met with my husband without looking at the results of the latest scan and left the country for a month, leaving us without direction or understanding of anything except the chemo hadn’t killed the tumor. A liver surgeon advised my husband to plan for the end of his life. We were discouraged but unwilling to accept this as the final say. Because my husband had family connections at MD Anderson in Houston, he turned to them. We were expecting an experienced surgeon to remove the tumor and a few weeks of recovery in Texas, but, instead, the oncologists in Houston drew up a five- to six-month even more intensive chemotherapy plan.

“Okay,” was all I could say when he called me from Houston after the appointment. After months of looking for an explanation for his illness and months of devastating treatments, I was not prepared for my husband to leave the state for half a year for even more brutal treatments. Our children were so young: the baby was still breastfeeding; our younger son would be starting preschool; our older son would be starting public school; and our oldest daughter would be starting junior high—all without him there. My heart and my will broke. I felt lost and hopeless.


“More than a distraction”

My dad and brother came over that night. My brother asked, “What are you doing for you?” I showed him some sewing projects I had done for my oldest daughter’s Monster High dolls. He said, “Do that. Do something creative.”

Creativity in process

During the most stressful, devastating time of my life, I discovered doll repainting as a creative outlet. I read every tutorial on repainting vinyl dolls I could find online. I watched numerous tutorials on YouTube about doll repainting. I collected images on Pinterest of other doll repaints to study the craft by experienced artists. My niece gave me her old Monster High dolls, and I bought some dolls on clearance to practice my new hobby. I bought supplies: watercolor pencils, chalk pastels, matte varnish spray, gloss varnish for eyes and lips, 100% acetone, and fabric remnants.

This was more than a distraction. I had always loved dolls and had hoped to keep and collect my childhood toys until they were given away, sold at garage sales, and broken by my brothers’ careless friends. I started a new collection in late high school and had continued collecting dolls until I was in graduate school. It wasn’t until years into our marriage that I started buying dolls again—this time as an artistic expression.


Tiny Details

After my teaching commitment ended in summer 2016, I packed up my four children and with the unending support of my mother-in-law drove across the country to be with my husband in Houston, Texas, for his treatment. Despite the limited space, I had packed up a handful of dolls and my inexpensive supplies, so I could begin my doll repainting adventure. My husband was in the hospital the first time I removed the factory paint from a doll’s face. He was going through apheresis to harvest stem cells the first time I learned to control a watercolor pencil on a tiny doll face to create an eye. He was being cared for by dedicated nurses the first time I sewed a simple black dress to drape over a doll to create a character.

Learning Creativity

My children, my mother-in-law, and I returned home for the start of the school year, and I continued repainting dolls. I was alone at home after my children went to bed. Instead of being held hostage by my stresses and worries, I found solace in the focused attention to detail of creating a realistic eye, even eyebrows, and full, expressive lips. Laying out tiny details had a way of consuming worries and easing anxieties. Sometimes I played music while repainting dolls; other times, I let the silence surround me. In those quiet moments, focused on my art, I felt a peace I hadn’t felt for more than a year.


The Second Story

After five months at MD Anderson and two stem cell transplants, my husband came back home, the tumor dead—no longer growing—but sicker and more worn down than most people survive. Even with the pain, exhaustion, and complications, he was immediately supportive of my repainted dolls, admiring every one of them and encouraging me in the hobby. He even came up with a name to use when I opened a shop and social media sites, Second Story Dolls. It felt appropriate. I was giving these dolls new stories and characters, yes. But, we also had a second story in our lives, one that survived a year of cancer treatments, loneliness, and heartbreak.
Even now, six years later, I find solace in creating new characters and new stories for old, used dolls. Allowing myself to “do something creative,” as my brother advised—despite facing the greatest challenge of our lives—provided the peace I needed then and still seek now.


For more about the value of Creative outlets and how to find your own check out the article on Creativity and Mental Health


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Creativity and Mental Health

Creative outlet--Glass Painting

Creativity and Mental Health


Humans as Creative Beings


Humans have never been the strongest hunters.  We have terrible natural camouflage.  We lack the brute strength of lions, the indestructibility of cockroaches, or the longevity of whales.  So why have we persisted as a species? Creativity.


Cave painting of hands, early human creativity

For every adaptation we lacked, creativity made up for it.  Our most ancient of ancestors were endowed by some form of imagination that tamed fire, invented tools, and sewed clothes.  They stamped their hands on cave walls and carved our likenesses out of stone as early as 30,000 years ago.  We have told stories around fires at night and buried our dead artistically since before we can collectively even conceive.


However, Creativity isn’t just about pleasure or performance.  It is a fundamental part of who we are.  We cannot ignore it anymore than we can ignore our hunger or need to move.


Creativity is also an essential part to a path of healing and wholeness.  I often tell my clients that if we can’t imagine, then we can’t imagine change.  If we can’t imagine a different world, then we can’t move toward it.

Why do we need a creative outlet?

Here is just a sampling of what we gain by being creative:

–Mindful Awareness

–Permission for our mind to drift

–Stretching the boundaries of what we are capable of

–Learning Flexibility

–Permission to let go of anxiety and perfectionism

— Gaining Mastery in a skill

–Observing your own learning and problem solving process

–A place to assert control, when everything seems out of control

Nicole Wilkes Goldberg writes about her experience in developing a creative outlet to cope with unimaginable life challenges.


So how can you foster creativity in your life?

We have gotten so consumed by consumption that many of us have forgotten how to be creative.  Creativity is not defined by what sells on Etsy, nor should it be your side hustle.  Finding your creative outlet(s) is something you do for yourself, and yourself alone.  It involves rejecting perfection and accepting mess, process and growth.  It is a lesson in humility that is not built on self-depreciation, but from a willingness to grow. A creative outlet can be just about anything that you are able lose yourself in. It doesn’t need expensive tools or a ton of time.


Several years ago, my oldest was a terrible napper.  We’d go on long walks to lull him to sleep in his stroller. I was then stuck on the porch, afraid to transfer him inside.  So I picked up his plastic Elmo Ukulele.  It sounded awful.  Honestly, so bad it was funny.  But it was fun, and silly, and hard.  I started downloading apps, eventually bought an actual instrument, and learned to jam for myself.  I’m still not great, but when I’m stressed it’s my go-to.  It hangs on my wall over my couch, ready for me to strum when I need to tune out the rest of the world for a while.  I walk away feeling far more refreshed than if I had spent the time doom-scrolling on my phone.


What are some examples of creative outlets?

The options for creativity are endless!  Here are some of the reflections of folks when I asked them about their creative outlets.


JW: “My creative outlet recently has been watercolor painting.  I’ll do paintings from trips I’ve gone on, or more recently I’ve started a series of paintings of leaves from native Utah tress as a way to get to know the trees around me”


KM: “I love performing in musical theater shows. The rush of working hard to learn lines, preform in front of a live audience and have them clap once you’ve done the best you can is one of the greatest feelings in the world. A similar feeling is performing in a wind ensemble but I find it more rewarding to sing/act because there’s no music blocking your vision of the audience 😉


MW: “I find water color the most relaxing or playing an instrument”


PA: “Freestyle dancing really lets me bust off the steam and the calories (haha)!  So I feel good about having danced to the music I like, and also gotten my fair share of exercise.  I feel light, energetic and happy afterwards”


NK: “I really enjoy running and playing violin.  I feel more calm and relaxed afterwards.  It’s also a great stress reliever”


RS: “I started working on stained glass and mosaics in 2020. I’ve always been artistic, and I was looking for a new and interesting hobby. I need to keep my hands busy. Otherwise, I tend to fall into unhealthy coping strategies (for example, binge eating, and mindlessly picking at my nails and skin).

I took a local stained glass workshop and instantly fell in love with the way I felt when I put together my very first stained glass sun catcher. Soon after, my husband bought me the necessary tools and I was able to set up a studio in my garage. I’ve made everything from simple sun catchers to advanced panels, pet portraits, and even a mosaic mailbox! When I work on glass, I feel like I am in my own world. I listen to music or a podcast, I’m able to relax, and I am able to take a break from the real world. This has been a healthy coping skill for me when I am feeling anxious or stressed, and I look forward to creating new pieces.”


VW: “My favorite creative outlet is playing the piano.  I get lost in the music–even if it’s working hard on one part and trying to get it just right.  I’ve found, however, that lots of day to day tasks can have that same relaxing, healing focus if I try to be very present in the moment.  Washing dishes if I’m concentrating on how good the warm water feels, how pretty the bubbles are, the satisfaction of changing a dirty dish into a clean one.  Playing with children, teaching, petting the dog, walking. The change is if I don’t try to multi-task but if I truly just enjoy the moment”


Close up of red leavesJR: “I often jokingly respond to people, “I don’t leave my camera at home because it gets lonely.” However, the truth is that I take my camera everywhere so that I can enjoy the differences in the monotony of each day. Every weekday, you will find me walking around with one huge dog named Moose, one camera, and one lens.

The lens I pick that morning restricts me on what kind of pictures I can shoot for the day. It can be a wide-angle lens, a manual focus lens, or maybe a macro lens to help me get very close to subjects. The gear of the day forces me to be vigilant on the walking path that Moose and I have walked on dozens of times. We are looking for interesting subjects, fantastic light, or great colors. In all honesty, today, we probably will not make any fantastic pictures. But, tomorrow we will choose another lens, leash up Moose, and walk another path.”


How can I find my own creative outlet?


Step 1: Reject perfection and embrace the process. Mistakes and mess are part of that process.


Step 2: Look back in your life to a moment when you may have felt more creative.

—Did you doodle in your notebooks?  Finger-paint as a Kindergartner?  Write poetry as an angsty teen?  Maybe you baked with a grandparent?

—Then ask yourself what did you feel like in those moments?  Were you able to immerse yourself in the moment?


Is there something you’ve always wanted to try?


Be creative

Step 3: Ask what has been stopping you?!

—Maybe you were afraid you didn’t have the time or talent.  If that’s the case, remember step 1!!

—Maybe you didn’t want to make the investment for an expensive “hobby” you won’t keep up?

If that’s the barrier, how can you scale it down?  It’s ok to use play-doh instead of sculpture clay.  Crayons are very underrated.  If you want to garden, use pots or tend to succulents on a desk?


Step 4: Just do it!  Shut up the inner critics for a bit.  Tell them they can take the afternoon off and you’ll pick them back up later.  For the next 30 mins just explore.  Let it be stupid or terrible.  Let it be fun.  Let it be weird or make you laugh. In the words of a certain Disney character “What if it didn’t need to be perfect?  It just needed to be?”


Still stuck?

Here are some places to get started!


Art Play by Marion Deuchars


Mo Willems Lunch Doodle Tutorials


The Usborne Complete Book of Art Ideas


Print off some free Mandala coloring sheet 


Pick a cookbook and cook your way through the recipes


Cut pictures out of magazines that “call” to you; glue them on a page either with a prompt (i.e. where am I today? thoughts about my future? My relationships) or no prompt at all.  Just play with the images.


Or head to your local craft store and peruse the shelves


Makeup, knitting, candle-making, doll make-overs, greeting cards, the possibilities are endless!


If it’s creative, it counts!


Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!” – Ms Frizzle





Popcorn for the holidays

The Popcorn Method of Surviving Holiday Drama





What’s your Holiday Drama?

Before heading over to that family dinner, take a moment to check in with yourself.  What are you looking forward to? What are you dreading?


Identify the challenges ahead of time so that you’re less surprised when it comes up.


What are the “escape strategies” from the drama?

Can you:

–Check on the food

–Play with a pet

— Go for a walk

–Check in with an ally?


What are you grounding strategies?

Here’s a list of some of my favorite grounding strategies

With all the food around most holiday gatherings you can also engage in mindful eating.

Walk through all the senses as you experience a food.  What is the color? The texture? The smell?  Does the tastes and textures change as you change them?


What do you enjoy about the holidays?

Don’t let the drama take center stage.  You deserve to feel joy and gratitude.  Seek out the pieces of the holidays that do bring you joy.  Nothing is too small.  One of my favorite aspects of almost all winter holidays is the centrality of candlelight.  On the darkest days, there is always a light.  It might be small and we may have to light it ourselves, but that just makes it all the more beautiful.


Popcorn for the Holidays

Wishing you happiness these holidays wherever it can be found!

12 ways to help anxious kids and teens

Anxious kids: an Epidemic


The child and teen mental health crisis has been building for yearsSince 2016, intentional self harm and suicide have been the leading cause of death for teens aged 15-19.  Since at least 2018, it has also been the 2nd leading cause of death for kids 10-14.  While the Covid crisis has certainly made the situation worse, those of us working in mental health have been sounding the alarm for years. This year the CDC estimates there are 4.4 million kids between ages 3-17 diagnosed with anxiety and 1.9 million diagnosed with depression. Supporting our anxious kids and teens is more important than ever.


What is Anxiety?

The DSM-5 defines Generalized Anxiety Disorder as “excessive anxiety or worry” most days for at least 6 months that has been difficult to manage and is causing significant challenges to regular functioning.  In adults one needs at least 3 of the following.  In children only 1 is needed to meet criteria

  • Restlessness

  • Easily Tired

  • Problems Concentrating

  • Irritability

  • Muscle Tension

  • Difficulty with sleep


What is Depression?

For a Major Depressive Disorder at least 5 of the following symptoms for at least 2-weeks, including a depressed or irritable mood and/or loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities:

  • Restlessness

  • Easily Tired

  • Problems Concentrating

  • Irritability

  • Muscle Tension

  • Difficulty with sleep

In both Anxiety and Depression, symptoms can be rated as Mild, Moderate, or Severe.

Depressed and Anxious Kids:

What does it look like?

It is only a “disorder” when it becomes distressing our somehow affects regular functioning.  I tell my clients that I’m not here to create robots.  I’m here to help them live with emotions and tolerate strong emotions or challenges as they come.  Emotions are information.  Anxiety gives us superpowers when we are facing dangerous situations, and we don’t want to take that way.  Sadness and isolation are a way that we process loss, slow ourselves down, and allow ourselves time to heal.  However, if the fire alarm is going off when we’re making toast and not when there’s a fire, or we want to stay in a cave forever …. we clearly have a problem


There is a lot of overlap in how these disorders show up in kids and teens.  For both, behavior is the main way of communicating distress.



A young child in distress:

  • may be excessively clingy and have difficulty separating from adults.

  • specific fears or phobias

  • difficulty going or staying asleep

  • tantrums that are more frequent or more intense than usual

  • easily frustrated

  • high distractibility.

  • If the stressor is a sudden event, there may be regressions where old behaviors come back. A potty-trained child may have more accidents.  They may start sucking their thumb or wanting a bottle again.


For older kids and teens

  • school and grades suffer

  •  isolating

  • screen or gaming addictive behaviors

  • self-deprecating comments

  • less investment in hygiene and appearance if depression is present

  • unusual obsessive behaviors

  • irritability or weepiness

  • emotional outbursts

  • Both may experience somatic symptoms such as headaches, muscle soreness, stomach problems, muscle tightness, or teeth grinding.  Some might do self-harm or stimulation seeking activities such as biting, chewing nails, or for teens there may be actual cutting.

There is always a bit of detective work that goes into differentiating between depression, anxiety, or other disorders in kids. These behaviors often simply indicate distress.  It is also very possible for a kid to have more than one mental health issue.  I often refer to Anxiety and Depression as cousins, who like to work together.  A child who feels anxious may also feel depressed about falling behind, withdraw more, and then become even more overwhelmed and anxious.   Many kids with ADHD are anxious or depressed because they are ashamed or struggle to fit in. Eating disorders often co-occur with anxiety and extreme perfectionism.  Substance abuse disorders are also often an attempt to self-medicate an underlying mental health challenge.

Role of Shame

Unfortunately, these experiences often come with a lot of shame.  Shame only makes things worse.  

Mental health challenges are something we experience. They are not who we are.  A teen who is refusing to do their homework is not lazy.  They may be experiencing depression.  A child with anxiety who is having tantrums isn’t naughty.  They are not a “bad” child.  They are anxious and showing it.  However, kids often begin to feel like this is who they are and who they will always be.  As caring adults in their lives, we need to remember that the child is not the problem. 

The problem is the problem. 

If we blame the child, we will make no progress. Our goal is to work with the child to build resiliency and solve problems. We want to give them the tools to help them move through this moment and prepare them for future challenges.


What can adults do to support their anxiety and depression in kids and teens


What I’m writing here was true before the pandemic, and it will be true after.  Childhood mental health is treatable!  And there is a number of things that caring adults can do in a child’s life outside of therapy!


  • Validate and empathize

    • be honest about where you are or when you’ve struggled. Empathize with where they are.

  • Make one-on-one time

    • Join them in activities they enjoy.  Coffee dates, favorite foods, video games, puzzles.  Let them set the agenda.

  • Ask about their friends

    • It can be easier to talk about their friends, than themselves.  Let them know you care about what’s happening in their world.  This generation is carrying a lot.

  • Help give them language to talk about their emotions.

    • Notice their behaviors and help them name what’s happening:

      • For example, “You’re clenching your fists.  Are you feeling frustrated?”

    •  You can use the language of their favorite characters:

      • Are you hyper like Tigger or sad like Eeyore?

      • Are you feeling tired like Snorlax,  or frustrated like Charizard?

      • Are angry like Hulk or confident like Captain America?


  • Invite them to help make a manageable family routine

    • Ask them questions:

      • When do you have the most energy to get things done?

      • When does your body need to move?

      • What is a good time for quiet time?

      • When is a fair time for screen time?

  • Manage Screen time as a family

    • Do not ask your kids to do what you are not willing to do! I hear teens and kids complain over and over again about their parents’ screen addictions!

    • Make a family screen time contract where you work together to set healthy boundaries for everyone

  • Create space for laughter

    • Make fart jokes!

    • Laugh at your own mistakes.

    • Pull Pranks on each other… kindly.

  • Gratitude Practices

    • Make regular time in the day or week to reflect on what’s going well.

  • Get Outdoors!

    •  No matter the weather, even if it is just standing in the rain or snow.  At the bare minimum, open a window.


  • Create “bite size” goals

    • Look for the next right step to avoid getting overwhelmed by the big picture.  If “doing homework” is overwhelming, try 10 mins on one assignment.  If showering is too hard, use a washcloth on essential areas.  If leaving a bedroom is too hard, open the door. Make a start, and then see where you need to go next.

  • Call in reinforcements:

    • Reach out to teachers if the child is behind on assignments.  Work together to come up with a manageable plan.

    • Check out support groups at their school.  Many schools have lunch or afterschool groups.

    • Connect them with individual or family therapy


We may not be able to take away the challenges in their worlds, but we can help them learn to meet them…

News: Presenting on Supporting Anxious Kids during Covid

Supporting Anxious Kids during Covid


What:  I’ll be speaking at New Start Church in Delaware, Ohio in partnership with Crossroads Counseling about how to support our anxious youth.  What are we seeing?  What are the symptoms?  How can we help

When: This Saturday, Feb 27th at 10:30


Where: New Start Church Delaware, Ohio

Why: We are in the midst of a childhood mental health crisis that has been quietly building for years.  As adults, we need tools to support our youth outside of therapy.  We’ll be covering what exactly is depression and anxiety, how it may look differently in a child or teen, and how the impacts of the Covid Pandemic on children’s mental health.  We will also look at what normal and healthy development look like and what we as adults can do to support the mental health of the children and teens in our lives.

Attendance for this workshop is full.  


To book a workshop at your school, church, or organization:

Click here

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Virtual Workshops

Virtual Workshops have arrived!

In November we launched our first virtual workshop, to great success!  Participants have taken the tools they gained from the first workshop and have been putting them to everyday use.


4Rs of Self Care: Self Care when you are at maximum overload

Event Date: Dec 12th 10am-12pm EST

Covid has been hard on all of us. In this 2 hour online workshop, learn easy and practical strategies to reduce stress and regain control. You’ll gain tools to reduce panic attacks, outbursts, or overwhelm. Walk away with a personalized Self-Care plan, with simple steps to make everyday a bit more manageable. Attend this live workshop from the convenience of your own home on any device, no app downloads necessary.In this 2 hour workshop, learn easy and practical strategies to reduce everyday overwhelm.

Walk away with a personalized Self-Care plan, with simple steps to make the holidays and everyday a bit more manageable.

Attend this live workshop from the convenience of your own home on any device, no app downloads necessary.


To join our next virtual workshops

Healing Arts Counseling Center, LLC Workshops

More virtual workshops

Online Counseling





Virtual Workshops can also be booked for private groups


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Covid Stress and Resiliency Part I


Covid Stress and Resiliency

Part I


We are now 7 months into the year of social distancing.  Since March, life has gotten more stressful than ever.  Families are balancing work, distanced learning, and schedules that are more complicated than we ever imagined.   So many are struggling with the basics of living: housing, work, relationships, even grocery shopping.  Every small decision seems fraught with anxiety. When I ask friends or clients how they are, all they can do is roll their eyes and shrug. Covid stress is everywhere. And there is currently no end in sight.

This is hard!

Covid Stress

I’m not going to say, “look at the positive.” Or “we aren’t given more than we can bear”.  Nor am I going to say “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” None of those phrases are particularly useful, and are very often hurtful and dismissive. Life in the time of Covid is stressful.  There is no sugar-coating it.

 What I am going to say is this: we may be walking through personal and collective fires right now. What can we do to push through?  How can we walk through this chapter to get to next part of our story?

This is what Resilience is about. 

Continue reading “Covid Stress and Resiliency Part I”

Teen Girls Group Fall 2019

Drama Therapy Group

Overcoming Anxiety

A Drama Therapy Group for Teenage Girls


In partnership with Crossroads Counseling Group, LLC, we are excited to offer a drama therapy group for girls in 9th or 10th grade who struggle with anxiety issues.  This 6 week therapeutic experience is tailored to assist participants in managing emotions and circumstances common to life as a teenage girl.  A combination of strategic interaction, cognitive reframing and collaborative drama will be used to help girls move towards greater victory over anxiety.


6 sessions- 75 minutes each

Tuesdays 5:00-6:15

October 1st-November 5th 2019

Cost $450.00


Each participant must complete a 1 hour assessment before the group starts (unless already done).  This ensures that all participants are able to benefit from the group.  The assessment may be covered by health insurance.  If not, a special 50% off rate ($75) applies.





For more information or to sign up contact me using the form here

Drama Therapy Group


Or contact directly:

Dreme McLennan, IMFT, RDT, CCATP-CA*

(614) 263-8161 ext. 80

What is Drama Therapy?  Learn more!



What is Drama Therapy?

Drama Therapy

What does Drama Therapy look like …


Photo by hiwa talaei from Pexels

Some days I am relaxing in a fairy house.  It is a safe space that my client has built, and we’ve made it real in my office.  Together we hear the breeze, see the colors, and smell the autumn scents.  She takes a leaf with her to remind her that she can come back here in her mind anytime.


Another day, a young man makes a painting of his inner critic.  It is a swirling jagged creature that wears a top-hat. We write down its predictable script of lies and “what-ifs.” To fight this creature, we throw things at it.  We argue against its lies. We explore what feeds it and ultimately what starves it. When my client leaves, he has kicked the creature under the couch.  Throughout the week, when he hears those same lies and what-ifs in his mind, he remembers that the creature is still cowering under my couch.  This week it holds a little less power over him.


Some days we create bubbles for boundaries.  Other days we throw things in the “Fu*k it bucket.”  My clients become therapists, giving themselves the advice they need to hear.  They become teachers, cops, superheroes, or their own parents. We bury the past in the woods.  We walk the stepping stones through their lives, remembering who they were, and imagining what they will be in the future.


What exactly is Drama Therapy?


Drama Therapy is about creating a space of possibility. It is an active laboratory to practice skills, gain insight, discover new abilities, and even learn to play. It accesses our strengths and helps us awaken our imagination.  After all, if we can’t imagine new possibilities, how can we reach them?


It is a process that goes beyond talk and into action.  Symptoms, trauma, and our self-stories are more than just thoughts in our head.  They are in our bodies, our emotions, and our memories. Even something as simple as sitting on the floor instead of a chair can change the way we think and feel.


In my practice, some of the tools I use include:

Images used with permission

Improv Games


Mask Making

Exploration of Roles that we Play

Role Plays

Story telling

Imaginative Play

Projective Play





This is not an exhaustive list! I practice Drama Therapy with couples, families, adults, children, groups. I even use Drama Therapy and other creative arts therapies in my online practice.  The tools of Drama Therapy are also ideal for trainings and workshops.  It is the ultimate “learning by doing” tool.



Who gets to call themselves a Drama Therapist?


In North America, a Registered Drama Therapist (RDT) is someone who has gone through rigorous, master’s level training in psychology and drama therapy theory and techniques.  This is followed by hours of practice under supervision. Only then is a person eligible for an RDT credential from the North American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA). Since 1979, the NADTA has upheld rigorous standards of professional competence for drama therapists. The entire process generally takes several years of training and experience. We take this credentialing process seriously because we know that our tools are powerful, and we do not wish to open doors before we are prepared to encounter what’s inside.

Where is drama therapy used?


Drama Therapy is both old and new.   It draws from the catharsis of ancient greek theater, the timeless quality of Shakespeare, the revolutionary work of Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed and Jacob Moreno’s Psychodrama developed in the early days of modern psychology. Today, Drama Therapists practice on almost every continent. They work with virtually every population and life situation. 


You can find us in:

Mental Health Clinics


Hospital Medical Units

Hospital Mental Health Units

Substance Abuse Treatment Centers

Adult Day Treatment Facilities

Correctional Facilities- Adult and Juvenile

Community Centers

After School Programs

Programs for Older Adults

College Counseling Centers

Programs for Persons with Disabilities


Programs for Refugees and Immigrants


Residential Facilities

Nursing Homes

Private Practice Settings



Housing Projects

Medical Schools

Training Organizations



To learn more:

Drama Therapy
Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst

See this article in medical news today:

Learn more about the North America Drama Therapy Association


More questions?  Contact me or leave a message below!






© H. Dreme McLennan and Healing Arts Counseling Center, LLC, 2019.

Overcoming Burnout: 4 Rs of Self Care

Self Love

Overcoming Burnout with the 4 Rs of Self Care


Self Love
Photo by Tim Mossholder from Pexels

I’m going to be blunt.  We are burning out.  We are in a society that expects so much of its citizens 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Whether it’s work, school, social media, or the expectations of the neighbor next door, we are in a world that is constant in its demands and fast paced in its speed.  When we hear someone say “self-care” we may think of the little luxuries— going for a run, taking a bath, or even a vacation.  For many of us, it is another thing on the to-do list that we just don’t have time for.  For some, self care is selfishness. When we do something for ourselves, we may even feel guilty.

In conversations of self-care with clients, I constantly come back to this analogy.  When you are on an airplane and the flight crew is giving the safety demonstration, they ALWAYS tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first.  Why?  Because if you don’t take care of yourself first, you will pass out before you can help anyone else. 


When we are running on empty, the impact is not limited to ourselves.  Burnout is now an internationally recognized syndrome , according to the World Health Organization. While the WHO’s new “syndrome” is about work-related burnout, others have articulated what burnout can look like more fully:

Burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to:

        • physical and emotional exhaustion

        • cynicism and detachment

        • feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment

It is something that impacts every aspect of our lives:  our work,  our studies, our fundamental relationships.  When we aren’t our best selves, everything around us suffers.


What is real self care?

Real self-care is about building up your resources so that you have what you need to meet the challenges that come your way.  A complete self-care mindset involves both long-term and short-term thinking and investment. When I lead workshops or talk with clients (or even friends), we address self-care in 4 key ways.

1) Routine

This is the basics and the foundation.  What can you do to take care of your whole self every day? This is what people tend to refer to as “Wellness” and includes the following:

  • Nutrition

  • Sleep Habits

  • Regular Physical Activity

  • Creative outlet!

If you are chronically malnourished, sleep deprived, or neglecting your body it impacts a whole range of health issues, including mental health!  All of this may seem obvious, but with all of life’s demands it can be so hard to be consistent with our physical needs. However, if you make keeping your body and mind routinely fed and cared for a priority, everything else becomes a bit more manageable.

Sleep, nutrition, and activity may seem like “common sense” (even if they can be a challenge!), but a creative outlet may be something new.  We are creative beings (I’ll address this more in a future post), and it is important to indulge this as part of our life routine.  Your creativity could be expressed through gardening, knitting, writing poetry, woodwork, music, painting, coloring, cooking, etc. Basically, your outlet can be anything that brings you joy and satisfaction.  It may be something you once enjoyed but have forgotten about, or it may be something you’ve always been interested but never felt like you could.  Do it anyway!  This is also a great strategy if you are trying to reduce dependence on screen time 😉  (More of that in a future post, too).

I highly recommend looking into the “Wellness Wheel” concept to see where you might be out of balance. Remember though, no one has everything together!  It’s ok for us to be stronger in some areas, and need a little more work in others.  The key is when you are very off balance in one or more areas, make a commitment to make a manageable change in one area at a time.  The goal is to routinely prioritize your physical and mental well being.  It is easier to keep a good thing going, then to be in a pattern of depriving and then over correcting.

2) Ritual

Ritual is what marks transitions.  It is an anchor to give us strength when we know a challenge is coming.  Ritual takes many forms, depending on your culture, religion, age, personality, location and so much more.  But at their core, rituals are an action that helps us gain control over what may seem out of control.  And, believe it or not, there is evidence that even the ritual of wearing your lucky socks may actually improve your game!

In the context of self-care, Ritual is a resource that you can tap into when you feel the challenge on the horizon.  That may be before an important meeting, transitioning from work to home, at the witching hour where the kids melt down like clockwork, or settling into a hotel.  There are some situations that occur frequently enough that we recognize how our emotions and actions are impacted by them.  We may even dread them.

So take a moment and consider, what times of day or days of the week do I struggle the most?  What is something I might be able to do to build up my resources right before that challenge arrives at my doorstep?

Some examples might include:

  • Taking a “mindful moment” with a hot or cold beverage (our bodies are more aware of difference of temperature)

  • Reciting a calming or empowering Mantra, prayer, or scripture

  • Listen to a specific meaningful song (Guilty pleasures acceptable!)

  • Lighting a candle

  • Accessing a scent, such as lavender, in a spray, essential oil or lotion

  • Make a physical alteration (change clothes, alter hairstyle, change from contacts to glasses)

  • Visualization Exercise (i.e. transitioning from home to work, imagining the thoughts related to work stopping at the door to the building as you leave work and imagine how far away work is physically from home)

The bottom line is that you see the challenge coming, you take a moment to anchor yourself, and then you are more prepared to face the challenge head on instead of being overwhelmed by it.

3) Rescue

Photo by Tobias Bjørkli from Pexels

So what do you do when you are really about to loose it? Yes, this will happen.  Sometimes you will be doing everything right– getting enough rest, tapping into rituals, eating right– and you just get suddenly blindsided.  It may be that your boss gave you an unreasonable assignment with an even less reasonable deadline.  Maybe that school assignment you worked hours on crashes without a backup.  Maybe the 3 year old found a dry erase marker and created a Picasso Masterpiece on your couch!  (All of those are personal experiences, by the way…)

The truth is, you are human!  You will lose control, make mistakes, and lose your temper.  That’s part of life.  So PLAN for it!  We make safety plans for fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, and floods.  We need a safety plan for when we hit an emotional storm, too.

In creating your Rescue Plan, identify each of the following.

  • A Safe person (maybe 2 or 3 just in case)  that you can text or call to help keep you grounded when you are being flooded by emotions.  If you struggle with self-harm or suicidal thoughts, this could even be a hotline number.

  • A Magic Object: This is a physical item that can help you focus on something outside the storm of emotions.  It could be a piece of jewelry that you have, a clipboard you carry that you’ve taped calming pictures to, a coffee cup that you grip firmly with both hands. It should be something that you can access easily, without much thought.  Let your focus turn laser sharp on that object and actually name it’s properties one by one. What is its temperature? texture? color? weight? etc. until you feel  calmer.

  • A Mantra: a SHORT phrase that can be repeated over and over again with your breath, either in your head or out loud. This could be a song lyric, religious text, a sound, or even the ABCs backwards.

  • An Actual Physical Safe Space:  Is there a part of the house, office, or school that you can go take a moment to cool down?  While many places are intentionally creating “calming spaces,”  for you this might be a closet, a bathroom stall, or a walk around the block or building.  Just like the magic object go through your 5 senses and identify properties of the space one by one (What is the light like? Colors? Smells?)

  • An Imagined Safe Space: Sometimes we can’t get away from the stressor, but we can go inward. Take a moment now and imagine the safest most calm place you can bring to your mind.  Explore it, memorize it, and identify an aspect for each of the 5 senses.  Know that this place is a place you can go to anytime, no matter where you are or what you’re doing.


For the many people who struggle with mental health, please know this is a crash course in mindful grounding. Even in my own psychotherapy practice, I go much deeper and provide a much more tailor-made rescue plan with my clients. This article is not meant to be in any way a replacement for psychotherapy.  This is especially true for the “rescue” aspect of self-care.  If you are in a place where you are routinely losing control, or when you do it feels like you may cause damage to yourself or somebody else then you need to reach out for additional help and support.  Click here for resources in the state of Ohio and nationally.

That said, if you have not yet created a Rescue Plan for your most human moments, this might be a good time to start.  Humans do not make their best decisions when they are upset.


4) Recovery

You are human.  You will make mistakes and say or do things that are less than ideal.  If it’s one thing I’ve learned in my years as a mental health professional (and as a human!), it’s that there is always a way to move forward.  I say this as a person who has specialized in addiction counseling, has worked with abuse in families, and community violence.  If you haven’t been told this, you need to hear it now!  While there are consequences to our actions, it does NOT mean that it is the end of your story.  

Recovery is how we heal ourselves and any hurts we may have caused.  It is about forgiveness, in whatever form that can be made.  It is also about finding support outside of ourselves.  I have no simple steps for this aspect of self care, as it is part of a deeply personal journey.  It could be something simple.  With the families I work with, this is sometimes a ritual of tapping noses after an argument in order to hit the “reset button.”  It could mean a true and formal apology.  It might require seeking professional treatment or a 12-step meeting in your area.

Self-Care is not a luxury that we can afford to live without. Routine, Ritual, Rescue, and Repair are a way to give yourself the resources you need to be your best self wherever you need to show up.  As the great Lucille Ball, puts it–

“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” 




To receive your FREE “4 Rs of Self-Care Plan” worksheet or for more information on Real Self-Care, for counseling, or to book a workshop contact Dreme McLennan at Healing Arts Counseling Center.



© H. Dreme McLennan and Healing Arts Counseling Center, LLC, 2019.

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