This week’s guest blogger, Elva Villarreal, is a practitioner of Creative Journal Expressive Arts and Visioning® Coaching. After teaching school for many years she became a workshop leader, coach and facilitator of cancer support groups for H.O.P.E. (Helping Other People Emotionally), held at McAllen Public Library in McAllen, Texas. After her mother’s death, Elva wrote a book entitled I Am Here, illustrated by artist and CJEA colleague, Lisa Brown. Elva works with professional caregivers, therapists and counselors, and includes non-dominant hand journaling in her workshops.
Grief Work Using the Non-Dominant Hand
I often introduce workshops with movement to Gabrielle Roth’s 5 Rhythms recordings. I usually use selections in which Gabrielle narrates body parts for inspiring spontaneous movement. She also has music covering many moods and allowing for physical expression of feelings. There are no dance steps or instruction in how to move. All movement is improvised in response to the music. We follow this with Dancing on Paper, in which participants scribble out feelings to music with their non-dominant hand using whatever colors feel right to them.
Then I read my book and have the group journal about someone they miss. It could be a loss through death or other kind of separation. They use their non-dominant hand to draw the person. Using their dominant hand, they write the qualities of that person which they love and miss. Then on another sheet, through the non-dominant hand, the other person writes them a letter. Participants then partner up to read each other’s letter to one another.
When working with professional caregivers, I start my workshop with a presentation of concepts of healing through art and writing, and the technique of using the non-dominant hand. I often get left brain questions and discussions about clients such as: "What are the steps to get a client to access the right brain?” “What if a client doesn’t know which color he should choose or what he should draw, and he keeps asking questions for reassurance?” etc., etc. I am able to quiet them down when they do the exercises. That’s when I often see a flood of tears!
Caregivers often have personal losses as well as the deaths of patients or residents in care facilities with whom they have been working. They need the opportunity to process their grief. It is helpful to do this collectively in a group. They also express their grief about other things in their lives such as a recent cancer diagnosis of a loved one, early loss of a parent, “empty nest syndrome,” stress, and a need for peace and balance in life.
These workshops for therapists and counselors highlight the fact that professional caregivers also experience tough things in their personal lives. They too have a need for processing feelings and nurturing themselves. I am reminded of the series of workshops offered by Creative Journal Expressive Arts instructors Vicki Muir and Marsha Nelson for therapists in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I joined this CJEA team to present five days of workshops to different groups of therapists. I also had the privilege of leading a children’s workshop, with Vicki doing a drumming activity at a Children’s Grief Center, while Marsha worked with their parents. We were able to show professionals dealing with their own losses from the hurricane how to care for others while taking care of themselves.
“Use of the non-dominant hand for drawing and writing opens up buried feelings and allows them to be released from the body onto paper. The wisdom and comfort that result provide a powerful support during the grieving process. Furthermore, a practice of journaling during a period of grief is extremely helpful. Grief knows no timetable, so journaling can be done anytime feelings of sadness or missing a loved one come up.” –Lucia Capacchione
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