The esteemed Cathy Malchiodi joins us this month on Meet the Author.

I became familiar with Cathy Malchiodi in1999 after reading her book Understanding Children’s Drawings. I clearly recall being taken aback by the breadth & depth of her knowledge. She further sparked my interest in exploring the power of children’s art and utilizing it in treatment with my clients.

I had the pleasure of attending a day-long workshop with Cathy a few years later. I was so impressed with her ability to captivate and engage participants. As I began to implement the use of creative expression within my practice, I found that it proved to be extremely beneficial in the healing process.

As I’ve gotten to know Cathy over the years, I have enjoyed her sense of humor and her charismatic personality. You can always expect to learn about new and innovative approaches when attending one of Dr. Malchiodi’s workshops or reading one of her many, many books.

-Deanne Gruenberg

Cathy Malchiodi Q & A

You have many credentials after your name including PhD, LPAT, LPCC, ATR-BC, REAT’S…
I think most people know what the PhD and LPCC mean! The LPAT is a license as a professional art therapist; the ATR-BC is my Board Certification as an art therapist; and the REAT is a Registration as an Expressive Arts Therapist. My PhD is in Psychology and specifically Research Psychology and has helped me tremendously in work with military and their families in developing evidence-based programs and creative interventions.
Tell us a little bit about your back ground. What led you down the path of becoming an art therapist, a trauma-informed practitioner and writer/editor? Was there a particular catalyst that influenced your interest in writing?
One of the earliest professional challenges I undertook was being a group leader for a group for adults abused as children in San Francisco. This was an eye-opening experience, in particular, because of the amazing resiliency that I found among adult women who had suffered physical and sexual abuse and neglect, at the hands of their parents. They turned to each other with remarkable trust and shared their stories and the many ways abuse had affected their relationships, their ability to trust, and the choices they had made in their lives (often feeling undeserving of positive attention or positive outcomes).

I found myself repeating the same messages, quickly learning that people needed to hear things over and over and it took time to integrate new ideas about how their coping strategies had been designed to keep them safe when there was danger, and were not needed any more. I wanted to offer the group members something more concrete, a way they could remind themselves about the ideas they were learning, and I wrote Outgrowing the Pain.

For many reasons, putting that first little book together was something I could not have imagined. Decades later, I still get letters from survivors of childhood abuse, who find its message relevant and more importantly, causes them to reflect and gain insights that help move them forward. I don’t think any other book has been so rewarding as this one, written in the context of trying to be of service to women who had suffered deep injuries, in order to validate their experiences and help them take small steps forward.

Do you have any personal influences in the art therapy or trauma field? In what way?
I am influenced by three trauma experts who have been incredibly supportive and kind to me and their names are familiar to most therapists—Bruce PerryPeter Levine, and Bessel van der Kolk. They also have been three seminal voices in explaining the relationship of the body to trauma reactions. Their ideas have helped me to articulate why the expressive arts and play therapies are so effective in work with people of all ages.
Tell us about a typical day in the life of Cathy M. outside of the therapeutic field.
Anyone who knows me understands that I have at least three drawing journals in process; I take time on most days to play digital instruments [sitar and drums] on my iPad and am learning to play the melodica [a combination of the flute and piano keyboard]; I love spinning class; and I take a nap at 1 pm on any day I can get away with it! I recently became addicted to shopping for crazy socks after students in Australia started my collection this past summer. I also cannot resist a good cat YouTube film.

In going through my own psychotherapy, I had the privilege of spending time with Alexander Lowen, the founder of Bioenergetics. This was in the beginning days of all the focus we now have on using the body as a resource. He spent the day with our group and did an evaluation (a body scan) of each one of us. He indicated what he felt was the source of our issues and then prescribed specific body activities for our treatment. At that point in time I was pretty much talked out and was not making a great deal of progress. With the help of my therapist we started those body activities. It was amazing as I was able to release so much that I could not put in words. From that point on I felt that involving the body in some kind of healing process was critical to recovery and growth. Today regulation (resourcing the body) is viewed to be essential to trauma recovery.

The final experience was as a young teen when I was given a camera. I took hundreds of pictures. When I would sit down to look at these, I was amazed by the elements in those pictures that I didn’t actually see when I was looking through the camera lens. Fixed in time, they gave me time to really explore all the elements of those pictures, to discover details of that moment I was not aware I had captured, to look at that moment differently than when I first experienced it. I think that really drew me into developing my evidence-based drawing process. If people are interested in learning more about it they can read the chapter that that I was privileged to be able to write in the new publication by David Crenshaw and Anne Stewart, “Play Therapy: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice”. Its an excellent resource for all levels of practitioners.

You’ve worked with so many different populations, from kids to veterans and the elderly. What are some challenges you find when working with such diverse groups?
I think any of us who are actively working as trauma specialists have dozens of challenges each and every day. With returning military, stress reactions, traumatic brain injury and suicide are three big clinical challenges; with children, being a mindful witness to their experiences through creative expression is both tremendously challenging and rewarding at the same time. I have been fortunate recently to be able to put together expressive arts programming for older adults who are in “memory care;” the impact of creative expression for these individual is impressive. While it is an ongoing challenge to address cognitive decline, the fact that the expressive arts are so helpful and impactful is something that is very inspiring.

I think the biggest challenge for all who apply arts and play-based activities is to remain present to the client’s needs. There is a tendency to want to find the right set of worksheets or structured activities in a certain sequence; this does not serve the individual in the long run and in most cases, does not result in long-term decrease in trauma responses. It is a challenge to be present to each person with a “beginner’s mind” yet at the same time, bringing experience and wisdom into each session in order to provide the best possible trauma-informed care and creative experiences.

However, although history does repeat itself, we tend to ignore many of the lessons learned from the past. For example, Anthony Salvatori, then Assistant Principal of Sandy Hook Middle School was also the Coordinator of the district’s Safe School Climate program. He was responsible for preparing staff for tragedies including the violent loss of life. Again unfortunately, all too often he heard “Why are you telling us this? This is not going to happen here.” This was just prior to that tragic loss of lives. We tend to ignore the past by refusing to accept our vulnerability. By the way, the first intentional mass killing of young children took place in 1927 at Michigan Bath Consolidated School. The planted bomb killed 38 elementary schools students, six adults and seriously injured another 58 children and staff. Hopefully the stories of survivors in this work will help to discourage the “It won’t happen here” response to those attempting to provide the best preparation possible.

I also wrote this for the courageous professionals who agree to serve on their crisis teams, trauma response or critical response teams. They are all eager to be as prepared as possible, to engage in best practices to help minimize the many challenges of the recovery process. In many ways the book helps responders and teams evaluate just how prepared they are to respond to the many different experiences and reactions of survivors and their communities. The bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma produce one set of lessons, Columbine another, 9/11 still another and years later Sandy Hook Elementary still yet another set of lessons. There really is no reason not to be prepared. The lessons are there for us. No one text can answer every question or concern. However, I’ve been privileged to train and learn from hundreds of teams across the country, which allows me to bring best practices to today’s teams. For this reason I continue to provide training and can be contacted at 810-241-0391 or drbillsteele12@gmail.com.

In going through my own psychotherapy, I had the privilege of spending time with Alexander Lowen, the founder of Bioenergetics. This was in the beginning days of all the focus we now have on using the body as a resource. He spent the day with our group and did an evaluation (a body scan) of each one of us. He indicated what he felt was the source of our issues and then prescribed specific body activities for our treatment. At that point in time I was pretty much talked out and was not making a great deal of progress. With the help of my therapist we started those body activities. It was amazing as I was able to release so much that I could not put in words. From that point on I felt that involving the body in some kind of healing process was critical to recovery and growth. Today regulation (resourcing the body) is viewed to be essential to trauma recovery.

The final experience was as a young teen when I was given a camera. I took hundreds of pictures. When I would sit down to look at these, I was amazed by the elements in those pictures that I didn’t actually see when I was looking through the camera lens. Fixed in time, they gave me time to really explore all the elements of those pictures, to discover details of that moment I was not aware I had captured, to look at that moment differently than when I first experienced it. I think that really drew me into developing my evidence-based drawing process. If people are interested in learning more about it they can read the chapter that that I was privileged to be able to write in the new publication by David Crenshaw and Anne Stewart, “Play Therapy: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice”. Its an excellent resource for all levels of practitioners.

Why are the expressive arts so important in building resiliency in traumatized individuals?
This is one of the topics that gets me up in the morning because I am excited about what positive psychology and resiliency theory has taught us about its importance in intervention. First, you cannot expect to enhance resilience in anyone through a set of workbook activities nor any particular directives. It’s about the relationship between the individual and you and how well you understand the expressive arts and play-based approaches, including how you may have used the arts in your own resilience. After that, I see its importance in three ways:

1. Affect-Regulation. Art making and play can be self-regulating practices and ones that mediate anxiety and depression. Expressive arts therapy research is beginning to identify just how and why this mediation occurs, including some preliminary brain-wise data on what actually happens in the brain and body during creative arts experiences.

2. Mastery. Action-oriented experiences build confidence not only in specific skills, but also in the larger realm of personal efficacy – “I can do this.” The sensory-based, action-oriented qualities of creative expression naturally support capability, competency and personal strengths. Creative endeavors are not only self-rewarding, they are tangible moments of mastery and personal empowerment, enhanced by the positive relationship with a helping professional.

3. Right-Hemisphere to Right-Hemisphere. While creative expression is a whole brain activity and not limited to one part of the brain, the process of expressive arts therapy capitalizes on right-hemisphere dominance of both creativity and the positive attachment between the therapist and individual. The latter is where the transformation happens! And it’s also effective because we are interacting with the child, teen, adult or family without words and through the senses [visual, tactile, kinesthetic, etc], making the intervention more powerful than words alone.

Being a part of so many publications and content, do you have any favorites that stand out? Is there an essential Cathy Malchiodi read?
I think Understanding Children’s Drawings is one of my favorites. However, I now keep returning to The Soul’s Palette: Drawing on Art’s Powers for Transformation and Wellness, because it has been useful for helping professionals who want to experience the expressive arts on their own. I also use it with teens and adults I see in practice because the creative experiences in it are structured, yet open-ended to allow for personal expression to emerge. And I am very proud of the second edition of Creative Interventions with Traumatized Children because it now includes wide-ranging approaches like art therapy and EMDR, how to use clay with children, family crisis intervention techniques, self-regulation activities and mindfulness with children and teens.
How has art therapy and trauma-informed therapy evolved since your early days in the field?

First, trauma-informed practice was not really a prominent model a decade ago. I think after September 11, 2001, we really started to look at the experience of trauma differently because we had the opportunity to learn from large groups of traumatized individuals. At the same time we also were learning that talking about people in treatment via “pathology-driven” language that is generally diagnostic, demeaning and culturally insensitive was inappropriate and counterproductive. However, I found myself 30 years ago reframing children’s trauma responses as “adaptive coping skills” rather than “defense mechanisms.” Somehow I came to respect their survival skills, post physical and sexual abuse and violence and saw their response as natural reactions to survive unnatural circumstances.

Art therapy as a field is slowly catching up to the language of neuroscience and the overwhelming evidence that trauma is a body-based experience. Music therapy and dance/movement therapy have been quicker to understand and grasp neurobiology and trauma, probably because music involves rhythm as does movement. It is impressive to read how experts like van der Kolk and Stephen Porges have embraced the importance of movement in the form of dance therapy and yoga in treatment with trauma survivors; that is why I have included those approaches in my work with returning military and their families and children who have survived violence or assault.

You’ve written and edited a plethora of books. What are some of the ways writing differs from editing your colleagues work? Do you have a preference?

For me, writing and editing are not that different. I often rewrite a lot of what is submitted to me as the editor! I know many editors simply “curate” books—they ask authors to write chapters and do not do much rewriting and reorganizing of authors’ work. I am very hands-on and often also write several chapters for books I edit—I love to write. I do write more slowly and carefully than most authors because I believe that what you put into print is your legacy and I want my written legacy to last.

Right now I am writing a book on my 20 years of experience with trauma-informed expressive arts therapy with children, teens, adults, families and communities. What I like best about writing my own books is being able to tell a story through case examples, visual illustrations and specific approaches. That is both exciting and challenging, but ultimately rewarding to see it come to print. Since I have worked with Guilford as a Series Editor, I also generally design the artwork for the covers, too. That gives me a chance to use my art school skills and also communicate what the book is about through images.

Finally, we always like to hear about what is in the works from our authors. Do you have anything coming up or future projects and workshops that you would like to mention here?
2016 is shaping up to be a full schedule of exotic destinations. I will be teaching Trauma-Informed Expressive Arts Therapy® Level Three in Hong Kong China and Level One in Saskatoon Canada in May. I am giving an invited talk in London in March and various lectures on expressive arts therapy for arts therapists. There are several US events sponsored by the Trauma-Informed Practices and Expressive Arts Therapy Institute that are open to helping professionals– in Northern California in February [foundations of expressive arts therapies], Denver Colorado in June [visual journaling in trauma intervention] and Anchorage Alaska BP Center [Trauma-Informed Expressive Arts Therapy Levels One and Two]. For these and other offerings and the online catalogue [for distance learning], people can check this page: http://www.trauma-informedpractice.com/online-live-courses/ or trauma-informedpractice.com [our home page]. And if you are attending the American Mental Health Counseling Association Annual Conference in July 2016 in New Orleans, I have been invited to provide a Keynote Workshop on trauma-informed expressive arts therapy—so I hope to see you there!

Cathy Malchiodi, PhD, LPAT, LPCC, ATR-BC, REAT, is a research psychologist, a Board Certified and Licensed Professional Art Therapist, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, Registered Expressive Arts Therapist, and has had over 30 years of experience and education in trauma intervention and disaster relief and integrative approaches to health. Cathy is the founder, director and lead faculty member of the Trauma-Informed Practices and Expressive Arts Therapy Institute, dedicated to teaching trauma-informed intervention that integrates neuro-development, somatic approaches, mindfulness, and positive psychology. In particular, it supports the use of creative arts therapies including art therapy, music therapy and movement therapy, play therapy, integrative expressive arts therapies, and mind-body approaches for recovery and wellness in children, adults and families. In a few short years, the Institute has trained over 5000 professionals around the US, Canada, Asia, Australia, Africa and Europe.

Cathy’s blog, Arts and Health at Psychology Today Online covers topics related to art therapy, expressive arts therapy, trauma, body-mind approaches, neuroscience and the arts, creativity, and integrative health practices and has a readership of over 3 million. Cathy is a recognized force in international education, program development and advocacy for trauma survivors and the accessibility of trauma-informed care. She lives in the decidedly weird city of Louisville, KY with husband Dr. David Barker and two feline supervisors, Zoolee and Finnegan.

You can find our selection of Cathy Malchiodi’s books here.