Staying Grounded and Centered while Practicing Art Therapy

So far my education at Southwestern College has been truly amazing.  The mission of the college “Transforming Consciousness Through Education” has resonated with my beliefs and values and the teachings have come easily for me.  But, learning about something and actually doing it can be very different.  It is common for me to imagine things to be easier than they actually turn out to be.  I was concerned that I was not being realistic about what being an Art Therapist might be like.  What if I don’t like being a therapist?  What if I am not good at it?

My biggest concern upon entering Practicum was that I might become swamped in other people’s stuff.  If I let myself take on other’s emotions, I would not be able to function the way I wanted to.  Would I be able to work with people and not bring their problems home with me and ruminate on them?  Would I obsess about how I could help?  Would I worry that I wasn’t doing enough?  I was raised Catholic and often imagine I am carrying a giant burlap sack of guilt upon by back.  Would working in the field of therapy just add to my burden?  I wondered if, deep in my veins, I might have a hidden quest to be a martyr that would be fed by being in this helping profession.

With this concern in mind, I formed a serious intention to stay centered and grounded and clear in my own light and connection to “source.”  “Source”, to me, is a concept of alignment and union with all things.  I am not alone.  I can access the strength of the universe through this conduit of energy.  I remind myself repeatedly that the client too has his or her own “source” and with confidence in my own, I honor theirs.

I made a powerful shift away from co-dependency this year.  It involved a long and complicated process of extracting myself from the emotional web of someone I love.  I created a vivid visual representation of a direct line of light that connects me to the universe.  My vision looks like a strong, powerful column of blue light.  A dramatic release from my co-dependency finally came when I understood, she too, had a solid blue light of her own, connecting her to whatever her greater source might be.  This time, I didn’t feel like I was selfishly abandoning her.  I wasn’t severing the connection between us, leaving her dangling.  I was stepping back into my own light and allowing her to have her own power and light.  Putting this into words is too simplistic.  But I want to stress how much my understanding my co-dependent nature has helped in my ability to do clean and effective work as a therapist.

In preparation for Practicum, we were told to decorate a candle to bring to our sessions.  I chose a tall blue glass candle holder and decorated it with white tissue, a white feather, ivory ribbon and a silver lead fishing weight I found on the Atlantic beach.  The blue columnar light represents my connection to “source.”  The feather stands for my willingness to travel far and wide and trust the mystery of the unknown.  And the fishing weight is my metaphor for remaining grounded and centered when I feel pulled away from my true self.

We have just completed our first phase of Practicum doing individual Art Therapy.  Next month we begin working with groups.  Allegra Borghese and I are going to lead a Women’s Creativity Group where we will explore issues like improving communication and lowering stress through creativity and mindfulness.  We look forward to helping people create a vision that better serves them.  I think that we sometimes, outside of awareness, get caught in patterns of behavior that are destructive or unwanted. Art making can be helpful in shifting perspective to see a way out and clarify what we really want out of life.Women'sATgroupfinalFRI

December 8, 2013 at 9:10 pm Leave a comment

Art As a Way to Make the Unreal More Real

Hawk Oil Painting Sometimes a concept flashing through my mind can be made clearer when I paint it. I grab the “thought” and infuse it with all the feeling and sensation that exists beyond words. I stir it around in the paint and lay it out on the canvas.

Here is an example of using my art to make something more real. After my dad died I had a dramatic experience of a beautiful hawk swooping down and landing on a branch in front of me.  I felt it in a deep, deep place that only the greatest grief has taken me. “Knowing” it was my dad, in some form, gave me great comfort.  Since then, hawks have come to symbolize his presence.  When a hawk sails overhead, or perches on a branch, I stop completely in the present magical moment, and let myself feel the powerful mystery of life and death.  I feel my dad’s love.

A hawk has been hanging around the Southwestern College campus this summer.  He is one of hundreds of Santa Fean hawks just looking for his next meal. Students debate whether it is a red-tailed or a Cooper’s and lots of people are certain it is one or the other.  But to me, it’s dad. You won’t find him in Sibley’s Guide to Birds. So I painted a picture.

The hawk’s presence reassures me that I am in the right place at the right time and this painting helps to ground the experience and make it more tangible.

What kind of hawk do you think it is?  Red-tailed, Coopers, or my dad Tuck?




24×30 Oil Painting


October 1, 2013 at 8:41 am Leave a comment

The Strange New Land of New Mexico

Innocent TarantulaSince moving here I have heard many wonderful stories of strange events happening in New Mexico, the “Land of Enchantment”. I haven’t seen an alien (yet) but the sense of the mythical and the magical is very much alive here. There seems to be a willingness to fall into graceful moments and enjoy the beauty of life. When people here describe some unusual encounter, like seeing ghosts or conversations with little green men, others just smile and nod. Curiosity comes before judgement. I appreciate that.

I don’t have anything remarkable to report, but many things are just… different. At first, the bands of wild horses lingering in our yard was shockingly strange, but it has now become quite common and beautiful. The raccoon eating our garbage the other night was not unusual, but seeing  the coon and a coyote sharing the bag at the same time was wild indeed!  I often stop and ask myself “Is this real’? Yesterday, we were watching a tarantula navigate the terrain near our back step, when we were interrupted by a sudden dark storm cloud that pelted us with rain and blew cushions from the patio chairs. By the time I rescued the cushions, the spider and the rain was gone and double rainbow appeared in the sky. It was nothing, but it was everything in that moment.

I sometimes feel like I am in a movie where the set changes are fast but seamless. And I don’t have to do a thing but sit back and smile.

Want to watch one minute of the Innocent Tarantula?

September 25, 2013 at 6:35 am Leave a comment

Understanding Myself through Paintings

When I paint, I rarely consciously plan anything.  The canvas comes out, a certain brush feels right and paint gets carefully mixed until it is the perfect color for loading my brush and smearing on the canvas. Very little analytical thinking is happening.  When painting is working for me, it flows easily. It feels like pure, raw, unadulterated soul. I have no sense of time or place. It just happens… like magic.

I usually go back later to reevaluate and rework some things. Sometimes a painting is done in one session, but often I restudy a piece for years. I try to make improvements and quite frequently, I drive the whole thing into the ground and ruin it.  But that’s okay.

I recently visited my ninety year old artist mother.  We painted together and I saw that now that she is less steady with a brush she preferred smudging the paint around with her fingers instead. self discovery

When I got home, I wanted to try that. I added sand to my oil paint for texture and then smooshed and smeared it around until I liked the composition. Then I went in with a scraping tool, a brush and finally oil pastel sticks.  The tactile experience was nearly as exciting as the visual one.

After I had a series of oil paintings that felt like a complete set, I studied the work to find its meaning. I  had no preconceived ideas about what these paintings would convey. I look for the messages afterwards. On different days, I see them different ways. Today, they mean this, to me.

Here is a 3 minute video of my paintings tracking the exploration of myself as peacekeeper and what parts of myself  I suppress in order to maintain peace.

August 18, 2013 at 9:51 pm Leave a comment

Looking Back: One Year After Major Life Transition

A year ago, I was  comfortable in my perfectly tailored house in North Carolina. I had a well appointed art studio, lush flower gardens, a wonderful collection of friends and  both kids in college nearby. Life was pretty idyllic. I had solid routines and a finely crafted ways of being. It was all good. In fact, it was great.  When the house was just as we wanted it, the kids were raised, my paintings hung in perfect rows, that felt complete. So then, I wanted to try something new. And why not?

I had been teaching art and had always been impressed by the transformative power of creative endeavors. I read a lot about Art Therapy and became more and more intrigued by the idea of “creating”  as a way of opening up to something beyond ourselves. While investigating (googling) art as therapy I came upon this Masters program at Southwestern College in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
I love the desert.  The mountains and sky are amazingly beautiful and I felt connected to this magical  land. But could I really live there?  I remember reading about the school and their mission of “transforming consciousness through education”. It sounded so perfectly suited to me that it seemed unreal.  I remember standing up and  walking away from my computer screen and then coming back to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. This golden opportunity to expand my world existed!
But wait!   If we moved, we would have to leave our children on the other side of the country! Would Rog  (my husband) go along with this? What about giving up  our ultra customized house with the art studio for me and the music studio or him? What aboutall of our friends?  What about our students? What about our comfortable existence?

We decided to try it. Everything happened fast. The ducks all lined up perfectly and here we are living in New Mexico!

I am sitting here tonight, looking out my window at the starry New Mexican sky, wondering where the new moon is and listening to the coyotes howl. Deep sigh. The greatest gift I have gotten from my first year at school is knowing I can trust this solid feeling that I am in the right place, at the right time. And this is enough.  I am enough.

August 7, 2013 at 6:23 am Leave a comment

Perception, Pattern, Illusion, Art by Kaia Nao

My brother is a physicist, a painter and an optical illusionist. Although we were born with the same parents, in the same place, less than a year apart, Joe and I have very different personalities. He understands analytical thinking in complicated ways that I don’t even try to comprehend. While he is focusing on the logical way the world works, I am tuning into the interpersonal interactions that tell me about the vibe in the room. I grew up thinking that concrete thinking was “smart” and that being sensitive to feelings was he opposite of that. . Maybe I never developed the scientific thinking part of myself because Joe had that covered. I was busy being the full time emotion processor.  Families can be that way, where the mobile of personalities can only balance so much of one type. Thinking about myself in the context of my family of origin, offers all kinds of explanations for the ways I have come to navigate the world. I’ve always just done what worked and it goes so far beyond lil ole me.

In the Psych world, were it is hard to nail anything down, I appreciate optical illusions where what seems illogical always has an underlying logic. Check out Joe’s Perception, Pattern, Illusion
Often beautiful, sometimes mind-boggling, occasionally disturbing, always original – the graphic art of Kaia Nao.

by Kaia Nao

by Kaia Nao

July 28, 2013 at 5:25 pm Leave a comment

Mandala Making

Personal Mandala Watercolor by Amy Hautman Bates

Personal Mandala Watercolor by Amy Hautman Bates

The Mandala is a symbol of wholeness. And within that oneness, there is a wonderful kaleidoscope of experiences and expressions. Every moment, is new as everything sparkles and changes and as each facet moves, everything around it shifts in response.  It is a beautiful dance of creative energy all within a unified circle. In Robert Waterman’s Archetypal Psychology class at Southwestern College, we created mandalas as a way to gain deeper insight into our true nature. Through the process, using patterns and colors, shapes and lines, my inner dimensions were revealed. Letting go of my attachment to the things that define me is an important step right now.  It is in stripping away the masks I am comfortable in, that will allow my authentic self to come through.  So after redrawing and reorganizing many different mandala pieces, in the end, (which is really only the beginning) I began to pare away the unnecessary parts and get rid of the decorative components. This course was short, in earth hours, but a long journey in terms of places traveled.

Allowing my true character to shine through was the underlying “goal” of this journey for me. Embracing the complete totality of who I was, who I am, and who I will be, and allowing it all to show up, was what I wanted.  Oddly enough, that acceptance of my complete self comes not from getting anything, but from letting my critical self, step aside so that my true loving nature could be felt.  I wanted to connect to the parts of myself that I may have abandoned at some point along the way, and embrace everything with gratitude and appreciation.

I will continue to visit the mandala as a method for maintaining my inner alignment with self.  Rather than shut down my compulsive voices, I will trust my obsessions for the important guidance they might offer. I will sit quietly in gratitude and listen for the wisdom the universe is holding for me.  When I am ready, I have access.  The portals are around me.  I will remain open to the mystery school, my inner path, my imagination, my dreams, my cohorts, the universe and its great and mysterious gifts right here, available to me.

In this mandala on a grid of brilliant stars, the beautiful center lotus flower unfolds as the universal core of all that is; the teal door is always open; the prominent white bird symbolizes my connection to the mystical and all that exists beyond my bodily self; and the reptiles represent all of the fears I have learned, and the empowering effect of the lessons they have given me.  These are all every changing elements I am watching as I experience myself more fully, more honestly and more completely in this beautiful dance of life.

June 21, 2013 at 12:04 am Leave a comment

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AUTHOR Amy Hautman Bates M.A, LPCC, ATR-BC

After being a professional painter for 30 years, I broadened by scope from making art for personal edification to using art to promote health and healing in the world. I work as an Art Therapist with children and families in Santa Fe, New Mexico, witnessing  them tap into their creative energy to gain greater emotional stability, resiliency and peace.

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