How Flagstaff Mental Health Professionals Work in Their Difficult Work
SIERRA FERGUSON Sun Staff Reporter
On the wall of Rainbow’s End in downtown Flagstaff, above a row of felt hats and between sets of sweaters, are 13 diverse works of art. At first glance, they might not seem connected.
A black cat is photographed on a bright red field. Above the walk-in closet is a pastel painting of a barn quilt block, interrupted by the silhouette of a crow on a square canvas. Rays of light shoot out from behind a mountain peak in a pencil drawing – rendered as a graphic by a black pointer on a white background. Behind a stack of sweaters is a piece of pottery, and above the register sits an orange person with a mushroom hat head surrounded by tiny white flowers.
What binds the pieces together is their purpose – not for the viewers, but for the performers.
Rainbow’s End features work created by mental health professionals in Flagstaff. Counselors and social service providers, who care for the mental and emotional needs of others, need ways to deal with the pressure themselves.
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The show is the “brainchild” of Sirene-Rose Lipschutz, clinical crisis manager at Terros Health.
She has two children, is currently studying for her doctorate, and is responsible for two crisis response centers in Flagstaff.
“I couldn’t do it without going home at night and painting or sculpting,” Lipschutz said. “For me personally, I do a lot of art, all the time to feel better. I get involved in all kinds of things and get into this stuff that really makes me feel good. Ninety-nine percent of what I do is not related to sanity or anything specific. I paint flowers and make little mythical creatures out of clay. Fun and light things. I use a lot of colors.
The art exhibit celebrates the coping strategies of people who often work behind closed doors or in the background of a world made more severe and challenging by COVID-19.
“In COVID, you are in a state of persistent flux. A state of not knowing. It’s not sustainable for the human brain,” she explained. “We had to continue in this state. Some people have the tools they need and the coping skills to pull through, but even some of the most resilient and courageous people have crumbled, at least sometimes. We’ve all hit rock bottom at least temporarily during COVID. So much research has come out of the pandemic on burnout.
Lipschutz began noticing that Terros was increasingly being asked to provide support to mental health professionals during the pandemic – tackling burnout.
“Suddenly I’m in a session with my own therapist and I felt the need to ask her how she was doing. It’s not very common to be able to ask your therapist that and have her say, ‘I’m struggling. she said. She also explained that the authenticity needed for a counselor or therapist to talk about their own struggles is vital.
Personal care and artistic practices are essential to maintaining some of this authenticity.
“If I want to show myself, I have to take care of myself. I believe mental health work needs authenticity and the people doing the work need to be themselves,” said Deidre Hayes, licensed professional counselor at Flagstaff Counseling Center. “If I don’t have my balance, I’m going to collapse. Self-care is essential.
Hayes always turned to jobs where she could help others, from career work at the guidance center and child and family support services, to previous work as a child care worker. disabled. In these roles, Hayes faced trauma and had to deal with listening to and supporting people during their darkest hours – day to day.
“I had a depression at one point because I didn’t take care of myself. I collapsed on the floor and thought, ‘Nothing is working!’ said Hayes. “It’s an everyday thing to say, ‘What am I doing today that’s going to feed my soul, release the tension in my body, give my brain a rest?'”
Now she paints. She sculpts. Most often, Hayes writes poetry. Regardless of the medium, she says art has become a way for her to add variety and relaxation to her life.
“For me with COVID, sometimes it was just the lack of novelty, for at least two years of our lives. It wasn’t that my client’s business was too big for me, or that my business was too big for me, it was just that I heard it eight hours a day, and then I felt it 24 hours a day,” Hayes said. “Sometimes when we’re in burnout it’s because we’re going through something similar and it’s just too overwhelming and we don’t have anything different to turn to. Art can be that thing. Another kind of meditation, another kind of exercise. All new to the brain. I think art is one of the easiest ways to do that, because there are so many mediums.
Hayes found that the art offered enough benefits in her personal life that she introduced it into her professional practice.
“I have tattoo pens, so when people are a little on edge [in a counseling session] I’m like, ‘Hey, do you want to write about yourself and we can do therapy like that, or do you want to color?’ I use it in my practice. I use it in my personal life, and it’s a way out of that redundancy,” Hayes said.
Despite the role of art in her life, Hayes never considered herself an artist. So far.
“Now, technically, I’ve shown my art,” she said. “I don’t think I ever called myself an artist, but I feel like I can now! Maybe it’s like a new piece of my identity.
For Lipschutz, celebrating mental health workers as artists and creators was one of the key points of the show.
“A lot of the focus is on our client, and it should be,” said Lipschutz, who also explained that art often ends up in the “security plans” Terros develops with its clients. to help them get through a crisis. “We need to focus on our customers, but the way to do that is to take care of ourselves. That’s the goal here, to honor our caregivers, to honor the people who are trying to hold us back, while having to stand up.
As she put pieces together, she reached out to her network and distributed flyers to colleagues at several organizations and facilities.
She was surprised to discover how many people, like her and Hayes, have used creativity to cope with and heal from vicarious trauma.
“We have juvenile detention reps, and I’ve worked with her before and she’s an amazing performer. She has a piece of pottery. I’ve found that people I’ve worked with for years or see and meet are using art,” Lipschutz said.
Even one of Terros’ interns from Northern Arizona University’s Master of Social Work program turned out to be an artist. Kersti Taha responded to calls with the CARE unit and the Terros Mobile Response Team. Sometimes she rides a bike or goes for a hike to decompress after helping a client through a crisis. Other times, she puts on headphones and grabs a pencil.
“Something about it is so soothing to me and soothing. Seriously, when I put on my headphones and draw, I don’t think of anything. I don’t think about the calls I received, or at school, or anything in my life. I just create and it’s a very therapeutic experience for me,” Taha said.
During the artistic walk on the first Friday of October, at the opening of the fair, a passer-by asked if Taha’s drawing was for sale. His piece, the one with the mountain crowned by beaming light in pencil and felt-tip pen, also became a point of pride.
“I just think it’s really cool. One of the most fun things about First Friday was getting text messages from people whose art is up asking, “What time is First Friday?”. Just knowing that they are proud that their parts are here; wanting to come and bring their friends,” Lipschutz said. “I just want it to be visible. Much of what we do happens behind closed doors and the focus is not as much on caregivers. I just wanted to bring visibility to community members who really support the community – through this little glimpse into their minds and their world.”
Another element of this visibility is awareness.
Hayes said: “I think it’s just a really ingenious way to advocate for mental health. Because people think of therapy or mental health as, “That’s how I feel,” right? Being able to advocate for sanity in a way that feels like, “Yeah, I painted tonight.” It’s really relevant.
The Mental Health Caregiver Art Exhibit organized by Terros and Rainbow’s End will be in place for the remainder of October.
Sierra Ferguson can be reached at [email protected].