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Scribble Artist Interview with Amanda Seyderhelm!

Scribble Town (ST): We are so happy that Amanda Seyderhelm is here with us today!  Amanda Seyderhelm is the author of two books, and the creator of Helping Children Smile Again, http://www.helpingchildrensmileagain.com.

Alltherage. copyright Amanda Seyderhelm.

Alltherage. Copyright Amanda Seyderhelm.

Amanda Seyderhelm (AS): Hi! I use play and the creative art therapies to help children aged 5-10 yrs find their voice, rebuild their attachment, and increase their emotional resilience following trauma (loss and bereavement, parents divorcing, parents who are ill, and bullying.)

ST: Wow! You do so much for the community through the arts and play therapy! Where are you all located and what are you up to these days?

AS: I live and work in the UK, in the smallest historic county called Rutland. At the centre of Rutland is the large artificial reservoir, Rutland Water, which is an important nature reserve for Ospreys. I moved here 3 years ago from London to be in the country.  I am studying part-time for my Masters in Practice-Based Play Therapy, while building my private practice. I specialise in loss and bereavement, and work with children aged 5-10 yrs of age on a one-to-one basis, and in small groups, in Schools and Hospitals. I write children’s books, and lecture and train practitioners, family care workers, social workers, teachers, teaching assistants and parents, on the role of therapeutic storytelling in building a child’s emotional resilience. Within this teaching, is the lesson for adults to recover their own lost inner-child, so my teaching style is integrated and holistic. Contented parents create contented children!

ST: How did you come up with the idea for your book, “Isaac and the Red Jumper”?

Isaac and the Red Jumper by Amanda Seyderhelm

Isaac and the Red Jumper by Amanda Seyderhelm

AS: The idea originally came to me in 2001, the year before I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Looking back, I see that the idea was a premonition of some of the issues I would face myself regarding my own mortality and healing, and of my 2nd career as a Play Therapist and therapeutic storyteller. I woke up one morning with the story in my head, and wrote it down. I edited it over the years when I realised that children process loss and bereavement differently from adults. Using a therapeutic story gives bereaved children a non-confrontational way to access their feelings and grief by identifying with the character in the story.  Parents learn to develop empathy with their child when they read the book with their child, and use the questions at the back of the book. The questions provide openings and prompts for those conversations that are so important, but often difficult to begin. Before my Mother died in 2012, I published and dedicated the book to her. I donate 10% of the book’s proceeds to TreeTops Hospice who cared for my Mother at home. http://www.treetopshospice.org.uk

ST: What exactly does it mean to be an Art Therapist and Play Therapist for children and families.  I’m so curious about your methods.

Art Therapy in action. Copyright Amanda Seyderhelm

Art Therapy in action. Copyright Amanda Seyderhelm.

AS: During my cancer journey, I was introduced to art therapy, and was taught by three gifted art therapists. Regular practice introduced me to the idea that when words cannot be found, images will tell the story. Painting bypasses the critical left brain, and taps directly into our creative, intuitive right brain, so we can enjoy a direct connection with our true voice, and develop our soul’s narrative. I have continued to paint, experiment and develop my art practice, and teach expressive art workshops, sometimes adapting these for children with special learning needs. It’s interesting that the children in my practice are all drawn to painting, and over the course of the 12 weeks that I work with them, they reveal their emotional faces through their paintings. Sometimes they start by making abstract marks on the paper, and gradually move towards a clearer and more defined image, which reflects their renewed clarity and emotional definition.

Play Therapy is a form of counseling or psychotherapy that uses play to communicate with and help children, to prevent or resolve psychosocial challenges. This is thought to help them towards better social integration, growth and development. In my one-to-one work I practice non-directed Play Therapy, which is a child-centred approach, founded by Virginia Axline. The child is free to choose any toy in my Play Therapy toolkit, which includes sand tray, therapeutic storytelling, music, drama and movement, painting and drawing, puppets, masks and clay, and through these express their feelings, and find new ways of coping, and building internal resources, and emotional resilience.

During my group play therapy work, I choose a theme for each group, and create a directed set of exercises for the group to complete, that involves them using some elements of the Play Therapy Kit. At the heart of all group work is the notion of the journey each child will take to reach the goal. Group work is particularly useful for helping children gain confidence and social skills.

Collaboration 2. Copyright Amanda Seyderhelm

This collaboration shows how Amanda’s art process has been adapted for working with special needs children. Copyright Amanda Seyderhelm.

At the centre of all my non-directed and directed work is the intention of building a strong attachment with the child. When this is established, the child will show me their inner world, and together we play, and they begin to recover their creativity, vitality and integrity, so they can learn to:

accept themselves

respect boundaries

understand their feelings

express their emotions safely

be responsible for their actions

be creative in confronting problems

establish self-control and self-direction.

ST: How did you get involved with play therapy?  I wonder what your path has been like.  Your artistic nature probably lends to this practice really well.

Cradling. Copyright Amanda Seyderhelm

Cradling. Copyright Amanda Seyderhelm.

AS: When I was 16, I read Virginia Axline’s classic book, DIBS: in search of self, about an emotionally damaged little boy, whose parents and school teachers believed was mentally damaged because he refused to interact, and conform socially. Over the course of 18 months, DIBS had weekly Play Therapy sessions with Axline, and was transformed into a talkative, engaging, and socially adept child. The book made a huge impact on me, so much so that I stayed up all night reading it! So, I always knew that at some point I wanted to practice as a Play Therapist, and my first career in Publishing set me up well because through that I have developed my interest in storytelling. The other book I read which influenced me was The Drama of Being a Child by Alice Miller. Miller challenges conventional child rearing and education, and shows how many children have adapted to the needs and ambitions of their parents, and essentially lost the capacity to express their true feelings. This struck a chord with me, and since then I have been on a mission to help children and adults recover that lost connection with themselves.

ST: You have found your calling! Was there somebody that encouraged you to become a therapist?  Your creativity shows through in your books and I’m sure at school and in sessions!

AS: My personal therapeutic work revealed my path, and various teachers and colleagues have highlighted this as well. Some would say it is an obvious choice for me, as I am deeply curious about how people connect to themselves and others, and sustain themselves creatively. My early life in South Africa has influenced me deeply because of the level of trauma I witnessed children and families experiencing during the apartheid regime. Like most therapists, I have a need to encourage healing and transform suffering, and I believe through play and the creative arts I am able to make a contribution to that.

Conception. Copyright Amanda Seyderhelm

Conception. Copyright Amanda Seyderhelm.

ST: What was your favorite toy or game as a child?  Why?

AS: Storytelling and drama! I am an only child, and was always creating and directing plays at school! I also had invisible friends, something which is common with only children, and this gave me access to a vivid and creative imagination.

ST: Your brain is probably a library of art techniques!  Is there one that you particularly like to use?

AS: I am fond of using the no brush technique to create images that look abstract, but which contain patterns and clues that expand one’s consciousness. The process allows images to emerge, and like meditation, enables the artist to shift from trying to be creative, to simply being creative. Painting in this state, creates paintings which are often surprising, and yet also a reflection of the possibility within our own emotional and spiritual nature. Using this technique I will paint up to 30 small paintings at one sitting. I then choose one or two paintings, and stand these on my bookshelves where I can see them. Over time, the paintings will reveal ideas and clues that unlock a problem or question I have, and I find this therapeutic and inspiring.

ST: Any last tips on creativity?  Any advice on how one can express themselves or develop their ideas is appreciated.

Cromford3:6. Copyright Amanda Seyderhelm

Cromford3:6. Copyright Amanda Seyderhelm.

AS: Here are my recommendations for nurturing your creative process:

I believe that if we nurture our intuition and body wisdom, we are rewarded with insights that automatically guide us, which enables us to reduce our dependence on external approval. One of my most insightful moments came after a period of deep meditation. My daily sitting practice enabled me not only listen to, but also hear what my body was telling me. In this case, the message was to have surgery. That surgery saved my life.

Noise pollution, stress, and general life busyness keep us from being able to listen to our inner voice, but what if your life depended on you listening more? What if everything you needed to know was available, if you could only learn to listen?

So what can we do to turn the volume down, so we can hear our intuitive voice?

Meditation works for some people, but it doesn’t work for everyone. I have friends who can’t meditate, and who have found other ways of ‘tuning in’, like gardening, or pottering as one friend calls it! It really is about finding the way that works for you. Don’t beat yourself up if meditation isn’t your thing.

Walking is a great way of getting into your physical body, and switching your analytical mind off. The act of moving forwards tells your brain to settle down, and allows you to pay attention to your surroundings. Pretty soon, you are hearing the birdsong, the traffic, dogs barking, your feet crunching on leaves. It won’t be long before your mind track changes away from, ‘must get back and do that email’ to, ‘I wonder what would happen if …’ I’ve solved some of my biggest challenges by walking, and been rewarded with some inspirational ideas simply because I’ve given myself permission to listen differently. Try 30 minutes every day.

Heartsore. Copyright Amanda Seyderhelm.

Heartsore. Copyright Amanda Seyderhelm.

Write your questions down. I have a jam jar on my desk that contains strips of coloured card. Next to it is another jar full of my favourite coloured pens. Before I close my office each day, I write my question on a card strip and paste it onto my cork board, or stick it into my Creative Notebook. This act triggers my sub-conscious to start processing the answer. I then let go of needing to know because I trust that the answer will pop into my head, I don’t need to chase it around my mind.

Eat mindfully. Slowly. One bite at a time.

Inspire yourself.Take yourself out on what Julia Cameron calls an Artist Date. This can be anything from seeing a movie during the day, visiting an art gallery, and going rollerskating! The only rule is you must go alone on your date. Dates top up your creative tank, so you aren’t living on empty.

Then wait for the insights. They will come, just be ready to catch them….

ST: As Amanda already mentioned 10% of her book proceeds go to TreeTops Hospice. She also donates 10% of her memoir book, Coming to My Senses: Finding My Voice Through Ovarian Cancer, proceeds to Ovarian Cancer Action Charity. Thank you Amanda for sharing all your wisdom and kindness!

Ode to my Mother. Copyright Amanda Seyderhelm.

Ode to my Mother. Copyright Amanda Seyderhelm.

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