Feb 8, 2016
Marion MacDonald

Art Therapy: Challenging the Inner Critic

Rachel Nelson

Rachel Nelson

There’s a great little coffee shop just around the corner from Mirasol’s business office. I stopped in last week for my usual pre-meeting cappuccino and was admiring the latest art exhibit when I suddenly realized it was the work of Mirasol’s own Rachel Nelson!

Rachel is an art therapist at Mirasol, and her artwork is on display through the month of February at Tucson Coffee Roasters at the corner of Camp Lowell and Swan in Tucson.

Of course we all know Rachel is an artist, but for many of us, it was the first time we had seen any of her work.

“I have the intention of putting my artwork out there more,” Rachel confesses, “but it’s challenging because exhibiting is really exposing yourself.”

Some of the paintings are the result of Rachel’s own personal trauma work.

“They were created during a period when I was definitely in an emotional state where I needed to just go through it rather than avoid it, so I let myself do that by painting.”

The exhibition at Tucson Coffee Roasters includes work created by Rachel over the last two years. She especially likes working in encaustic, a molten wax-based paint composed of beeswax, resin and pigment which is applied to an absorbent surface and then reheated in order to fuse the paint.

“I feel like it’s a powerful process because it’s hard to control. You have to become adept at knowing how the element of temperature factors in, which to me is an intuitive practice. You have to become one with the wax and not fight it.”

The layers of paint are polished, carved and sculpted to achieve richly textured surfaces.

“Working with encaustic has helped me challenge my perfectionist tendencies,” says Rachel. “I used to be so critical that I wouldn’t let myself create art. It took me years to learn to put that aside, to let go and to not care about the outcome. I think every single one of our clients has that same critical inner voice. So I challenge them to create art that is more abstract and less representational, because when the goal of art is realism, the perfectionist voice just gets louder and louder. If you can let the art be about your emotions, and not about the end product, that’s when I see breakthroughs with clients. When they just let go, they start to enjoy it, and they can really do things with it.”

“It’s so important for me to continue to do my own art while also doing my work as an art therapist, because the two inform each other and help me understand what the clients are going through. They go hand-in-hand.”

Rachel Nelson - The Hawk

“The Hawk” – Encaustic Bas Relief on Wood Panel by Rachel Nelson
Rachel Nelson Art Panorama

Rachel Nelson - Release

“Release” – Acrylic on Canvas by Rachel Nelson

You can see more of Rachel’s art on Facebook at RachelNelsonArt or on Instagram at Sliverofspace.

Feb 8, 2016

Men Experience Eating Disorders Too!

By Katie Klein, Clinical Director, Mirasol PHP and IOP

Men get eating disorders too!“Eating disorders are a girl’s disease.” Those words came directly from one of the male clients who admitted to Mirasol. He was starving himself and binging and purging on a daily basis in an effort to look like the men he saw in magazines. He was full of shame and self-loathing, especially for being a guy with an eating disorder. People around him exhibited a lack of understanding about the prevalence of eating disorders in boys and men, contributing to this young man’s suffering in silence.

The truth is that while 20 million women experience eating disorders, 10 million males do as well. Men have been stigmatized in recent years for coming forward, and others may be unaware that they have an eating disorder. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, the most widely-quoted study estimates that males have a lifetime prevalence of .3% for anorexia nervosa (AN), .5% for bulimia nervosa (BN) and 2% for binge eating disorder (BED). These figures correspond to males representing 25% of individuals with AN and BN and 36% of those with BED. They are based on DSM-IV criteria (Hudson, 2007).

Men are often under-diagnosed by professionals, and keep their eating disorders a secret in fear of being characterized as “feminine” or “gay”. At Mirasol, we see both boys and men engaging in eating disordered behaviors for various reasons, including the need to maintain a certain weight or physique for athletics, as well as wanting to achieve the lean, muscular, male “ideal”. In some of these cases, they start out only wanting to “get fit” or start eating “healthier”, and the behaviors turn into obsessions. In other cases, male clients have developed an eating disorder as a coping mechanism for the stressors they are experiencing in their lives.

In reality, eating disorders do not discriminate, and affect males and females of every race and socio-economic background. It is vital to increase awareness and de-stigmatization of eating disorders, in an effort to help more males come forward and seek treatment.

Mirasol offers comprehensive, gender-sensitive, holistic treatment for eating disorders for adult males ages 18 and up at the Adult PHP and IOP levels, and boys ages 12-17 in our Residential Adolescent program.

Jan 27, 2016
Marion MacDonald

Jenn’s Story: Learning to Put Recovery First

Download Audio: M4A

RECOVERY FIRSTIn 2012, a series of traumatic losses turned Jenn Ryan-Jauregui’s life upside down. Suffering from anorexia and PTSD, she sought treatment at an eating disorder program in Oregon, where she was living at the time.

“I was in a couple of PHP programs there, and also one stint in a residential program,” she recalls. “My husband and I moved here, to Tucson, in April of 2014, because we wanted to be closer to his family and some of my family, and by the time I got here I was already really back into my eating disorder.”

Two weeks later she was admitted to Mirasol’s adult residential program.

It’s Not Just About the Food

“The other programs were helpful in terms of where I was at in my recovery at the time,” Jenn says, “but this program was more helpful because of the body work component and a more individualized treatment plan. I think the thing that helped me the most was being able to work through the trauma through EMDR, and also starting to find ways to be more comfortable in my body. The program I was in before focused so much on how to have a healthier relationship with food, but not with your body. It was amazing that TRE — the trauma releasing exercises — was as helpful as it was, because it was really hard for me to do. I would dissociate completely during the sessions, but staff was very supportive and good at getting me through that part of it.”

Insurance Pulls the Plug

Unfortunately, as so often happens with eating disorder treatment, Jenn’s insurance company pulled the plug as soon as her health began to improve.

“I was only in residential for three weeks, I got stepped down prematurely, I ended up going to PHP and I wasn’t ready for it. My therapist fought and dug her heels in, and they let me go back to residential, but only for another three weeks.”

“When they stepped me down the first time, I was so baffled! I wasn’t thrilled about getting stepped down to PHP the second time, either, but I made the best of it, and I felt like I had a lot of extra support from the staff at Mirasol, and that got me through.”

“I was in PHP from the end of June until the beginning of September, and in IOP until the beginning of December. But when I was in IOP, Mirasol continued to allow me to receive EMDR. Since I was allowed to receive some kind of treatment for seven months, I built up a lot of skills. And I made sure I had a really strong treatment team coming out.”

I think what made the difference this time is that I finally learned how to put my recovery first …. I have learned to recognize what I need for myself at any given moment and to honor that, and not care what other people think.”

“I’ve been at recovered weight now for 18 months. I think what made the difference this time is that I finally learned how to put my recovery first. I ran into a lot of barriers. My family was upset that I was going back into treatment. They didn’t know how to handle it, and I felt really abandoned. So now I have much stronger boundaries. I have learned to recognize what I need for myself at any given moment and to honor that, and not care what other people think. If I think something is going to be overwhelming, I say ‘no’, and I do whatever I need to do to stay healthy.”

Jenn also made careful choices when it was time to go back to work.

“I knew when I went back to work that I wanted to do something related to non-profits or higher education. But I was also very mindful that the amount of stress I was under in my last position, when I was working full-time, was not healthy for me, and it helped contribute to my eating disorder.”

With a strong technical background, Jenn was offered a full-time job as a business analyst, but she convinced her employer to let her work 30 hours a week.

Jenn’s advice for someone who is struggling to recover from an eating disorder?

“Don’t give up!”

“I felt like Mirasol was my last shot. I had been in and out of treatment at that point for a year-and-a-half before I got there, and I would immediately relapse every time I got out. I never had even a few weeks of solid recovery. So I would just say ‘don’t give up, give yourself another chance.'”

“I feel like I’m really blessed that I had the opportunity to go to Mirasol. It’s a really supportive environment. All the staff are really compassionate and invested in your well-being, and there to help, and they treat you as an individual, and that means a lot.”

“I never thought [life] could be this good. My biggest thing for a long time was that I didn’t feel like I had a reason to go on living. But now I have found other reasons, including poetry.”

Jenn started writing poetry — mostly mico-poetry and Haiku — in PHP, and is now very involved in a community of poets on Twitter.

“They have a whole community of poets, I follow them, they follow me, and we inspire each other. I write poetry every day. Some of it is recovery-focused, and some of it is just fun stuff.”

“I feel like I’m really blessed that I had the opportunity to go to Mirasol. It’s a really supportive environment. All the staff are really compassionate and invested in your well-being, and there to help, and they treat you as an individual, and that means a lot.”

You can find Jenn’s poetry on Twitter at twitter.com/jennfel. Here are a few samples:

Desperate, alone
Staged her own intervention
Showed up for herself

No longer imprisoned
In a cage made of sharp bones
Curves become her saving grace
Path to liberation

Jan 23, 2016
Marion MacDonald

“Reflections:” A Powerful Tool for Healing Relationships, Developing Personal Responsibility, and Moving Forward in Recovery

“People who continue to do their work, stay out of their behaviors and stay in recovery do ultimately get to a place of freedom. And that’s really the goal, it’s about freedom. But if you’re going to be free, you have to be responsible for your reality.”

That’s how Mirasol Executive Director Diane Ryan introduces a staff workshop on “Reflections”, a form designed to help clients analyze their reactions to triggering events, so that they can make choices about how they respond.

“We developed this form several years ago to facilitate communication at Mirasol’s family program,” says Ryan, “and since then it has expanded to become one of the primary tools that we use here at Mirasol.”

The form begins by inviting the subject to describe a neutral event and explore their reaction to the event, including how they experience it in their bodies. Gradually, they examine the narrative they attach to the event based on their core beliefs, and the cycle of self-destructive behaviors that can result from that narrative.

Mirasol Primary Therapist Katie Klein provides a concrete example:

“Suppose when you walked in the door this morning, you didn’t say ‘hello’ to me. Based on my perception of that event, I might conclude you’re mad at me. That’s just my perception, but I’m adding meaning to it. So where do I feel that in my body? I feel tightness in my chest, because I think, ‘you don’t like me, probably because I’m not worthy of being liked’. And that makes me feel hopeless. So I might isolate or act out in an eating disorder, or use drugs. This is what happens a lot with eating disorder clients.”

Ryan says the “Reflections” form is the philosophical foundation of the work that we do at Mirasol.

“One of our core values is to encourage our clients to take responsibility for their thoughts, for their feelings, for their actions, for the decisions that they make, for their lives, and for their recovery.”

Some Mirasol staff members actually keep copies of the form in their notebooks.

“If you use them regularly,” says Klein, “you will definitely see a pattern. It all comes back to your core beliefs.”

Mirasol Staff Workshop on Using the “Reflections” Form — January 22, 2016

The “Reflections” Form

The only thing we can truly know is ourselves, and yet we all have to interact with others to discover who we are.

“I would like to share some thoughts and feelings with you. I understand that these are my perceptions and mine alone, and that you may see things differently.”

“Certain events, circumstances and situations create strong emotional reactions within me (“triggers”). For example …”

“In my body, I experience this as …”

“Then, I think …”

“Because I believe …”

“This causes me to feel …”

“And as a result I …”

“Which creates impacts on my life and my relationships in these ways …”

“I can see that this reminds me of other situations and events in my life, such as …”

“As I focus on you and the event, I can see the reflections of myself in you in this way …”

“In my desire for recovery and improved connections to myself and others, in the future I will …”

“I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to share my perceptions with you and to learn more about myself. I love and respect you just the way you are.”

© 2016 Mirasol Eating Disorder Recovery Centers

Dec 16, 2015

The Best Present: The Neurobiology of Giving

giving back

As it turns out, what every six-year-old knows about the holidays turns out to be true: when it comes to the meaning of Christmas, it IS all about the presents. Or, at least about the giving. Numerous longitudinal studies provide compelling evidence that acts of giving, kindness and generosity improve physical and emotional health across the lifespan. Volunteering stimulates a release of oxytocin, producing feelings of well-being, warmth, and even euphoria. The effect of volunteering on cortisol levels decreases stress, with its well-documented relationship to health.

Steven Root, in his book “Why Good things Happen to Good People,” reports that — controlling for other lifestyle factors — older individuals who volunteer an average of four hours a week experience a 44% reduction in mortality. Similar results have been reported for individuals with chronic pain and chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and multiple sclerosis.

Giving is also a gift that keeps on giving. Watching a video of Mother Theresa and orphans in Calcutta stimulates similar impulses to give and to be kind. The act of observing others volunteering appears to have a contagious effect, perhaps inspiring others to act through the agency of mirror neurons.

Interestingly, this effect does not follow a straight line. It is not true that the more giving, the greater the effect. Too much giving, like too much of most things, has a negative effect, throwing the individual’s system out of balance.

For this holiday season, give yourself the gift of giving. Focus on others — family, friends, coworkers, strangers. Giving to a cause that moves you is an invitation to expand your joy and increase your feeling of belonging to those around you. For those in recovery, the mindfulness and connection these opportunities provide are precious gifts, not just for the holidays but for a lifetime.