Art of Emotional Healing

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Finnick Odair once said, “It takes 10 times as long to put yourself together as it does to fall apart” (Odair, Hunger Games 2015).

When I think back to the very beginning of when the healing began for me, it became as clear as an abstract painting created with ALL THE COLORS—so it basically turns to brown 😊

Each person’s trauma recovery is as unique as their trauma experience there truly is no one-size-fits-all model or a special button to push that automatically resets each person so that their trauma goes away. In a way, it looks a lot like the process of a beautiful painting, starting with individual brush strokes, colors, and carefully placed blobs. Slowly, the painting begins to take shape and we blend, and we’re blending, and we’re blending…. (click here for stellar Bob Ross magic)

To think about my trauma as a beautiful journey that will eventually transform into a vibrant and glorious landscape reframes the experience for me and creates a new sense of hope and purpose. I began to enjoy the experience just as much as the satisfaction of creating something beautiful. And how do I do this? What are some steps? Just like anything (writing, painting, developing a presentation or training, developing a strategic plan or memorandum of understanding), it takes careful planning, breaking down the elements into a workable, measurable plan. It takes personal initiative to gather the equipment and resources for yourself, to identify your goals, and to work the plan as you wrote it.  It also takes self-care to sustain the journey and a fair amount of celebration when that journey reaches a checkpoint. Let’s move through the list, shall we?

EQUIPMENT: Gathering knowledge and preparing to paint.

First, we need our supplies. We need the paint brushes, pallet knives, paint, canvass, easel (if that’s you’re thing), water, and brush towels. I am one of those people who likes to do my set up before jumping into anything I do, including my recovery. I like to know what I am getting into, who I am talking to, and what resources are available for people with my trauma background. In order for me to do that, I need to identify my presenting problem, or the overarching goal I want to achieve. This may require some self-exploration.

Much of the process of equipping oneself might look like a self-exploration of your personal emotions you are experiencing. You will need to identify what they are, how they are impacting your daily functioning and your ability to heal. A helpful way to gather some of this data is to map it out. Through the help of my therapist and my classes at Washburn, I’ve developed a helpful tool you can use to map out emotions.

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During any therapeutic process, you learn about yourself and gather data that will pave the way toward whatever direction your healing journey takes you. Individual Therapy, Group Therapy, EMDR, Brain Mapping, Art Therapy, Yoga, Spiritual Guidance, Animal Therapy, and good old-fashioned working out entered my repertoire of healing, and they each required a certain level of self-exploration and learning about myself. With this information, we can now begin mapping out our painting.

MAKING THE PLAN and WORKING THE PLAN

I am a case manager by trade, so much of what I do ends up looking a lot like a case plan. Creating a case plan for yourself can break up the healing journey into a much less abstract concept and create measurable goals and steps. I find myself doing this for myself and my personal goals almost as often as I create case plans for my clients. I used a strengths-based approach so that I can remember that I am awesome as I am struggling to create purpose for myself. I call my approach the Individual Growth Plan. This is when the painting starts to develop some structure and you begin to get a flicker of excitement because that end goal is faintly in sight.

For your Individual Growth Plan, you’ll want to create at least one goal (I recommend 2 or 3), and three objectives per goal. Your goal will be much broader than your objectives and will guide the process. Then you will identify three tasks per objective and strengths that you feel will help you achieve your goal. Here is an example below... 

Goal: Kristen will complete her Master's Degree.

         Objective 1: Kristen will complete Fall 2017 semester with a minimum of a 3.0 GPA

                           Task 1: Kristen will complete assignments as they are assigned.

                                    Can create sub-tasks if necessary to break down more.

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I like to identify 4-5 strengths so that I am consistently thinking about how I can achieve my goals, even with the barriers that follow me around. I am constantly reframing my journey into an “I Can,” rather than a “But What If” journey with an individualized growth plan. Of course, it looks much prettier to look at in its full form. I find that this works very well with youth because it provides them with the opportunity to take their control back. So much of youth advocacy and case management is about the courts and the systems telling the kids where they have to go and how they should deal with what has happened to them. This approach allows a sense of autonomy in that exploration of self and resources so that they can find choices where there aren’t many. It also works well with adults due to its customizable approach.

The strengths-based approach is designed to promote renewed energy in working the plan. I find that in working with youth and families (and even with myself sometimes), designing the plan and coming up with the ideas can be a fun process. It is working the plan that becomes difficult. It is not as simple as just “working the plan.” As individuals move through their complicated lives, especially when overcoming complex trauma, the paint gets splattered in weird spots. New challenges emerge that requires readjustment. A watercolor llama emerges from the corner and then you realize that you never wanted the llama on the canvass, so you must cover it up with a happy little tree. Also—then you realize that you aren’t even painting with watercolor anymore and your medium changes in the middle of your Growth Plan. That’s life. And it's okay. Just look too your strengths, gather your support team, and adjust as needed. The beautiful part is when you can finally look at that painting of recovery that you created when you reach your goal. You can recognize each stroke, blob, tree, and silliness that brought you to the vibrancy and beauty you have created for yourself.

Please remember that I do not recommend any of you creating your own plan if this is related to serious mental health issues, medical issue, or legal issue. Please be sure to yield to a licensed professional for assistance.

SELF-CARE and CELEBRATION: Rest and WOO!

I do not want to paint a precious picture than any of these stages of trauma are easy to go through. They can be excruciating, especially when you are experiencing this recovery without someone to support you. In times like those, it’s important to rest up and recharge. Pushing through the pain rarely works when it comes to emotional healing. There are still times when I feel lost—like I am still wandering around in the dark, screaming at the top of my lungs in a crowd full of people, with no one who cares or understands. When I am told to push through and “be strong, you’re almost there,” my health gets worse because I’m literally going into survival mode and resorting to my Honey Bun Survival Guide. I am typically walking around with 15 bags underneath each eye because I stopped sleeping to “push through.” THAT’S NOT OKAY. Studies have shown that getting proper rest and taking things in steps yield better productivity and increased satisfaction. You wouldn’t run a marathon without training and possibly running several 5K’s first.

It is SO important to celebrate each step forward. I am not going to lie, I celebrate if I take it upon myself to cook a meal at home or if I make it to the gym once a week. These are little things that will eventually help me accomplish one of my goals. I celebrate each teeny, tiny checkpoint that my nonprofit gets to. Each checkpoint is a stroke that will paint a glorious Bob Ross inspired Christmas-themed Wonderland.

I hope you enjoyed my interpretation of Emotional Healing and I hope you got out of it what you were needing. Of course, there is so much more to be said about emotional healing and there was much I did not cover in this blog post. I hope you will check out some of the resources listed in this post and check out my artwork on Facebook by going to K.T. Wings Fine Art Page.


Kristen Tebow is a passionate and dedicated advocate for adult and youth survivors of commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking with almost a decade of serving marginalized youth and adults, developing programs, and educating the public on the indicators and red flags of human sex trafficking. Kristen is an artist, a dreamer, a visionary, and the Founder and CEO of an up and coming nonprofit organization in Lawrence, KS called Youth Trust Project, providing prevention and education services to the most vulnerable youth in foster care and juvenile detention facilities, working alongside law enforcement to provide training, as well as assist with identification and on scene response. Kristen is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Social Work at Washburn University and will graduate in May as an LSMW. She is a respected member of the Human Trafficking Survivor Leader community and continues to empower, provide support to, and collaborate with Survivor Leaders from around the globe. Kristen is renewed through relationships with friends and family, especially her husband and their two Jack Russell Terriers, Bella and Brenna. Kristen enjoys painting, playing video games, and yoga in her free time. Kristen has been nationally recognized for her artwork, providing two paintings for the world-renown Pathbreaker Award at the Shared Hope JuST Conference in 2016. Kristen’s paintings are in demand around the country, as she captures the bright colors and textures of healing and resilience in her work.