Many of you are already aware of the great work that Dr. Deah Schwartz does and of her contributions to the Art Therapy website, but you may not have been aware that she just recently completed a new book: Calmanac: Your Interactive Monthly Guide For Cultivating a Positive Body Image. Well, we asked Dr. Schwartz if she would be willing to participate in an interview about her new book (among other things) and she graciously accepted! Hopefully you are as inspired by this amazing interview as we are!
About the Book, Initial Questions
Please provide a description of the book
Dr. Deah’s Calmanac is patterned after The Old Farmer’s Almanac. The OFA is a guide for cultivating healthy gardens and crops. Dr. Deah’s Calmanac is a guide for cultivating a healthier and more positive body image. Each chapter coincides with a month of the year and provides the reader with the predictable triggers in that month that may present challenges for anyone struggling with a negative body image and or disordered eating patterns. In addition, each chapter includes an example of how those situations can look in real life and finally each chapter provides two self-help art directives that can be used to proactively address those triggers. In fact, in the book I refer to these directives as Proactivities. The Proactivities may be used in groups as well as by individuals.
What can people expect to learn from Calmanac?
The most important thing that I am hoping people learn from The Calmanac is that they are not alone in the struggle to find a place of peace and self-acceptance around their body and that even though our culture reinforces negative body image, we are ultimately in control over how we feel about ourselves. It is a book about taking back our power and knowing that our bodies are as diverse as anything else in nature. No one looks at a cantaloupe and a banana and loves the banana simply because it is a thinner fruit. Both are nutritious, both are useful, and both are beautiful in their own unique way. Learning how to embrace human diversity in that same way is possible, but it is a learning process because we have been taught since we are very young that beauty and health supposedly come in one body type.
What or who inspired you to write Calmanac?
My first book, Leftovers DVD/Workbook Set was created primarily for therapists and educators training future therapists in how to use Expressive Arts Therapies to address body image issues and eating disorders. It is a great resource but I wanted to create something that was more accessible to a larger (no pun intended) audience. The Calmanac, while it can be used very effectively by therapists and educators in clinical settings, is really targeted towards anyone who has ever woken up in the morning with that inner voice in their head telling them that they are not okay because they do not weigh a certain amount or wear a certain size clothing. This idea that we are only valued by our appearance is so prevalent in our society and is so damaging. The idea that I could possibly provide some relief, hope, laughter, and most importantly healing, to people was a “catalystic” inspiration for me to write The Calmanac.
What’s your favorite part of the book?
That’s a challenging question! There are several stories in the book that I really love. The May and June chapters about mothers and dads respectively I think are poignant and archetypal and people will really relate to those. And I love how the book is formatted. It is an easy read, approachable and relatable. But I would have to say my favorite part is at the beginning of the book I explain that not everyone is into doing activities in workbooks. I have numerous self-help workbooks in my library that are still in mint condition but sometimes just reading through what the Proactivity is asking you to do and to think about can be enough of an eye opener and inspiration for thought and healing for some folks. I also like the fact that I don’t include any visual examples of the Proactivities. I think we are so used to being judged and comparing ourselves to others that I didn’t want to impede the individual’s creative flow by giving them anything that may make them feel that their work had to look like a photo in the book.
How many hours/days/weeks did you work on writing it?
The book took about three years to write but breaking it down into hours/weeks is hard to do because it is really a culmination of a lifetime of professional and personal experiences. The real life example pieces in each chapter were selected from my blog writings and it takes me about 14 hours to write one blog post. (I am in awe of people who can blog everyday! I can only blog once a week because it takes me so darn long to finish one piece!) The Proactivities come from my 25 plus years of experience working in hospitals and day treatment centers as an expressive arts and recreational therapist and writing up directives can be tedious and time consuming. But because every directive that is in the book is one that I have actually done in real life with real people do I count all of the hours I spent with my clients inventing and delivering the art directives? So you can see how it is difficult to quantify the time expended on writing this. Let’s just say that when the book was finally finished and I wanted to let people know about it, I sent out this birth announcement. (insert photo) because it was indeed a labor of love and felt like I had finally given birth!
Approximately how many people are affected by eating disorders in the United States?
According to a study conducted in 2011 by Wade, Keski-Rahkonen, & Hudson, which is cited by the National Eating Disorders Association on their website, http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/get-facts-eating-disorders
“In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or an eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS)”
And the number is continuing to grow with the number of boys and males increasing rapidly. But this number, I fear, is lower than what the reality is. Many people suffer in silence, suffer in secret, never seek help, and from the outside do not look as if they have an eating disorder. You can not assume anything about a person’s health based solely on a person’s size. Very thin people may be naturally thin, or thin due to other medical reasons and people assume they are Anorexic. And fat people, it is assumed, must all have an eating disorder when their size may be due to medications, genetics, or other health issues that have nothing to do with an eating disorder. And then of course you can have someone whose body would be labeled as “normal” based on height weight and BMI, and they can be engaging in dangerous disordered eating patterns.
In addition to reading your book, newsletter and blog what are some additional tips you can offer people coping with body image issues?
It is important to know that you deserve to be happy in the body you have right now in this moment. That is not always easy considering the media, dieting industry, and pharmaceutical companies have much to gain monetarily by all of us wanting to lose weight. I would suggest that people find media sources that provide support for a Health at Every Size(r) approach to life which most simply put is the belief that health is not measurable by a scale. If being healthy is important to you the HAES(r) tenets would encourage you to engage in healthy activities NOT for the outcome of weight change but for the health benefits of the process. Joining organizations that promote size diversity and size acceptance like ASDAH and NAAFA (I have an extensive list of resources in The Calmanac as well) that may be very helpful. provide a great deal of support. And sometimes taking action when you see people bullying people because of their size can be empowering, reinforcing and of course the humane thing to do.
Can you describe the journey you’ve taken that has led you to your current path of helping others through art and creativity?
My first exposure to using art and creativity as a therapeutic modality was when I was 17 and I had a job at a camp in Upstate New York (Camp Ramapo Anchorage). It was a camp for kids with a wide range of emotional disabilities and I was hired as the Drama and Music counselor. I had been studying theater since at The Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City and had fallen in love with Improvisation. When I began to do theater games with the campers I was dazzled at how the process of doing theater and music elevated their affect, improved their social skills, increased their cognitive functions and increased their self esteem. Of course I didn’t have ANY of that language back then. I just knew they were happier, played together better, remembered more than we thought they were capable of and felt important and proud of their skits, plays, and musical compositions. I worked at that camp until I graduated from college with a degree in Children’s Theater and Special Education. I won’t list my entire C.V. here but let’s just say, that was the beginning of a rich and rewarding career working in a variety of treatment settings (educational, clinical, and community) with children and adults with every diagnosis you can imagine! My original modalities were Drama and Music but because I could see that not everyone resonated with the same art form, I enrolled in the Art Therapy Program at College of Notre Dame in Belmont, CA and added art to my “toolbox.” Over the years I have also studied writing, narrative, movement, and CBT therapies.
How do you use your training, sessions, and/or workshops to help others?
I offer a large menu of trainings, sessions and workshops each tailored to address the specific needs of the participants. My one to one sessions in my private practice are primarily recreation based. I started Dr. Deah’s Walkie Talkies originally because I kept hearing from folks that they didn’t have enough time to squeeze in therapy and healthy activity into their schedules. I thought it would be cool to cross two things off of the to do list by walking and talking with my clients on local trails in Oakland and at the end of the hour they could say they had accomplished therapy and activity. But I also found that many of my clients primary reason for not getting out and moving their bodies (and again this is NOT for weight loss) was because they were embarrassed about their bodies or they had been shamed in public either at the gym or pool and so they just stopped. With the Walkie Talkies we work on building up more confidence, finding others to walk with, and learning about new leisure activities. Additionally when someone is walking they are moving their body, they are in touch with their body, they can appreciate what their body is able to do and not focus on their body dissatisfaction. It is an integrating experience, body and mind working together to process their issues around food and self-image. In my trainings and workshops I sometimes focus on teaching people about Health at Every Size, Eating Disorders Awareness, Expressive Arts Therapies and Eating Disorders, etc. As I mentioned previously, it varies based on whether I am working with clinicians, teachers, parents, or people struggling with disordered eating and or body image.
Can you describe your thinking and/or process when first meeting with a client? Are there specific goals or answers you’re seeking after the initial meeting?
I covered some of this already, but usually clients come to me because they are struggling with food and body hate. They may have tried more traditional talking therapy in the past and are ready to try a different approach. In almost EVERY situation the person who comes to me is to varying degrees detached from their body. They think of their body as the enemy. They think of their body as a separate entity. IF only that body were thinner I would be happy. If only that body were thinner I could do this that or the other thing. When I first meet a client my goal is to ascertain just how much of their life is impacted by their feelings of self-hate and how much they are putting on hold while waiting to lose the weight. My starting point is always hating yourself is not going to manifest positive change. Yes you want to change but maybe changing your body is not really the point.
What are some of the more successful tools, techniques, and/or activities you have used with clients? Please describe what made them successful.
Well, many of them are in The Calmanac but in re: to art working with metaphors has been incredibly effective. Using symbols like keys, doors, masks, and roadmaps often get to material more directly than talking about goals and objectives. People struggling with ED can often be very cerebral because of the detachment from the body that I mentioned before so keeping them in their body, in the creative right brain and helping them not over analyze or intellectualize is really transformational. Not judging their work, focusing on the process NOT the final product is also imperative. There is a big need to please that is common is people who do not like their bodies. That is one of the reasons why they are so self-loathing. There is a feeling that they aren’t doing it right. They are disappointing someone. They are not good enough. What ever modality I choose to use with my clients I always make it very clear that I am not expecting them to be an artist, a writer, a dancer, or an actor. We are in the land of the gerund! We are acting, writing, drawing, dancing and when you are in the land of the gerund you are in process there is no judgment.
You have experience using a variety of creative arts. What are a few of your favorites and why?
Well I think I have touched on that question a bit already, but I’ll add this. The same way that not everyone learns the same way…we have different frames of intelligence ala Gardner, not everyone creates the same way. Hence it is important that i be able to offer my clients options to try a variety of modalities. But my favorite creative art that I have used for my own personal work has been drama and it is the one that I enjoy using the most in groups. There is a playfulness inherent in drama (not that the material can’t be serious or deep) that lends itself to humor and connection. And humor is essential in the work that I do. When I am working in a 1:1 situation I prefer to use art because sometimes, depending on the person of course, when a person is not really comfortable with their body and feels badly about being looked at and how they look, doing drama in a 1:1 may result in some self-consciousness….at least at the beginning of the work.
Describe yourself in 5 words
Talkative, Optimistic, Sensitive, Political, Maternal, Creative, Oooh that’s six! Bad at math! 😉
If 3 of your best friends were hanging out with you, what’s one thing they’d all jokingly make fun of you for?
My sense of direction. I have THE worst sense of direction EVER! The GPS has been the greatest anti-anxiety intervention for me EVER! I get lost well…let’s just say…Worst sense of direction EVER and leave it at that!
What are you passionate about? This can be work-related, personal, whatever you would like to share.
I am passionate about compassion. People thrive on kindness and are destroyed by meanness. If we can practice compassion towards others then we can practice self-compassion as well. I know it is very cliche but I am a huge proponent of treating yourself the same way you would treat your best friend and the way your best friend would treat you.
Is art, or the process of creating art, therapeutic for you in any way? If so, could you provide a recent example?
I have had to work through a great deal of insecurity about creating art over the years. I have a congenital eye disability that manifests in my not having hardly any depth perception and my spacial relations are really poor. I never was able to color in the lines or draw anything more complicated than a cartoonish owl, which was my trademark signature as a kid. I was very embarrassed about my lack of skills as an artist especially as time went on and I found myself getting one of my Masters Degrees in Arts in Education and then in the professional world of art therapy. Eventually I was able to overcome the shame and critical voice I had amassed over the years and found that working with collage was a medium that I could really get lost in and use to explore and express feelings and thoughts that were difficult to access through other avenues. I don’t have any recent examples but one of my favorite pieces was one that I did after I gave birth, to my son not my book, and was navigating my way through the feelings I was having as a new mom and the changes that my body had gone through during pregnancy and delivery. What I love about collage is that you can keep adding to it without compromising the integrity of the piece which is not always easy to do in more structured art media like sculpting or oils.
How has art influenced your perception of life?
It gives me hope. It keeps me optimistic. It reminds me of the innate beauty and generosity of the soul.
Who or what motivates/inspires you on a daily basis?
Nature. I walk almost everyday either with clients or with friends or alone in places where I have the privilege of witnessing the miracles of nature’s shapes, colors, patterns, cycles, diversity….Humans are part of the tapestry and when I see all of nature’s puzzle pieces interacting peacefully and as one, it fills me with indescribable joy and a sense of belonging.
Do you believe creativity is an innate quality? Please explain.
So this may be tmi but I was arrested for anti-war protesting and wound up being held in jail with the other protesters for ten days. What I found so remarkable was every person there before we were let out, whether it was on the first day third day or fifth, eventually had to start creating. The artists took napkins, paper towels, and toilet paper and with the “bug juice” they gave us with lunch that came in grape, cherry, and orange, dyed the paper stuff and made weavings and tapestries, the musicians took the empty food containers and fashioned drums and maracas and flutes, the writers wrote poems and stuck them on the walls with chewing gum, and the actors and dancers well we did political street theater in the common area. Every person there at some point needed to express themselves artistically or they were uncalibrated. It was a beautiful and remarkable experience to behold and I have never forgotten how it was our combined creativity that transformed what would have been day after day of boredom in 98 degree heat out in the yard into a community of beauty and peace.
What are some wise words or advice you would like to offer people reading this?
You have permission to love who you are in this moment, in every moment, and no one is in charge of your self worth except for you.
You have been selected to go on an all expenses paid vacation with 3 people you’ve never met (dead or alive). Who is going on vacation with you and where?
I would go to Australia for sure. I have never been there and it has intrigued me my whole life. I think it’s the koalas, wombats, and kangaroos that I’m most charmed by! Who would I go with…
Paul Simon, definitely Paul Simon. I am an absolute fanatic about his music and have fantasies about being able to just sit with him even for ten minutes to tell him how much his music has meant to me since I was 7 years old when I heard his first record.
Second would be Stevie Wonder. Like Paul Simon, his music has been the soundtrack of my life and I love his politics, his dedication to peace and his voice kills me!!!!! hird person would have to be Rachel Maddow. I have a total crush on Rachel. She is brilliant, funny, compassionate, and well I think we would giggle over puns, try to find the humor in the horrors of politics, she likes a good martini and seems to know how to get silly with or without the martini!
Speed Round – Quick questions with quick answers. Ready, Go!
What is your favorite food?
Any kind of ice creams except for mint chocolate chip.HATE MINT! My fave is salted carmel with dark chocolate chunks. YUM!!!!
If you could be one animal, which one would you be?
I would be an owl. I have had a thing about Owls since I was in third grade.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
This question was the easiest to answer because I actually wrote about this in my book. I am, a tad, hyper-verbal. I talk…ALOT! And in order to make the best use of this characteristic and use it for good and not evil, I would like to be able to speak, write, and understand every language in the world…no why limit myself…in the UNIVERSE!!!!!