OYM Joyce Green, Ph.D. | Art Therapy

 

Human behavior differs from culture to culture. Professions that deal with human behavior need to have a deep understanding of our social construct. In this episode, Dr. Joyce Yip Green, a Clinical Art Therapist, shares the value of understanding social constructs instilled in individuals in art therapy. She shares how acculturation and adaptation affect human behavior. Dr. Green also shares different examples of how other culture cares for their child. Let’s dive into the beauty of culture and human behavior today. Tune in to this episode with Dr. Joyce Green now!

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Art Therapy: Expressing And Connecting Through Art With Dr. Joyce Green

Dr. Joyce Yip Green is an Associate Professor and Director of the Art Therapy Research Institute in the Master’s in Marital and Family Therapy and Clinical Art Therapy Program at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. She earned her PhD in International Psychology Organizations and Systems Concentration at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

For many years, Dr. Green has worked as a licensed marriage and family therapist and clinical art therapist serving individuals and families across the lifespan. She holds a telehealth practice in the state of California. Her extensive experience includes program oversight of community-based programs serving children 0 to 5 and their families as well as the mental health programs at several community college health centers in Los Angeles County.

Dr. Green has presented nationally and internationally on her cultural research, examining development in cultural contexts. Professor Green’s research utilizes art-based methodologies to examine the experiences of immigration and acculturation, particularly those who have been impacted by war and displacement from Laos and South Korea. She is the Cofounder of Infinity LINC International, an organization that supports organizations in developing cultural bridges.

Welcome. It’s tremendous to see you again. Thanks for being here with us. How are you?

I’m doing well. I’m here in sunny California. It’s a little cold, but doing good.

I was hoping you could start us off by telling us a little bit about how you got into the work you’re doing and what drives your passion for it.

Ever since I was younger, I loved talking to people. I would get phone calls. My house would be ringing off the hook with friends asking for advice. Ever since I was in elementary and junior high, I was known as the counselor of my friend group, which is interesting. I never saw myself as that, but I loved working with people. That got me into the field of counseling and therapy.

I’m licensed as a marriage and family therapist with specialized training in clinical art therapy. I am a board-certified registered art therapist. I teach as a professor in the Graduate Department of Marriage and Family Therapy at Loyola Marymount University. There, we centralize art therapy in our work as mental health practitioners. I’ve worked in Los Angeles County pretty much all my life. That’s where I live, but I have been working in the community, working all across the lifespan.

My specialization is in infant mental health, so I apply a dyadic framework with parents and young children. I’ve done work all my life in the community supporting infants and toddlers. After working in the fields of community-based mental health in South Los Angeles for about 15 to 20 years, I moved into more policy-making and worked for an organization that specializes in the treatment of infants and toddlers. From there, I decided to think about culture. During that time in the ’80s and ’90s, we were focused on cultural competence and cultural development.

I remember when working with babies, especially infant mental health, I realized that a lot of the evidence-based models that we were using didn’t pay attention to cultural practices. I decided to go back to school and study International Psychology. That took me to Rwanda where I completed my dissertation, examining socialization goals and parenting beliefs of Rwandan infant caregivers. That was an amazing experience in looking at the way that attachment is done across cultures. A passion of mine is understanding different ways that humans develop cross-culturally and attachment.

It’s fascinating. I wonder if you could help us understand how you might integrate art therapy into that.

Art therapy is a modality. I integrate art therapy into everything that I do. There’s art as therapy and there’s art in therapy. There are so many ways that individuals express themselves. They connect through art. In itself, the process of art-making facilitates expression. It facilitates a connection to the unconscious processes, but it could also be done as a relational tool. I’ve utilized art therapy, working with couples, working in groups and individuals all across the lifespan, with children, adults, couples, and groups.

OYM Joyce Green, Ph.D. | Art Therapy

Art Therapy: Art facilitates a connection to the unconscious processes. But it could also be done as a relational tool.

 

The way that art could be used dyadically is with, let’s say, a caregiver and their baby or a caregiver and their child. So much of human development and child development is done through play. When I bring art materials to a dyad like a mother and their toddler, let’s say, and bring art materials for them to explore together for them to play, they begin to communicate through that play, through that expression, through the creation of different feelings, emotions, actions, and reactions. It becomes another language.

What modalities do you use? When you say you bring the tools of the art into that dyad, what would that look like? Is it always paper and markers? Is it clay or their toys? Do you do sand tray work? What do you do?

We utilize all different forms of art and all different types of materials. There’s a continuum depending on the developmental level, and the physical abilities of the individual, the child, or the parent. You could create anything. A lot of times, I will invite children and their parents to explore different materials because so much of art-making is kinesthetic. Depending if they’re wanting to use clay, do something with their hands, or create something together, we could bring newspapers for them to twist, tear, glue together, and build.

I’ve brought basic materials, our markers, pencils, paper, collage materials, glue sticks, and scissors. I also love using kinesthetic materials like fabrics, pompoms, and string. There are beautiful ways that parent and child could work together, creating structures. They can make blankets that cover each other. The sky’s the limit. It’s allowing the clients to lead together what they need in order to create that connection. That’s what I’ve done in dyadic work with parents and caregivers.

People feel more connected as a result of a session to play together and have creativity. As a therapist, while you’re not creating the communication, I would assume that at times, you can facilitate the understanding between two or more people about what each of them is trying to communicate.

My role as the therapist is first to understand what the goal is and the art is that facilitator of expression, of connection, of working out conflicts perhaps, of bringing understanding and self-understanding of the impact of an experience or relationship.

Something else is sticking in my mind from what you said earlier. You said attachment goals in Rwanda or another place and how they may be different. Can you give us an example of what you’ve learned about how culture-to-culture attachment goals might be different?

I discovered many surprises during my time in Rwanda. First of all, it’s the assumptions that we make about what a good attachment is. In the United States and Western cultures, the expectation is that, for instance, tummy time. We’re taught that babies need tummy time. Typically, a mother would put their baby on their stomach in order to build back muscles and help develop their strength and their ability to raise their neck. That is an appropriate and typical way that we encourage infant development.

In other countries, it’s not necessarily advisable to put your baby on the ground. What I discovered is that in Rwanda, they carry their babies on their backs and they’re often carrying their babies constantly. When they’re walking to the store, when they’re walking and doing their house chores, or visiting with their neighbors, they carry their babies on their backs.

It was interesting because when I asked the mothers, “Why do you carry your babies on your back?” they said, “What do you mean? You don’t carry your baby on your back?” That was interesting. That was one of those a-ha moments because of the assumptions that we bring into different spaces. They said, “How do you carry your baby?” “I carry my baby in the front.”

In the West here, we have our baby wraps, baby carriers, and even strollers. They taught me the way of wrapping. They said that it’s so important to carry the baby on the back because it reduces GERD or stomach digestion problems. It reduces acid reflux. It helps them with their digestion. To them, it helps them with posture.

I thought that was fascinating. They taught me the whole process of tying the baby with a blanket around their back and their legs stretched out. What’s equally important is after they carry their baby on their backs, they have to go through a process of stretching. Once they’re constricted, it’s important to stretch. They have the whole ritual after carrying the baby on their back. They immediately take the baby out when they’re nursing, and then they do a process of stretching to make sure that their limbs are straightened to prevent bow-leggedness. That’s what I learned from interviewing the infant caregivers. The different practices were eye-opening.

The implication from a lot of people is that our way is better. Wherever you are, your way is better. In the Western world, there’s a lot of this face time. If my baby’s here facing me, we have that interaction, cooing, and talking. Whereas if the baby’s on my back, we don’t have that much face time. The implication is there’s going to be a difference in the way that we bond or connect.

Wherever you are, your way is better. Click To Tweet

There’s also that value of that constant touch. In many collectivist cultures where the mother’s role is to attend to the baby’s needs, if the baby cries, you pick them up. You don’t hesitate. There’s co-sleeping. Co-sleeping is also a value in many collectivist cultures. In the West here, we talk about letting the baby cry it out. The baby will sleep in their own room in a crib. Oftentimes, in cultures all around the world, they sleep with their baby right on top of them.

All the differences are amazing. Did you find that there’s a different level of connection and attachment or simpatico between children and their parents in Rwanda than there was here?

The cultural values in Rwanda are very much about respecting your elders and parents. I did not see many children being disrespectful to their parents or talking back. In fact, in every environment that I was in and interacting with children, they very much so listened to their parents. Even during meals, I would be sitting with teenagers and they would wait for their parents to eat before they took their first bite. This idea of culture and what’s expected within a cultural context is socially constructed.

What I appreciated about international psychology is that understanding that it is cultural and context-bound. When we work with families, especially here when we’re working with immigrant families or families who aren’t from here, from other countries, or maybe the work that I’ve done with refugees, immigrants have taught me that we need to be aware of how we import our own Western ideals and values into the counseling space.

It seemed to me to be a specific set of challenges to try to honor the culture that they came from. At the same time, help them function within this culture and these expectations, which can sometimes be radically different.

We need time and space to explore that together with the families that we work with to learn from first of all their perspectives, their understanding, how they operate in the world, and whether or not there are any tensions or conflicts within that experience. Sometimes there are. Sometimes there aren’t. What I find more so is that intergenerational relationships that sometimes can be problematic or cause tensions within immigrant families.

Especially if the younger generation gets acculturated into this culture and they’re going home to a different culture.

That is the impetus. We talk about my passions and all that because I, myself, am an immigrant. I came over from Laos when I was two years old during the Civil War. When the Pathet Lao, the Communist took over Laos, we all needed to leave the country. We came over. My experience as an immigrant coming to America, trying to learn the language, and myself at that time, developing a list, my kindergarten teachers would instruct my parents to only speak to me in English and put me in Speech and Language classes.

There was little understanding of bilingualism and the importance of supporting cultures and cultural values. As a result, I lost so much of my language abilities in Lao. Part of the work that I’m doing now and the research that I’m embarking on is interviewing elders who came over during that time period, in the ’70s and ’80s from Laos. I’m focusing right now on the elders to explore their experiences of acculturation and adaptation. Secondly, I’ll be interviewing the children who came over and hopefully, we can glean some understanding of the differences in adaptation.

Those that would be roughly your age, you mean?

Yes.

What year did you come over?

1975. That was during a time of immigration. That was the Indo-Chinese Immigration Act in the United States where the US welcomed so many refugees and immigrants from that part of the world. We saw a large influx of refugees and immigrants from Southeast Asia. One reason why I’m embarking on this research is also to help build that awareness of the resilience of immigrant populations and refugees and what’s needed to support them.

OYM Joyce Green, Ph.D. | Art Therapy

Art Therapy: One reason why I’m embarking on this research is also to help build awareness of the resilience of immigrant populations and refugees and what’s needed to support them.

 

What I’m discovering is the importance of community and cultural communities and also the importance of religion and faith. I’m examining the Lao people from Laos, but I’m also interviewing elders from South Korea because not all Asians are alike. I wanted to do a cross-cultural study to show the similarities and differences between two Asian groups coming over from their respective countries at the same time during the same sociopolitical context of war and their experience in America.

How old were your parents when they brought you over?

My mom was 25 and my dad was 36. He was about ten years older than she is.

There are lots of turbulence, lots of change, change of culture, change of the land, and then trying to get the children. How many children did they have?

My parents have two children, me and my brother. Right when we came to the United States, we came over with a travel visa. We were able to secure that temporary travel visa, and then we applied for refugee status. We were able to get some support through that policy. From there, my parents worked. They went through the community college system and learned the language. My mom worked two jobs and my dad also worked a lot. We lived in Los Angeles in the Western. You’re not from California, are you?

No.

We lived close to Downtown LA and in the metro area. Eventually, we moved out to the suburbs as my dad made more money. Eventually, he became a business owner and established his own travel agency. My mom started working for a big bank. I’m proud of them. They’ve done well for themselves. There’s a group of Lao community members that came over with them and who are close with them now. They support and spend time together to this day.

You’re talking about doing research. On one hand, you’re spending some of your time doing research. What’s the predominant use of your time? Are you in actual doing the clinical work with the marriage and family therapy?

Yes. I am a faculty member at Loyola Marymount University in the Graduate Department of Marriage and Family Therapy with specialized training in Art Therapy. I’m also a practitioner. I have a private practice where I see clients. I do most of my work through telehealth. You interviewed Karen Brown from LINC International. I’m one of the Cofounders of Infinity LINC International. We’re doing a lot. I see clients, I teach, I consult, and I speak to people you on your show.

Thank you for that. Did you do telehealth even before the pandemic years?

I did. I got into telehealth three years before the pandemic. It wasn’t done much in the field. I had some good colleagues who invited me and asked if I would take that risk because they found it to be beneficial to reach a wider group of people. I have found that that allowed me and helped me to understand the nuances of telehealth. When the pandemic hit, my practice boomed. My wait list was still 6 to 8 months out. Telehealth has provided so much more access to mental health services. I would see people while they were sick with COVID. How many times was I able to still work with individuals who were self-isolating due to COVID?

There was a tremendous benefit there. In a summary overview, if you think in terms of what I’ve asked you about already, the work you do, and what you have the most passion for, what’s something that maybe I haven’t even asked you about yet that you want to make sure we cover?

One thing that I want to encourage everyone, especially practitioners, is this commitment to self-reflection and how important it is. I teach my students this. I apply this. It is the importance of cultural humility. It’s not just cultural humility, but what we at LINC International talk about is cultural honesty. It’s being honest with yourself about your assumptions, your biases, and your viewpoints, but also being open to the viewpoints of others, especially when we’re working with other cultures and people who grew up differently than we did. That might even be part of the same culture.

Be honest with yourself about your assumptions and your biases, but also be open to the viewpoints of others. Click To Tweet

We can’t assume that just because I’m working with a client who is from Laos, China, or Asia, that we’re the same. Understanding culture and context, understanding the unique experiences that people have on how they come to where they are now is so important to not take for granted. Don’t assume that we know how people arrived to where they are, no matter what ethnicity or cultural background they are.

Taking that time to explore that is very important in the work that we do to understand the human experience. It can also help in building connections with our clients. It can also allow us to understand some of those nuances because there’s so much that is unsaid. That’s one thing that I’ve learned in my experience. Individuals, especially immigrants, and people who are from other cultures hold a lot of secrets. There’s a belief to be careful what you say or how you say it. Allowing yourself that time and space to explore some of those nuances of what is spoken and what’s unspoken is important. I hope that helps.

It’s tricky at times because you might want to ask somebody, and they may feel it’s intrusive for you to ask. On the other hand, I was working with somebody who in his late 50s went to a drug and alcohol rehab center, left the state he lived in, and went out there. He was telling me that he had a prideful view of himself and was better than others. Mostly, it’s out of defense techniques. He found out interacting with the other people and getting treatment out there that they had a far more flexible, playful, inclusive childhood than he had. They’re all from the same Americans with Americans thing.

One of the things he said was, “We never played any games.” People were ribbing him saying, “How could you not know that?” He finally give up and said, “I never played any games. I never had any friends over.” His personal family culture was dramatically different than most of the people that he grew up in which you would assume is the same culture, but it was radically different.

We can’t make assumptions that we understand another person’s culture, but inviting that dialogue and exploration together can enhance our understanding and make it so much easier for us to support others in their wellness.

There have been a variety of tools that people have tried to develop over the years, whether they’re games, card games, or interactive activities to help us facilitate the questioning that we’re not trained into doing. We get to know each other better. We get to know ourselves better. We get to know the differences between the family we were raised in or the culture we were raised in and another culture.

OYM Joyce Green, Ph.D. | Art Therapy

Art Therapy: People have developed some interactive activities to help us facilitate the kind of questions that we’re not trained to do to get to know each other better.

 

The beauty of the work that we do is the ability to understand one another in multiple different ways.

Thank you so much for being willing to share with us and help us expand our awareness of learning about ourselves and other cultures and the role of art therapy in your work. I’m honored. I’m thanking you for your time and attention.

Thank you so much, and thank you for inviting me. It was a pleasure.

Blessings.

 

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About Dr. Joyce Green

OYM Joyce Green, Ph.D. | Art TherapyDr. Joyce Yip Green is an Assistant Professor and Director of the Art Therapy Research Institute in the Masters in Marital & Family Therapy/Clinical Art Therapy Program at Loyola Marymount University, in Los Angeles, CA. She earned her PhD in International Psychology, Organizations and Systems concentration at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.For over 20 years, Dr. Green has worked as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Clinical Art Therapist serving individuals and families across the lifespan, and currently holds a telehealth practice in the State of California. Her extensive experience includes program oversight of community-based programs serving children 0-5 and their families as well as the mental health programs at several community college health centers in LA County.

Dr. Green has presented nationally and internationally on her cultural research examining human development in cultural contexts. Professor Green’s current research utilizes arts-based methodologies to examine the experiences of immigration and acculturation, particularly of those who have been impacted by war and displacement from Laos and South Korea. She is the co-founder of Infinity Linc International, an organization that supports organizations in developing cultural bridges.

 

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