creative:impact - Arts strengthen mental health
Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explores the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.
ABOUT DR. MARY SPENCE:
Mary F. Spence is a Clinical and Educational Psychologist with extensive experience providing therapy for a wide array of presenting issues and developmental levels of all ages. Mary has provided therapy services for almost 40 years after receiving her Masters from Eastern Michigan University and Doctoral Degree from Wayne State University. She has most recently worked with Ann Arbor Public Schools and provided therapy at Livingston Psychological Services. She is happy to be able to offer therapy at Grove beginning in the Summer of 2022.
Mary’s experience has prepared her with the knowledge to provide short and long term supportive care and solution-focused coping strategies to work with clients of all ages experiencing life adjustments. She focuses on establishing a warm, friendly and trusting connection with her clients from the very first point of contact.
Mary’s practice is deeply committed to helping individuals identify storylines that can often complicate a sense of contentment in one’s life. She supports and encourages her clients to paint a new version of their own unique life story with the personal freedom and openness that can be reached from her therapeutic approaches.
Mary is known for her playful and creative spirit and the safe connection she establishes with others to share their challenges. Using evidence-based practices in the spirit of co-creation with each client, the framework Mary develops with her clients often gives them a sense of curiosity and self-awareness about how change can purposely unfold in a person’s life, through the intentions of the therapeutic work. While she is deeply dedicated to alleviating suffering, she believes that engaging the client in the development of their own agency is key. Much of her practice incorporates aspects of mindfulness to improve self-awareness and the regulation of thoughts and emotions.
She utilizes the fundamental concepts of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) after having been trained in numerous models developed from the classic MBSR approach. These concepts are key to the more cognitively based approaches Mary also incorporates into the work. She relies on Theory of Attachment models and Neuroscience to inform and shape her practices. A wide variety of evidence-based practices are used in session as they are relevant for client growth and receptivity. Concepts from Siegel’s Mindsight, psychodrama and play-based models, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Floortime, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (SP), Polyvagal Theory (PVT) are often utilized with clients through her work, but it is far from manualized.
Mary is thrilled to bring her psychology experience and enthusiasm from her years in public education to private practice at Grove.
Deb Polich: This is creative:impact, 89 one WEMU's exclusive segment that showcases the artists, creative people, businesses and organizations that make Washtenaw County a great place to create, live, work, learn, play and visit. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your host. So, one of the top ten reasons to embrace and participate in art and creativity is that it strengthens our mental health. To paraphrase the National Institute of Health, thousands of years ago, people were practicing and dependent on the arts for self-expression, healing and communication. It took until the 1940s for art therapy to become a formalized curriculum, and that was then before the medical profession started to embrace it. Since then, many psychologists and therapists have incorporated the arts into their healing practices. Dr. Mary Spence is one of them. We are pleased to welcome Mary, who, it must be said, received her master's degree here at Eastern Michigan University before getting her doctorate in clinical psychology at Wayne State. Mary, welcome to creative:impact.
Dr. Mary Spence: Thank you very much, Deb.
Deb Polich: It's always great to have a fellow EMU graduate with us. So, you've been practicing as a clinical psychologist for decades. But looking back at your time in Eastern and Wayne State when you were a student, was art therapy taught or encouraged when you were in school?
Dr. Mary Spence: There were programs that people could sort of have as an offshoot of that, but not really as a profession that was really recognized. And I think the arts in general people didn't have a good sense of that back, you know, it would have been in the early eighties when I was getting my initial training.
Deb Polich: Okay. But you did start using art and creativity. What caused you to do that?
Dr. Mary Spence: Well, this is an interesting story, just in terms of my own iteration or how I got there. I didn't start out in psychology. I was very interested in psychology. My father was an artist, but he also had this very strong interest in psychology. I have old books of his from the 1930's and '40s. They're sort of blind, right? So, I blame it a little bit on my dad. He got me on this curious track. But I started out as a theater major, and I did a lot of children's theater. For a couple of years, I was part of a university program where we sort of have like an observatory kind of approach where we perform in the second term, but the first term would be all about our preparation. I took fencing classes and voice classes and all sorts of things. And we did a lot of things in the creative dramatics' realm, a.k.a, if you know, Wild Swan.
Deb Polich: Sure. Sure.
Dr. Mary Spence: But now that they're no longer, right? And so, I've worked with the principles of Wild Swan and we developed a curriculum along with Connie Huber, who is certainly the principal person in facilitating that work for folks with autism around what's called theory of mind, which is just basically a more sophisticated and in-depth way of thinking about perspective-taking. So, I always sort of had this bent, and I was sort of a double major between psychology and theater. And, ultimately, my undergraduate degree was a B.A. in communication. So, it allowed me to sort of blend those two things as a double major, and it never left me. You know, I always had this sort of sense of how much creativity and an openness to thinking about things in an expansive way that was very relevant to mental health.
Deb Polich: And so, you naturally brought those two things together and started incorporating in your practice. When did you start to think that, you know, maybe the rest of the field was starting to catch up with where you were?
Dr. Mary Spence: Probably always, actually. I was always a little bit of a cynic about the more traditional--or skeptic, perhaps that's a better way to say it--about traditional programs in psychology. And I noticed for myself how different my own perspective was from other people who had sort of said, "I'm doing this straight and narrow thing called I want to be a psychologist," as I thought about, you know, things that we were exposed to in terms of psychopathology or I was reading Thomas Dodds around the myth of mental illness. Now, I don't ascribe to that particularly, but I was really open to the idea of how do we conceptualize well-being and how do we work with that in the context of also helping people who really suffer with major mental health disorders.
Deb Polich: Awesome! 89 one WEMU's creative:impact continues with clinical psychologist Dr. Mary Spence. We are talking about the use of art and creativity in mental health practices. So, Mary, you're in private practice now, but worked previously with the Ann Arbor Public Schools and held other positions. In your experience, does age make a difference in how art therapy benefits your clients?
Dr. Mary Spence: Sure. Just in terms of the contrast of that, school psychologist jobs, even though everyone wish it were different, often are relegated to sort of the boilerplate things that need to be done to comply with the law around special education and making sure students that have disabilities get access to additional support and services. So, my job was very much in that vein when I worked for Ann Arbor Schools. However, that said, we got very interested in the work around mindfulness, which is, again, sort of exploded as a term people know, but not necessarily everyone has the same operational definition. But clearly, creativity is an aspect of that work, that openness and spaciousness around thinking about how things could be different. And that's huge in the work that I do in my private practice. So, one of the reasons I retired was, one, I'm old and, two, I really love the work of helping people find a way to recreate their story.
Deb Polich: I know children rarely ever object to the idea of getting their hands dirty, getting creative, telling stories, playing with paint and all that stuff. But adults--they get caught up in that fact that, you know, "I'm not an artist, and I'm not creative." How do you break through that as a psychologist?
Dr. Mary Spence: Mostly, again, it depends on the age of the client. I actually do see people from my youngest is usually around five, and right now, I have folks that are close to 80. Lots of us come with judgment. I'm always like that Picasso quote that goes something like, "Every child's an artist. It's not until later that you find out, like all the judgment and like, I'm not good at that."
Deb Polich: Right.
Dr. Mary Spence: So, that is a huge piece of sort of the work of, like, be really comfortable with whatever it is and also some of the mindfulness work is really about looking at the nature of our mind, being able to treat that with some kindness and with some investigation, as opposed to all the judgment that many of us levy on whatever we're doing in terms of performance, right? It's that idea of, Majalla's work, who was a psychologist at University of Chicago, who really was one of the founders in the research about creativity. You talk about the "though", right? You know, it's the idea that that's where the epiphanies happened, That's where the spark occurs. It's not in the "let's analyze this and get strategic," not that that is an important, right, but it's really a blend of those things and openness and ability to focus. So, that's kind of how I get into it. We play a lot of games.
Deb Polich: Yeah, Yeah, sure. So, you're a licensed psychologist, and you incorporate art therapists into your practice. Trained and credentialed art therapists are regulated in many countries and at least 20 states. Michigan is not one of them. There are bills developing in Lansing to require licensure for art and creative therapy in our state, and that's legislation that Creative Washtenaw supports. From your point of view, is certification and licensing important in this field?
Dr. Mary Spence: I do think it's important because I think what it does is legitimize a profession. And I can't say that I've really followed that legislation well, so I'm speaking a little bit out of turn on that. But just the general principle and natural paths are also, I believe, not licensed in Michigan and a holistic point of view in terms of medicine--those also would be a beneficial thing to legitimize. And then, you know, when you do that, you also have the ability for a university to be fully charged with the scope and sequence of preparing people for professions like that, to be able to really develop a curriculum and say, "Yeah, these are the boilerplate things that people need to have under their belt in order to qualify for somebody who legitimately can call themselves an art therapist or to the natural path of a psychologist." Right?
Deb Polich: Right. Right. That's what we think as well. So, before we sign off, I want to ask. What do you do personally to find enjoyment and comfort and art and creativity?
Dr. Mary Spence: For myself?
Deb Polich: Yeah!
Dr. Mary Spence: Oh gosh! I'm big into poetry. I was very much into that when I was very young, and I don't know what it was. It's really just kind of downloads. I don't sit down and go, "Oh, I got to write a poem" or anything. So I'm very wordsmithy with language. And so, poetry is definitely a place that I go to when things strike me or I'm kind of in a contemplative place or, oftentimes, actually trying to work something out. You know, I'm unsure of a problem. I dabbled some in drawing and painting. Interesting, just as a story about my own life with my dad being an artist, I had always been kind of, like, reticent about the painting thing, and I don't think that judgment came from him. There was five of us in my big ship, and none of us really took up the craft. But, as he was actually towards his later months in life, I thought, "Geez! I would be able to, like, learn how to draw from him." And I took on a drawing class at Pioneer through adult ed. And then he got ill, and I took my sketchbook with me back to where he lived in Pennsylvania. And I basically sat down with my dad in his last few months, helping him teach me how to draw.
Deb Polich: Well, that must have been a fabulous reconnection. That's clinical psychologist Dr. Mary Spence. We've been talking about the beneficial use of art and creativity in mental health practices. Find out more about Mary and her practice at WEMU dot org. You've been listening to creative:impact. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your host. Mat Hopson is our producer. Please join us every Tuesday to meet the people who make Washtenaw creative. This is 89 one WEMU Ypsilanti. Public radio from Eastern Michigan University.
Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support. Make your donation to WEMU today to keep your community NPR station thriving.