Sue Wallingford: Healing Generational Wounds Through Art Therapy

The newest episode of our university podcast, ‘MindfulU at Naropa University,’ is out on iTunesStitcher, Fireside, and Spotify now! We are excited to announce this week’s episode features Sue Wallingford, Associate Professor in Naropa’s Mindfulness-Based Transpersonal Counseling program.

Sue Wallingford: Healing Generational Wounds Through Art Therapy

“Creativity is inherent in us as human beings. I think that we’ve, in some ways, lost the connection and the right to have our own creativity and our own artistry. For me, just touching into that in of itself is healing. It also takes you into a different part of your brain. It accesses different parts of your psyche and your spirituality and your soul in a way that maybe verbal therapies don’t quite touch. And so, it’s a deeper more integrated avenue dealing with you know whatever it is that you’re working with.”

Full transcript below.

Sue Wallingford, has taught in the Graduate Transpersonal Counseling Program for 20 years. She is the founder and director of the Boulder Art Therapy Collective (BATC), where a variety of art therapy services are offered to the community, including individual and group art therapy, open studios, workshops, and trainings. The BATC model is grounded in a collective vision and the goal is to build an inclusive community that values the dignity and contributions of all members, regardless of age, color, culture, disability, ethnic group, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, or socioeconomic status. To learn more about the Boulder Art Therapy Collective go to www.boulderarttherapycollective.com.

Mindful U Podcast host David DeVine with Sue Wallingford.
Full transcript
Sue Wallingford

[MUSIC]

Hello. And welcome to Mindful U at Naropa. A podcast presented by Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.

I’m your host, David Devine. And it’s a pleasure to welcome you. Joining the best of Eastern and Western educational traditions – Naropa is the birthplace of the modern mindfulness movement.

[MUSIC]

DAVID:
Hello. Today I’d like to welcome Sue Wallingford. She is a core faculty member teaching in the mindfulness-based transpersonal counseling department and she is also a member and participant in the Nourish Arts Therapy and Wellbeing conference. So, thank you very much for speaking with me today.

SUE:
Thank you, David.

DAVID:
How are you doing?

SUE:
I’m doing well.

DAVID:
Awesome. It’s kind of a lovely day outside in winter — Boulder, Colorado and we get to have like a very fruitful conversation.

SUE:
Yeah.

[00:01:14.04]
So just to start off can you just tell me a little bit about you like where did you come from and maybe tell us like your educational pursuits during that time and how did you find your way to Naropa?

SUE:
So, I’m originally from Kentucky — a very small town in Kentucky and I think my roots have very much to do with who I am, and you know sort of the path that I’ve chosen although it was not so easy to get out of the South. My background is at the University of Kentucky and studied art studio and in my journey in art studio found that I really like to work with people — teaching them art, working with art — that were you know marginalized in some way.

DAVID:
Okay.

SUE:
So, I switched from art studio to art education and didn’t know anything about art therapy at that time until I had a teacher who suggested it to me.

DAVID:
Yeah, so you’re just doing art for fun?

SUE:
Kind of. Yeah, I was you know really interested in sort of how the mind and psychology and spirituality showed up in the art process. And was interested in that and how art was inherently healing. And so, I had this teacher who said have you heard about art therapy and I had not but it certainly — I became very interested. Well, I think maybe 20 years later I ended up at Naropa after a very long, long detour around the world, but somehow —

DAVID:
What a beautiful detour — if it’s going to be a detour it might as well be around the world, right.

SUE:
Well not really around the world — more, you know just across the states but ended up in Boulder and found out that they had an art therapy program here at Naropa and I just couldn’t believe it because there’s very few schools in the whole country that have art therapy. So, I started here as an art therapy student in 1993.

DAVID:
Ok, so you graduated from Naropa.

SUE:
And, I graduated from Naropa in 1995. It was one of the first programs that ever came through here — art therapy programs. Had some amazing teacher — Bernie, the late Bernie Merrick was one of my teachers. Very much influenced the work that I’ve come to do today. And yeah that’s how I ended up at Naropa — just never left.

DAVID:
Okay, so what is the work you’re doing today? What do you teach at Naropa? What is the position you hold? What kind of classes — like —

SUE:
I taught in the art therapy program for about 20 years before transitioning over into the mindfulness-based transpersonal counseling. One of the classes I teach is really helping students learn how to be counselors. Learning how to do the basic skills, professional orientation where they learn how to be professionals in the world. Career development. I’ve taught several art therapy coursework and I think the common theme with many of my classes is I use art as a way to help my students understand that deeper experience and that deeper connection with the material. So, I always try to integrate some sort of art experiential that might be meaningful to them in terms of unfolding sort of their own personal process.

DAVID:
Yeah. What do you think it is about art that helps with the healing process? Like why is art therapeutic — essentially?

SUE:
That’s such a good question. You know all creativity is inherent in us as human beings. I don’t think we’re always connected to it. I think that we’ve in some ways lost the connection and the right to have our own creativity and our own artistry in a way. For me just touching into that in of itself is healing. It also takes you into a different part of your brain. It’s — accesses different parts of your psyche and your spirituality and your soul in a way that maybe verbal therapies don’t quite touch. And so, it’s a deeper more integrated avenue dealing with you know whatever it is that you’re working with.

DAVID:
Yeah, I just had a thought where it’s like it might be one of the only therapies in which you get to utilize creativity for healing.

SUE:
Yeah.

DAVID:
Everything else is talking it out, trying to uncover the meaning to this. And, how did you translate this situation that didn’t go very well?

SUE:
Right.

DAVID:
It’s like the only time where you’re like I’m going to use blue or yellow and I’m going to mix them together. I feel better already.

SUE:
Right, just that whole process of just the mixing and yeah. Because when we use words, we just analyze a whole lot. We stay in our head. We don’t really drop down into ourselves and our bodies and so art really allows us to do that. And to feel it in a very different way. And then you have a product that reflects back to you in a way that maybe a therapist might — like, oh wow. I see you. You know? There you are in all your blueness.

DAVID:
Totally. Ok, it sounds like really interesting to use that as therapy because you’re not wrong in art. You might be wrong in how you define love or maybe it doesn’t resonate with you because something’s not working because you’re having issues and you need therapy, but when you’re making art someone’s not going to be like oh, you’re doing it wrong.

SUE:
Well hopefully. I mean I think there’s —

DAVID:
Well I mean if they do — they’re doing it wrong.

SUE:
Right. And you know there’s a lot of wounded artists out there who have been told — I mean most people are walking around like oh, I can’t do art you know because I’m not good at it. No, no, no — you know you just been told that you’re not good at it and it’s not a part of who you are. But you know if you approach it from a playful and curious way it’s like what can come from me in line, shape and color. You know, and you said it — art speaks the truth. And sometimes our words — we’re really good at covering up, you know what we really want to say with words, but with heart it sort of reflects to you the truth sometimes way before we’re ready to see it, but it’s right there. It’s powerful.

DAVID:
Yeah, I hear you. That sounds really awesome. So, we’re having this conversation about the healing potential of art and I know that you’re involved with this conference or organization called Nourish Art Therapy and Well-Being conference. Can you just tell us what that is? You told me a little bit about it, and it sounds super interesting and it sounded like this really cool thing that you started a couple of years ago. Can you let the listeners know what that actually is?

SUE:
Yeah. So, this was sort of after many years of work. It actually started as — if you want to name it as a project — Naropa Community Art Studio International. And that started in 2010. And that was when a few of my students and I just were musing about what it would be like to take art therapy to other parts of the world and work with marginalized people. And before we knew it — my students had a place to go and a population to work with. So, it has its roots and its history in a project that was spearheaded with the students and myself. That went on for about three years where the student led project — pretty involved in and of itself — this final iteration of it though was this last January — not this past one — in 2018 in Cambodia. And it was a nourished well-being conference which was a collaboration between many of the agencies that I had come to know and work with in Cambodia that worked with women and children who have been rescued from the sex trafficking industry.

So, it was pretty specific in the population that we worked with. The purpose with and Nourish Well-Being conference was to offer trauma informed therapies and approaches and expressive arts to clinicians who work with traumatized clients. Whether that be women and children who have been sex trafficked or domestic violence, but there was a trauma component.

What we discovered in the work that we had done with agencies prior was that the clinicians themselves in Cambodia were so traumatized that they weren’t really able to even stay regulated enough to do the work that was needed to do with their clients. So, became really apparent to us is that we need to work with the clinicians first. Sort of like that old saying you know you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first. That’s what we needed to do. So, we knew that expressive arts was a really great way to reach different population, a different country due to a language barrier for one thing.

DAVID:
I was going to say like art is one language. It’s kind of like math.

SUE:
Exactly. We didn’t even have to talk. We just draw and look at each other and go yeah, I get it. LAUGHS. Yeah, so that was sort of the reasoning behind the Nourish Well-Being conference is that we have to work with the conditions first. And so, this conference was the first and maybe hopefully not the last of what we’ll be doing to work with these clinicians from all over the world actually — it wasn’t just Cambodia at that time.

DAVID:
Yeah, it was held in Cambodia. But it wasn’t just for Cambodians?

SUE:
No, we had people from many different countries. We had Singapore. We had Chile. We had Canada. England — everywhere. It was really wonderfully rich with many, many, many different languages and cultures and people very excited. And it wasn’t just art therapy — it was also movement therapy. It was yoga. It was dance. You know the whole array of the expressive arts of where we came together.

DAVID:
Wow. How much more powerful is it to have dance, art and all the different forms of ways that you could do therapy through an expressive sort of — do you feel like the healing is quicker when you have more therapy based in art happening all at once — like the yoga, the dancing, the actual paintings and just collective collaborating? Is it more healing than just painting a picture by yourself?

SUE:
Oh, I think so. I mean, you know, just imagine as you walk into a room and it is just a smorgasbord of art materials. There is like music in the background. There is movement in the air. It just has a very, very deeply nourishing component to it.

And that was very much the conference. I mean I’ve been to lots of conferences and many psychotherapy conferences and group conferences and things like that. This one felt very different because we were working with a different part of the being. We were working with the soul. And we were connecting on different levels that we don’t usually connect with through music and dance and art, which we all understand and when you’re working with people from many different languages how else are you going to do it? And it’s also very deep into who we are as human beings. I mean we’ve danced in these expressive arts forever for healing. So, I think it touches into something deeply inherently healing in us. Yeah.

DAVID:
What sounds really cool is you have so many different directions you can go into when it comes to the arts that you can walk into the room and be like I feel drawn to this or I feel drawn to this at this moment or I don’t feel drawn to that. But I’m going to go try it out because I’ve never done it before, right. And it turns out like wow I actually really dig that. And that is super healing.

SUE:
Yeah, or in response to one other artistic expression. For instance, if you painted a huge blue painting — oh what would it look like if you moved to that? What is blue look like a movement. You know? What does blue feel like you know in home Yeah right about that so that you know instead of after you’ve completed one artistic expression — instead of analyzing and talking about it — you go to the next one and then the next one. And then you’re just getting a deeper and deeper and deeper understanding of that creativity.

DAVID:
Do you feel like the healing is more beneficial when it comes to the art therapies when you’re amongst a community doing it compared to a one on one session or like a very small group session? Because you sent me a video to look at and it was super beautiful, super powerful and it looked like a full room — like a full conference room of people just doing the art therapy all together and it’s really beautiful to watch that. And it made me wonder is the healing more beneficial with a huge community around you.

SUE:
I think, so I mean it’s different. You know making art alone is — is one way of making art that might be deeper in some ways. But when you’re in community with others — you’re sharing, it’s sort of almost like a celebration of community and people being together and reclaiming a part of their essential being, right. There’s some synergy that definitely happens. Some communication that is meta. You know you can be sitting along someone and not even look to see what they’re doing and then when you do realize, wow, they’re — they’re kind of making the same picture I’m making or you know, there’s some resonance there. There’s some mirroring there that — that happens, and we know from a physiological point of view the way the brain is and the way we respond to each other in those situations that that happens. You know there’s a limbic resonance that happens and you know and there’s scientific evidence that we could go into. But I won’t go into that, but there is something very special about creating art together in a group. And if you can get art and dance and music and all that happening at once — oh, that’s just magic.

DAVID:
Yeah.

SUE:
It’s just magic.

DAVID:
It transcends therapy into magic.

SUE:
It is magic.

DAVID:
Magical therapy. Yeah, it really is.

DAVID:
That’s so cool. So, when you went to the conference you said you noticed the clinician people — the people who are supposed to hold the space to give therapy to others. You said you noticed that they were traumatized as well. How were you able to assess that? And from that point on did you just integrate them into the process of the healing, as well as, the learning or like what did that look like? Because I’m sure you walked into this event thinking oh, we’re going to do it this way and then you saw something that was calling your attention and you’re like ok —

SUE:
Well I think the years prior going and working with — directly with agencies — just one agency with the students that experience is where it was revealed that these folks need way more than — than what we’re able to give them right now — just by nature of their own historical and generation trauma with the Khmer Rouge and what happened with the killing off of a third of the Cambodian people. And so, knowing the history — you know that was important information. You know reading about that — having your students read about — it’s like this is a traumatized country. These aren’t just clients that we’re seeing — you know there have been sex trafficked and that’s trauma in and of itself and its own category, which is horrible. But the whole country is a country that is traumatized. It’s endemic in their culture. And so, you know there’s not a family there that has not been touched by the effects of the Khmer Rouge. I mean I think the median age right now is 30 or something like that. There’s not very many elders. There’s not — you know when the Khmer Rouge came, they killed the artists, they killed the teachers, they killed the doctors and the performers, and you know anyone that was educated wore glasses — you know. Anyone they killed and their families.

So, you think about they’re trying to recreate who they are. And if they killed all the artist, they don’t even have their own art that’s left. So, they’re trying to re-create then there is a man they’re called (?) who I became quite good friends with who’s doing amazing work there. He was a survivor of the Khmer Rouge, but back to your question as to how I knew — besides hearing about the history, reading a lot about the history, having my students read about the history, going to the killing fields and going to S21 and other places where these horrific acts happened and then going and working directly with these young girls who have been sex trafficked. Seeing the clinicians who one, didn’t have a lot of education. I mean they had the equivalent of like a psychology degree, right, with no practicum or internship or anything like that. They were thrown into this field. Their eyes are huge — they’re — when you start talking about specifics or the trauma or anything that they get dysregulate.

DAVID:
Yeah, that’s triggering.

SUE:
Yeah, it triggers them. And so, when you’re triggered you can’t function because you’re at primary process thinking. You’re in survival mode yourself. So, how in the world can you support someone who’s in that place when you are there too. So, it’s sort of like a ripple effect — a domino effect. You’ve got to resource the clinicians so that they can stay strong and stay with — you know their clients when they talk about some really difficult things.

DAVID:
I wonder if having the experiences that the clinician people had — who are you to administer the therapy they’re speaking from an example. So, they’ve actually went through it too. So, they can relate to the people they are helping as well. Do you feel like that’s a more profound way of administering therapy?

SUE:
If you’ve had the experience yourself?

DAVID:
Yeah.

SUE:
And you feel through it. If you haven’t learned how to deal with your own trauma and you know they don’t have therapist there in Cambodia. I mean unless you’re in a really special kind of place. So, they don’t get treatment it’s even not looked upon well to get treatment. You don’t go to a therapist to seek help. That’s shameful. Right? You deny that you’re — anything’s wrong with you.

DAVID:
Interesting.

SUE:
I mean there’s so many variables to why they’re not getting the help they need economically. No financial resources for people to even get therapy even if they did want to. And so, you’re working with — even though it’s a different kind of trauma — I mean generational trauma — these clinicians you know that had parents that were killed or either grandparents that were killed — family members in really horrific ways and carrying that trauma with them — domestic violence is a huge problem in Cambodia because they’re not dealing with an addiction, dealing with their trauma. So, it’s very layered and — and complex. And so, trauma and in some ways, trauma is trauma because your response to a stimulus that feels that way — it’s the same thing here. Like your blood pressure is going to go up. Your eyes are gonna dilate. You know your breathing is gonna get shallow — all those things that happen when you’re in a trauma response — it doesn’t really matter what the trauma is — the reaction is the same and that is this is not a safe place. And I gotta get out of here. And so, your brain — there is rational and thinks clearly is just not online. It’s more about I have to get out of here. You know that’s a very useful mechanism that we have as human beings. But if the threat isn’t there at that time — you know when you’re having that trigger — it’s not very useful.

DAVID:
Ok, so you touched a little bit about the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. I actually had the pleasure of going to Cambodia maybe like 10 years ago. I just decided I wanted to travel the world. I went to Thailand, went to Cambodia — just to really go experience some different-ness. And I was really into traveling at that time. And Cambodia was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. The culture, the people, the art — the art was really dope too. But you know it’s like Angkor Wat, Angkor Tom and all those Angkor seventh wonders of the worlds and all that, but when I was there I also visited the killing fields and I also visited the jails and man talk about like heart-wrenching just crying out loud — just what happened, you know. And so, you were loosely — you talked about the Khmer Rouge — can you just say a little bit more about that and what that was?

SUE:
Well, you know for me I knew about the Khmer Rouge because I’m older. A lot of my students that went that first time did not know — you know they’re younger they did not even know that that happened. A lot of people don’t know.

DAVID:
It didn’t happen that long ago?

SUE:
No, it was in the 70s — you know it was in —

DAVID:
‘ 75?

SUE:
Yeah. But if you ask a handful of people — many people do not know what happened in the Khmer Rouge. I mean it was a significant genocide that killed a third of their population and they’re still struggling from it today. And it was because of the Vietnam War. I mean we carpet bombed them and left them vulnerable and Khmer Rouge came in and took over. They knew when to do that. So, yeah what I was going to say is that when I went, I really thought ok, we’re gonna be working with victims of sex trafficking, which is horrible. And I mean it’s a horrible thing that happens.

DAVID:
Which is pretty rampant out there too?

SUE:
Yeah, all Southeast Asia has got a huge problem and it’s pretty out in the open. And it’s — I mean in many ways — I mean I wouldn’t say supported by the government, but they’re certainly not doing anything to stop it. And so, I had dealt with the feelings around the sexual trauma that I would be experiencing with these well, not my own, but you know hearing the stories and things like and I expected that that was gonna be jarring for me. And I was going to have to work with my own responses to that and help my students work with that.

I wasn’t expecting — you know, the generational trauma that we were confronted with in the people. And how even in interacting with the people that were managing the hotels, or you know people working in the hotels. And if you would ask them about their history in the Khmer Rouge (whispers) they would whisper because you know they didn’t want anyone to hear them because it was not safe.

DAVID:
Wow. What do you mean by not safe?

SUE:
Well I mean their government is still pretty corrupt and there’s the political system is not — is not really for the people. And as a matter of fact, the prime minister has some involvement in the history of the Khmer Rouge. So, it still feels like a threat to the people of Cambodia. And they’re also living with the survivors that are manifesting the symptoms of the trauma. So domestic violence or flashbacks — I mean it’s PTSD basically, right. But they’re not calling it that because they don’t — haven’t been educated in that way. There is a lot of addiction. There’s a lot of — even the sex trafficking could be narrowed down to that in some ways. So, the generational trauma and the historical traumas kind of gets handed down.

DAVID:
It’s just like compounded.

It’s handed down. Yeah, it’s part of their baggage. It’s part of their culture actually.

DAVID:
That’s so interesting to think about how trauma can be passed down and it’s not like — when you’re born into a family — the family dealt with something before you were even born, but yet you’re being given this like trauma.

SUE:
Yeah.

DAVID:
And it’s like how do you deal with that? That’s a different type of trauma then something happened to you — you have this response — you need to work through it. It’s like something didn’t happen to you, but it happened to your culture. It happened to your country. It’s like a weird therapeutic phenomenon almost.

SUE:
Yeah, the fallout is pretty big. And you know there’s been some scientific evidence called epigenetics where they have found that there is evidence that lives in your body. The trauma in your DNA in a way. So, it gets expressed again and again and again. The good news is — is that if you work with it you can also alter your DNA again. And I think they don’t really realize that and because they’re a collective culture and shame is also a characteristic that the Cambodians deal with you know honor and shame and that surrounds sort of that history too. So, fear — I can’t talk about because I’m afraid of who might hear me and shame. You know this is our country. This is what our people did because the Khmer Rouge were Cambodians, right. So, it was their people that turned against themselves. It’s very complex.

DAVID:
They were ruthless too.

SUE:
I know.

DAVID:
They did some naughty things.

SUE:
They did some really — it was some really sad time in history for them.

DAVID:
So, you said something about trauma being stored in your DNA. Like what does that actually look like to have traumatic DNA? How does it actually get stored or what has it that they found that is stored?

SUE:
Boy, I can’t really even very describe that because it’s so scientific. I just know that there’s evidence to show that these things are passed down in our genetics and that it changes our DNA, which I think changes how we view ourselves in the world. I would imagine, you know safety and sense of self and sense of agency is very much affected. And plus, you know when you’ve got generations and generations and you — we communicate through body language and meta level all the time. Way more than words can even touch. It’s ineffable in many ways. We don’t really — you know — know that that’s happening, but for instance if somebody were to run in this room right now and their eyes were big and wide — and they were — the shallow breathing, but they didn’t say a word we would go into panic. Automatically because there’s something in their face and their body its saying, something’s not safe here. That happens even when the environment’s safe, but they’re still responding from triggers. And so that’s being passed down and passed down and passed down — just what they’re seeing and experiencing in others behaviors.

DAVID:
And then I guess it works the other way. So, if you are having the ability to heal and to work through — you are able to change your DNA, which you are able to pass along. This just sounds really awesome to be able to provide this therapy to people who like definitely need it and who — there’s a community that doesn’t really speak about the things that they should. And work through, but when they are, you’re definitely altering a generation that like probably should have happened two generations ago.

SUE:
Right. And the arts are perfect for that because the arts in many ways mimic early experiences where we feel safe. There’s a theorist out there called, Bruce Perry, and he’s come up with these — he calls the six R’s in working with trauma survivors and one of them is like rhythm, repetition, relationship. Those are just three of them. But, the arts mimic that — you know rhythm and repetition or drumming. I find rhythm and repetition in art making. I mean so there’s something about that process that regulates our nervous system. The more we can engage in the art process the more we’re going to find those places.

And I think that’s sort of been robbed from us as human beings anyway. You know back many, many hundreds of years ago as people engaged in craft and art all the time — it was a part of their daily lives. It was nourishing the soul — cooking, working with the senses — you know handicrafts, making their own things is a healing inherent wisdom that we have. And we’ve — we’ve gotten away from that a little bit. And so, I think going back to your point, yes, we can change our genetics back to feel more safe — like we should feel that this is not an unsafe environment. The sounds, the taste — everything around us is beautiful and in rhythm and in concert. You know even the chaos dancing — even that you know is an expression. And it may be all over the place, but it’s something about expressing in that way.

DAVID:
Yeah, was there any other forms of therapy that were given during the conference?

SUE:
We had yoga every day. We had a beautiful ending ritual with a string being passed — we all stood in a circle. And this is sort of art therapy, but we had a ball of yarn — actually it wasn’t a string — it was a ball of yarn. And we tossed it around the circle until it was one huge web. And each person before they tossed the ball would say a word — just one word about what that experience was like for them. And we did that in community. And so, that really incorporated almost all of the whole week — you know because it was movement. There was the metaphor of the web connecting us all and the spoken word was there. Relationship was there in that we had already been together for the three days and we were actually tossing the ball at one another so making contact in that way. You know it was like a sensory celebration. That’s what it was.

DAVID:
Yeah, and it sounds like you created a very trusting community while in that space so things that were hard to discuss were in a very safe container, which I’m sure is super valuable in a moment like that especially with a culture that is not used to having therapy.

SUE:
Right.

DAVID:
So, that’s very interesting.

SUE:
Yeah, I think arts allow the story to be told in a way that’s not so explicit. It’s once removed. So, you don’t have to say this happened to me and then go into the story. It’s expressed in a way that’s — gets it out of your body for one thing. So, it’s once removed and it’s a piece of art. So, it’s an expression. And then the next part which is so important is to be witnessed. And I think sometimes we forget how important that part is. You know no artist really wants to make their art and it not be seen. What’s the point? You know? I’m going to make this big painting and nobody’s gonna see it. I’m going to dance this dance and nobody — I mean I think there is a time and a place for that — that kind — but there is that other piece about being witnessed. Being seen and seen in that way. I know for me when I make a piece of art and someone looks at it and they are impacted by it and I can tell — they don’t even have say anything. You know or I can tell a story and they just yeah and you know repeat, reflect back. You know? So, there’s something very different about that.

DAVID:
What was the experience like for you? Sounded like everyone had a pretty big impact on their lives, but how was that for you?

SUE:
In the conference?

DAVID:
Yeah.

SUE:
You know there’s this book I read it’s called, “Cambodia Kirst” I think it is and there’s a quote in there that says, Cambodia will steal your heart and Cambodia will break your heart.

And I don’t know why it was different for me this time going. But I left brokenhearted actually. And also felt a tremendous amount of gratitude and love for the people that I encountered in a much deeper way because we got to do it together in a way. And maybe that’s why I felt more brokenhearted because I made a deeper connection that I hadn’t experienced before. Maybe it’s because I went back there, and this was the fourth time I’ve been there and so I had a deeper — you know the tourist in me was kind of eh. So, I was really just there. I mean it’s one of the highlights of my career — no doubt. I mean the whole experience of doing this work in Cambodia and being given the opportunity — the privilege, I mean I really got a sense of my privilege in a very deep and important way that’s changed me and made me see that I cannot walk around blind and I’ve been fortunate to be given a lot of gifts. And I didn’t deserve them any more than anybody else. And you know I want to see what I can do with that in a useful way.

DAVID:
That’s great. Yeah, I really resonate with that line that you just said too. I feel that. So, I’m curious what’s next for this conference or organization? Is there anything that you’re planning? Is there anything coming up? What’s going on?

SUE:
There is a plan. I have as a matter of fact, there’s a team of us that are working together. Well, one of the women — her name is Katie (?) and she was a graduate from the art therapy program. She was the one who was — that I’m amused with that I spoke about earlier okay. She came this past year. She went another year and supervised when we were taking students. Her husband who’s also a graduate from Naropa — his name is Nathan Torty and he was a wilderness therapy student. He went to the conference this year. Jenna Noah who is teaching in our mindfulness-based transpersonal counseling program now who’s also big in the community with Boulder Burlesque and other organizations like that who’s strong resonance around this particular topic — she’s a part of it. So, we have a group. And the idea is to continue to do conferences in the same vein. Ones that offer arts therapy for the caregivers and working with their own trauma — at least initially. Our organization that we’ve named is called Partners for Social Justice and we’re just now still working on a website. But the idea is to continue to work with Naropa grads or alumni or — and students if they can go. But to maybe go to other countries. We met a lot of people from other countries that said would you come — would you come to Chile? Will you come to — you know will you come and do this conference there? So, we got the beginnings of continuing to do this work and I would love to do this work. So, we’ll see.

DAVID:
Yeah, I wish for your success in these endeavors because it sounds like it’s a very amazing tool to have to bring to people to show them therapeutic healing through art and movement and body. And not just one on one sit down talk therapy. So —

SUE:
And if I could just say one more thing it really connects us you know regardless of what the issues are whether it’s trauma or from sex trafficking or inner generational domestic violence. I think there’s a deeper healing that’s happening when we do these conferences and maybe that’s part of the impact that it made on me. Is that — I mean I was making art with people from all over the world. And it really — you kind of forgot that maybe there was trauma here or maybe there is their history here. We were connecting as global neighbors. Like, wow, that was so cool because I have not had that experience before not like that. Not where like ok you’re my neighbor. And why are we fighting? You know why do we have all this conflict in the world? You know when — as long as I can see you and hang out with you in this way and make art with you in this way — how can I not love you. And so, that kind of healing got me really turned on. It was like wow that’s good stuff because the language —

DAVID:
That’s good stuff. It’s so yummy. So, if anyone’s interested on looking up this conference or just diving deeper into the information you just gave us how could they find this?

SUE:
Oh yeah, partners for social justice is the name of the organization now. I’m happy for people to email me if they’d like to. It’s sue.wallingford and that’s W-A-L-L-I-N-G F-O-R-D @ gmail dot com because we are in the process of trying to find people that want to help organize conferences — just sort of the administrative kind of stuff. And if they’re interested, they can contact us, but we will have a website up pretty soon.

DAVID:
Ok, do you already have a title for the website? Or —

SUE:
Well it would be partners for social justice. I think they can Google that.

DAVID:
Awesome. Well, that’s our podcasts and it was such a treat speaking to you about the multiple variations of therapy, the spectrum of how we can heal as — I’m hearing this like humanity healing and it’s not just cultures, it’s not just a family — it’s like all of us. There’s some deep rooted stuff going on that we all need to come together. We all need to wake up. We all need support and love and help and just understand like we have many emotions we have, but just allowing them to happen and being authentic, but then also holding space for others. You know we need to be available to help others and it just sounds like the work that you’re doing provided a space for people to do the healing that like was essential for them to keep moving on.

SUE:
Right.

DAVID:
You know.

SUE:
Yeah, it’s beyond words. You know I mean I think that was the key piece — it’s sort of like well, we can’t talk because we don’t understand one another with the language barrier. And then I think we tend to argue a little better — debate or compare or when we get together as people, we use that mode of expression. Art transcends that.

DAVID:
Mm hmm.

SUE:
It does not argue. I mean I think it complements.

DAVID:
Yeah.

SUE:
It just doesn’t. I’m just trying to think how does it argue. No, it doesn’t.

DAVID:
I mean you probably argue with art and that’d be a really cool piece.

DAVID:
Yeah, I mean that’s true. You can do that, but if it doesn’t — you know, there’s friendlier dialogue, I think, a deeper dialogue. It’s something to think about isn’t it.

DAVID:
There’s more companionship with working with others when you do art.

SUE:
Yeah.

DAVID:
Yeah, definitions definitely in the way.

SUE:
Mm hmm.

DAVID:
And if two people’s definitions aren’t vibing with each other — their ideas of getting along are going to be a little different too.

SUE:
Example that is — you know I have worked with kids a lot and — and I would try to tell parents you know what was going on with them and there would be that component of debate or comparison or you know and it’s not quite getting it. If I showed them some art of what the child did — was trying to express their feelings, you could just see it in their eyes like ok.

DAVID:
Oh shit.

SUE:
Yeah.

DAVID:
There it is. Wow, ok, well I really appreciate you speaking with me. It was such a pleasure to go —

SUE:
Thank you.

DAVID:
…really deep into this and just kind of like here all your extracurricular activities that you’ve been working on and get to use all your therapeutic knowledge. So good. So, thank you so much.

SUE:
Yeah, it’s the best part of the job. Yeah.

DAVID:
So, I’d like to thank my guest Sue Wallingford. She is a core faculty member and teaching in the mindfulness-based transpersonal counseling department. And she is also a member and participant of the Nourish Arts Therapy and Wellbeing conference.

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On behalf of the Naropa community thank you for listening to Mindful U. The official podcast of Naropa University. Check us out at www.naropa.edu or follow us on social media for more updates.

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