Dr. Ericha Scott On Healing Through Art Therapy
Doctor Ericha Scott was reading at a college level in fifth grade. But until that point in her life, she was considered “retarded” and almost failed fourth grade twice. It was private art lessons that changed everything.
Today, Scott has a doctorate in psychology with an emphasis in marriage and family practice and the creative art therapy. She also has a master’s of education and a bachelor’s degree in the fine arts. She has been working with co-occurring addictions (chemical and behavioral) and complex trauma for 30 years.
“I use the creative arts with adults to address problems of addiction, trauma, grief and loss, anxiety and depression,” Scott said. “I tailor experiential activities to your needs. These creative activities are able to address your problems and enhance your creative potential at the same time. Art therapy is helpful to individuals regardless of a history of art training, skill or talent.”
In the last few decades, treatment professionals have seen an increase in the addiction potential of illicit chemicals available to the youth, Scott said. Not only are the drugs more toxic neurologically — including crack and crystal meth — they are also more accessible and less expensive.
“At the beginning of my career, 30 years ago, it was not often that I saw significant neurological damage until a client was a senior,” Scott said. “Today, more and more often I see young adults arrive in treatment with significant and life altering brain damage.”
There is a rise in heroin addiction across various and unlikely social groups leading to an increase in heroin overdoses. These deaths are due, in part, to the fact that heroin is more
accessible and relatively inexpensive, even compared to prescription medications for pain, Scott said.
“A serious problem is that heroin is much more potent today than in the past, which is why some victims are miscalculating the dosage and dying,” Scott said. “People do not often associate brain damage with heroin, but due to the phenomenon of ‘nodding out,’ users are starving their brains of oxygen and their motor skills (among other things) can be impacted permanently.”
Scott’s specialty is the creative arts therapies, trauma and addiction. She began her career in 1985 as a drug and alcohol therapist in Ft. Worth, Texas, for Care Unit Hospital, a large corporation that offered treatment for chemical addiction, eating disorders and sex addiction. At the end of her first year as a counselor, she had the lowest recidivism rate of any therapist in a 200-bed hospital.
“It is my conviction that the differential of success rate had to do with the fact that I included the creative arts therapies in my work,” Scott said. “All clients were required to write in a journal, paint and role play.” For those who are afraid to ask for help, Scott recommends speaking to a safe friend first. And it’s usually the friend that encourages them to get professional help.
“Shame has killed more addicts than just about any other phenomenon,” Scott said. “Shame, as opposed to feelings of remorse, is a false sense of being irrevocably flawed or inferior. Usually, the experience of toxic shame existed long before the addiction commenced.”
Scott receives thank you notes from clients from around the world, sometimes decades later. Some statements include, “I know I would not have had children if it was not for the work we did together” and “Thank you Dr. Scott, our marriage is still together because of the work we did 10 years ago, we are so grateful.”
She has been asked to contribute to a forthcoming clinical reference, “Integrative Addiction and Recovery,” to be published by Oxford University Press as part of the Weil Integrative Medicine Library series. The topic of her contribution is addiction and art therapy.
Scott opened her office in Malibu in 2007. Prior to Malibu, she was a trauma therapist for an exclusive program in Tucson, Ariz. While in Arizona, she was granted the alumni recognition award, as one of three recipients, out of 285 staff members.
“I have chosen to keep my practice small so that I can attend to my clients with focused attention,” Scott said.
For more information about Dr. Scott and her practice, visit: oceansidemalibu.com or drerichascott.com.
At Oceanside Malibu, clients are afforded the opportunity to attend weekly sessions of equine assisted therapy with lead therapist Mark Frankle, M.A., LMFT. Equine assisted therapy is said to be both metaphorical and experiential. According to Mark, “the horses become metaphors for whatever the client is working on.” All of the client interactions with the horses take place on the ground and in a series of games with no actual riding taking place.
Relationships, boundaries, anxiety and approach avoidance can all be observed during simple interactions with the horses such as touching or brushing them and simultaneously being aware of the feelings that come up during these interactions. It’s of particular interest to pay attention to one’s own reaction in response to something a horse might do doing the interaction. Creating a response in a horse brings about a response in the person, it’s those responses which can be key in telling us something about ourselves. People often want to know what certain things the horses do mean, like when the horses respond by moving their ears or tails. The curiosity that takes place when clients notice a particular response in the horse helps begin an empathetic bond between horse and human.
The key to all this is non-verbal communication. As Frankle has stated, “this forces a more emotional experience rather than relying on cognitive tools and the limitations of language, the interactions themselves become more spontaneous.” Transference takes place, but without the trappings of intricate verbal defense systems that can be wielded during an interaction with another person. “There’s always and emotional feedback loop occurring, horses have similar neuro responses as humans”, according to Mark Frankle. “It’s two mammals interacting; if a client is brushing or petting the horse, the horse relaxes, the person relaxes.”
Why horses and not other animals? Mark Frankle explains it this way: “Horses are larger and can seem intimidating, they are herd animals used to interacting with others. When 5 or 6 people interact with the same number of horses, they become a herd. Also, horses will do things like walk up to particular people, or stand between them, more so than dogs will.” These seemingly deliberate behaviors in the horses give people an opportunity to examine their own emotional responses, and perhaps insecurities. A person may develop an attachment to particular horse and thus may be more vested in paying attention to their own emotions when a horse does or doesn’t respond to something they may be doing.
During a session of equine assisted therapy, a horse specialist or trainer is also involved to lay out the ground rules for safe interactions between clients and horses, to inform on safety issues, and answer any questions. Safety precautions such as approaching the horse at an angle, rather than directly from behind, so they don’t run; remaining aware of the placement of your feet so the horses don’t step on them; or keeping hands away from their mouths, are all laid out in the initial session. The size of the horses can be intimidating to some at first, and those that feel anxious on first approach are encouraged to challenge their projections of danger or safety concerns by slowly learning to feed and groom the horses.
Clients involved in equine assisted therapy sessions also interact with the horses in a series of activities. Many of these equine assisted therapy activities, which Frankle helped develop, can guide participants in pinpointing their own threshold levels for things like frustration, patience, and control, which may prove barriers to their further recovery. Participants are directed to be aware of their own emotions and expectations if a horse doesn’t respond in a desired manner or fulfill an expected outcome during the course of an activity.
Some activities involve orange cones, each labeled with a single step from 12-step recovery programs, participants lead their horse from one cone to the next, pausing to verbalize their own personal experience with the step and what it means to them. Other activities, while appearing simple, actually reveal more complex issues within the participant, such as issues with physical boundaries, abuse, or trauma. In these activities, clients must deflect the horses from going after buckets of oats or pellets which are placed in key spots within the outline of a human figure on the ground which represent particular body parts. Observing how vigorously (or not) a participant protects the representative figure from advances by the horse towards key spots on the body can give cues to personal boundaries or past trauma.
It is also especially useful to observe participants who have formed a bond with the horse they’re working with, as all the responses presented result from an emotional core that is not filtered through or restricted by articulation. Simple but revealing patterns can become exposed through this relationship that may mirror past relationship difficulties, like aggression, control issues, dominance, or submissiveness. These bonds formed with the horses can become a safe, guided, & nurturing basis for beginning to form a more healthy interconnectedness with others that become a cornerstone of successful recovery from addictions and abuse. To learn more about equine assisted therapy, Mark Frankle, or how you can participate in our program at Oceanside Malibu, please feel free to contact us anytime.
As we transition through the phases of recovery, one thing is certain: we will experience feelings that have been stuffed or repressed, perhaps for years. This is supposed to be a good thing, even though it doesn’t always feel good. In fact, as we progress in our treatment or therapy, we are encouraged to pay attention to our feelings and to the sensations which these emotions bring about in bodies as well. We are taught to be mindful of these things as often they act as triggers. Yet often in 12-Step meetings, and in various articles on the internet, it has been stated that feelings are not facts. This is both true and false.
When we experience a feeling, like anger or anxiety, it is in fact very real. What may not be real is our perception of reality. It is possible that our own thoughts may be the problem. Sometimes feelings are a response to the accurate perception of external stimuli — sometimes not. If a person feels anxious about a situation, for example, the anxiety is a fact. The element which may not be factual is the possibility that the feeling of anxiety is related to the perception of a future unpleasant outcome. The precognition of negative outcomes can produce a feeling which may affect behavior in advance of the actual situation, which may or may not, be unpleasant when it occurs.
Feelings give us an opportunity to ask ourselves very important questions in order to challenge our own perceptions. Upon experiencing an emotion, we may examine: ‘why am I depressed right now?’, ‘what is making me angry?’ or ‘what is this fear about?’ These types of questions inform us of many things. Sometimes they have to do with past trauma which feels very real for us right now, but have nothing to do with the present situation. Other times, the feelings are a normal reaction to something that might provoke the same response in just about anybody.
Emotions are generally said to include a type of ‘call to action’ response, but the appropriate response may vary. Feeling angered or shamed at an overt slight or insult by another person may be normal, the correct response however, may be highly individualized. Say, if anger or defensiveness are core issues for someone, quickly acknowledging and processing the emotion felt at that moment may involve stepping back and not reacting. On the other hand, if a person tends to be passive or shame based, being aware of the feeling at the time it is happening and stepping forward by setting a boundary or speaking up for themselves may be the right course of action.
There are times too when our perceptions may be totally accurate. We may be feeling fear because a present or future situation actually is fearsome or unpleasant. In that case, the feeling is actually fact. Dismissing our emotions with over simplified slogans such as, ‘feelings are not facts’ is a great way to reinforce stuffing our feelings, the idea being that our feelings are unimportant. People who have been abused or invalidated, have had it made clear to them throughout their lives that their feelings don’t matter.
Our feelings tell us all sorts of things, they can inform us about a correct course of action; they can inform us of our past & how we can heal in the present by acting differently. Feelings can guide us in where we may need to make amends or they can show us were we are being irrational and maybe find humor in the situation. Feelings, when paid attention to and processed accurately, can provide us an appropriate course of action, as when an employment situation or relationship is making us unhappy.
Because feelings almost always tell us something about ourselves and can direct us to the changes we need to make, they must not be ignored. The fact is that when you have a feeling, you are indeed having a feeling, and that feeling should tell you something. Even if what it is telling you is based on an incorrect assumption, you are being given an opportunity to challenge the thought, change the assumption, and act yourself into new thinking — which will produce another, maybe different feeling.
The word ‘fact’ has been defined as: “a thing that is indisputably the case” or “something that actually exists; reality; truth” or “something that has actual existence”. If those definitions are true, then statements such as: ‘I am angry right now’ or ‘I am experiencing depression as the result of my recent divorce and separation from my children’ or ‘I have been traumatized by abuse’ are all factual statements. While it may be true that perception does not always equal reality — feelings on the other hand, may sometimes indeed be facts.
About a year ago I traded in a 30 year, 2 pack a day cigarette habit for vaping e-cig devices instead. That’s a good thing, right? No, not really. Well, e-cigs are safer or better for you than analog cigs. The jury’s not completely out on the safety aspect, but I’m more concerned here about the addiction issue than anything else. While I stopped smoking old fashioned cigarettes, I’ve developed a new habit & a new addiction-based ritual, focused on keeping even levels of nicotine in my bloodstream. People tend to congratulate you when they find out you haven’t smoked a cigarette in a while. In my case, I tell them not to bother because I actually am still smoking — see that cloud of smoke-type-looking stuff I just exhaled? Wait, oh no, that’s not smoke, its vapor. Yeah right.
Some Studies Show Nicotine Is Beneficial
I’ve heard the arguments about nicotine being beneficial, how it may be used to treat Parkinson’s disease & other neurological syndromes, stimulate areas of the brain for greater cognition, oh and ancient shamans used it too! It’s also highly addictive. You could probably find studies on the internet that show cocaine has positive effects on brain chemistry, mood & cognition as well, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. Nicotine is addictive, very addictive, like one of the most addictive substances on the planet, addictive. In fact, many ex-addicts have claimed they had an easier go at quitting heroin than they did stopping smoking. That’s probably due in part to the combination of addiction to nicotine & the ritual of smoking, two primary things still involved in the vaping experience.
Vaping Is Less Expensive
Maybe, maybe not. How many bottles of juice are you going through a week? How many samples have you tried & discarded? How many batteries, chargers, & accessories have you replaced because they broke or you wanted new gear? The issue isn’t really whether it’s safer or less expensive than cigarettes anyway, the issue is about addiction. Vaping is not a great nicotine delivery system, nothing can touch cigarettes on that one. You can observe this concept by looking around. Some people that smoke, you may or not know they smoke, they may only have a few cigarettes or less in an hour. People who vape, well, you’ll always know because they’re usually always vaping when they get a chance, you’ll see it.
The combination of the flavor, always trying to get a fulfilling throat hit, striving to keep an adequate amount of nicotine in the bloodstream, and the ritual of the whole thing keeps vapers vaping. Former smokers especially have to vape ALOT more than they used to smoke to get the same nicotine levels. You can test this by buying a device that shows you the amount of times you hit it in a day. For me, and some others I’ve spoken to going straight from cigarettes, it was close to 500 or 600 times a day.
Well, It’s Still Better Than Smoking Cigarettes!
Who cares and so what? It’s still addict behavior and, quite frankly, it’s sort of ridiculous. We’ve taken basically what was some plant or weed (saturated in chemicals, mind you) that was rolled up in paper with a filter & replaced it with a giant (sometimes smaller or less than average) metal phallus attached to a battery with a cartridge (saturated in chemicals, mind you), that you have to plug in & charge every day so you can inhale & exhale some kind of vapor smoke cloud which may or may not be harmful to your health (or those around you), but most certainly is addictive. Which is harmful to your well-being, and perhaps the well-being of the other people in the car, or room, who just got vapor bombed by your most recent PG/VG blend-24mg-nicotine-and-‘natural’-flavors-and-colors-filled exhalation.
As for the ritual, a pack of cigarettes & a lighter was all smokers needed to carry around before, and banging the box against the palm of your hand to ‘pack’ them, lighting them up, and the hand to mouth motion, that was pretty much it for ritual. Vaping steps it up a bit. Now you’ve got batteries you need to charge every day or night, atomizers or cartridges that need to be replaced or swapped out & refilled, different cartridges for different flavors of liquid, new mods, new gear, usb pass thru devices so you can charge & vape while you’re in the car, a case to carry the stuff on the go, etc. It’s like a junkie having to keep their works around to fix.
It’s Not About The Relative Safety Of One Thing Over Another – It’s About Addiction
Think vaping isn’t that addictive if you’re a habitual vaper? Then try stopping for a day or two. It’s probably almost guaranteed you will reach for the first cigarette that comes near you. What you’ve replaced with cigarettes is most likely a greater obsession with nicotine (depending on what level you’re vaping & including the fact that vaping is not a very good delivery system), and a far more complicated ritual around ingesting it. For former smokers, you have to vape ALOT more than you had to smoke to keep those nicotine levels stable.
Sure, some people have quit cigarettes with the help of e-cigs & then quit the e-cigs by lowering nicotine levels gradually. At least I think they have? I’ve seen more people go down to zero nicotine levels but continued to vape, than I have people who don’t vape at all who told me they quit both smoking, then vaping. I also know quite a few people who have picked up vaping who never smoked before. A lot of the vaping snobs, those who were never smokers before (but are now totally addicted), feel a sense of superiority over former smokers who vape, because they feel they made a choice to start vaping, because they enjoy it. Well again, that’s the same rationale people used to use when smoking was popular & socially acceptable.
For Some People Vaping Is An Entire Hobby & Subculture
Check out all the guys modding their gear in vape shops all over the country, in garages, on blogs, and YouTube. There’s even cloud chasing events held all over the country to see who can produce the mightiest vape. Too bad junkies didn’t start off giving themselves this much PR on the web & social media. Is that extreme? I don’t know, how about some YouTube videos of who can take the hottest dose with some crazy hypo-mod? This isn’t about one thing being a superior choice over another thing, it is simply choosing one addictive thing over another addictive thing. These are both addictions that involve substance dependency and/or ritual. It doesn’t matter which one harms you the most or least or first or last. Smokers have been making that argument for years, when continuing to smoke after quitting other harmful substances that produce more immediate consequences.
Safer Than What? For Whom?
There just are not enough, or any, long-term studies. No variety of 10 or 20 or 30 or 40 year studies to contrast and compare yet. None. Concentrated nicotine is a poison, a stimulant, a drug, and it’s one of the most addictive chemicals on the planet. Is it good for people who have high blood pressure (labeled ‘the silent killer’ because many don’t know they even have it)? Who knows if huffing nicotine concentrate dispersed in propylene or vegetable gylcol with other assorted ‘natural’ colors/flavors (mixed who knows where & under what conditions), heated up by metal (?) coils & manufactured by whomever/wherever, is safer than anything really, or for anyone? Better yet, who cares and so what? It’s about addiction. No addictions are actually good for anyone and comparing the lesser of two evils drags the whole argument down into the realm of pointlessness. Does anyone really want to develop or continue to foster an active addiction? If you never smoked, but vape, you might consider that you may now be an addict. Try putting down the rig for a few days & not think about it. Few real vapers can probably do that without discomfort, some may be able to white knuckle it to prove a point, most will probably return to vaping after proving said point.
If you’re a former smoker who vapes, maybe admit to yourself that perhaps it’s a half-measure (at best) without mounting the lesser of two evils defense. I have. I know it’s a complete cop out probably because I got called out on it right away by an old-timer outside an AA club who was a former smoker & saw me vaping after a meeting. He said, “You know you’re fooling yourself with that.” What response could I have? I said, “You’re right about that.” He was and I knew it. I traded one addiction for another one. It may not smell as bad (though, have you been inside a vape shop lately?), it may not kill me as fast (who really knows), it may or may not be less expensive, but it is a form of active addiction. So if you’re a former smoker and satisfied by what would at least appear to be the lesser of two bad choices, vape away. Just remember, you’re still one dead battery or empty bottle of juice away from grabbing the nearest cigarette or hitting the pharmacy for some nicotine gum because you’re still an active addict.
How do you know if you have a problem with alcohol? – Alcoholism
For many people drinking alcohol is a large part of social and business functions. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish between occasional drinking to excess vs. alcoholism. When someone is a “functional alcoholic” it becomes even harder to make the distinction as it appears to many that they are holding down a job and functioning fine and that alcohol is not a problem for them. This is part of the misconception that an alcoholic is only someone that is homeless and has lost everything. Every year people who appear to be able to handle their drinking and look to many like they are functioning fine die from alcoholism.
Some signs of alcoholism include an increased tolerance to alcohol (needing more drinks to “get buzzed”), some missed work or school days or a decrease in performance, hiding alcohol in strange places, poor eating habits resulting in weight gain or loss, decreased attention to appearance and cleanliness, becoming angry or irritable when alcohol is not available, and becoming defensive if any questions are asked about the amount or frequency of their drinking.
Some things to look out for are if a person has recently experienced a trauma or stressful event in their life or if you know of past trauma from their childhood that they have never dealt with. If a person has family members who are alcoholics or addicts then they may also have a genetic predisposition towards not being able to just drink socially. Be aware that some people are binge drinkers and can go seemingly long periods without drinking but then when they do they always drink to excess. Daily drinking is not a requirement to be considered an alcoholic or someone that has a problem with drinking.
If you or someone you know think there may be a problem with drinking there is help available. Drug treatment centers can help teach the skills needed and provide the support to help begin a life of sobriety. Alcoholism is a deadly disease- it is vital to seek help immediately. If you have a loved one suffering don’t listen to excuses for their drinking or let their defensiveness put you off. You can be the person that reaches out to help them save their life.