This quarter I’m teaching two sections of one of my favorite courses – Family Art Therapy. As we’ve been exploring many aspects of intergenerational trauma and historical intergenerational trauma, it’s occurred to me that this pandemic we’re in will be reflected in genograms. How will that look, what will therapists see?
So many families’ genograms will show the pain of death and loss. We don’t even know yet what the impact will be for people who survive the disease – what are the long-term effects, what capabilities are changed or damaged? And of course the economic impact has also shifted life and livelihoods. Work is changing, careers are being altered or given up.
We certainly are already witnessing significant impacts on mental health. How could anxiety and depression not be increasing? How could loss, fear and isolation not be present, which in turn can affect substance use and access to healthy food.
The pandemic continues to shine a sad spotlight on the racial inequities inherent in our health care system. I think that the future genograms of people of color will show a disproportionate loss as this is documented.
I’ve had clients and students who depicted historical intergenerational traumas using symbols and color and their eloquent art statements have shown the intense impact of these traumas on families. Sometimes it’s been the void or literally the negative space in imagery, that communicates the most.
And as individuals show up or their losses show up, therapists will need to help people sit with their feelings when they look at those grim images. And of course there will also be positive family legends about front-line workers, people who organized food for hungry families, people who somehow juggled working from home with their children’s online learning.
With all of the possible metaphors that will emerge out of the pandemic, I’m not too worried about how great-great grandma Debbie will be portrayed someday. Probably won’t be pictured with an apron as the ancestor who baked her way through the pandemic. Most likely I’d be pictured holding a cat and a glass of wine.
I’ve been thinking more about how I’m currently showing up for people I care about, including my family, friends, students and co-workers. Every single day seems to be a battle between gratitude and sadness, snarkiness and kindness. My coping skills seem a little used up right now. Maybe it IS time to bake some bread.
Deborah Schroder is the Program Chair for the MA in Art Therapy/Counseling program and you can access her bio here