Monday, October 3, 2011

The Art of Derangement

One of the discoveries in psychiatric treatment these days seems to be that artistic endeavors help us get sane.

Hell, I could have told them that.

I discovered long ago that art – in my case in the form of writing – is one of the few places on the planet that has room for unusual thinking. There is praise for being original, even if original isn’t always beautiful. I discovered decades ago that in certain artistic circles there is even a certain cachet to mental illness, since it guarantees that your points of view will not be run of the mill, and may help give others a new slant on old issues.

Of course, art is good therapy, or there wouldn’t be sand trays, drama therapy, music therapy, art therapy, at hospitals and clinics all over the nation. But it seems these days that artistic expression is also coming into its own as a way for the mentally ill to come back to themselves and connect back to mainstream reality.

Look for instance at PeaceLove Studios in Providence, Rhode Island. The founder of PeaceLove, Jeffrey Sparr, has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and discovered to his delight that when he painted, he had no symptoms. Now he runs a series of studios and community classes dedicated to connecting people through original art. Check them out at I guarantee you will find it heartwarming and hopeful.

Closer to home for me here in California is the Peer Recovery Art Project, which operates out of Modesto. The P.R.A.P. exhibits artwork every third Thursday  at the downtown Modesto Art Walks, puts out a monthly newsletter called Renaissance, holds art exhibits at no cost to the artists, and received the 2010 Stanislaus Arts Council Excellence in Arts Award. It is described as “an art collaborative in which some of the artists may have lived experience as mental health consumers and their art may reflect that experience but the emphasis is on respect of the art,” says CEO John Black. One of the purposes of the group is to help end stigma, which is a nice thing to be doing while you enjoy yourself creating. This 501 C (3) public charity group can be found at, or email them at, or call (209)985-0467.

And if your art is not visual but literary, you might consider submitting work for publication to Open Minds Quarterly, in Canada, or their offshoot online, The Writer’s Circle (both projects of the Northern Initiative for Social Action). They accept work from persons with psychiatric diagnoses, although all the work need not be about psychiatric topics, and have an Artists’ Loft that produces the artwork for the 8 ½ x 11” glossy magazine. Recent projects include a poetry page and a photography contest. Open Minds Quarterly has its own Facebook page, if that’s your cup of tea, or check them out at:  You can email them at

In California, you can probably can do a lot worse to connect yourself to art than by visiting NAMI’s site for “consumer” (that means those of us with a diagnosis) programs, to see what else is going on, not just with art but with all of their fine services. You can find them at

Meanwhile, don’t wait for anybody. Just dig out that old jar of playdough and have some fun. What could it possibly hurt? And it might help. A lot.

Deborah is a public speaker and the author of Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness. She has also published two romantic comedies. All three books are available on, Barnes and, Kindle Editions, iBooks, and other major vendors or  you can order them from your local bookstore. Visit her web page at, or see her catalog at