Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Therapeutic Value of Scrapbooking

Gathering photographs, organizing and assembling them in a scrapbook, and doing a bit of journaling about them is a great way to spend an afternoon or late night evening when the kids are in bed. The therapeutic value of scrapbooking is immediately evident but a closer look reveals long-lasting and life-enhancing benefits. The benefits of this activity, which can be done by oneself or in the company of friends and family, may be even greater than originally imagined.

Studies and practical application are showing that scrapbooking has a therapeutic value with people with disabilities and mental illness. Scrapbooking helps to restore an overall sense of well-being, accomplishment, and self-worth. Taking photographs, scrapbooking those photos, and journaling about them displays feelings and memorabilia. In some cases, the great value is not in the actual process of scrapbooking but in the memories the pictures reveal. In addition, studies also show that when cancer patients are able to tell their deepest stories, their psychological and physiological well-being often improves greatly. We are also learning that scrapbooking the family, story-telling, journaling, and art therapy are all linked to stronger immune systems.

The reason scrapbooking is important to each of us is often for very different reasons. If you ask someone why they scrapbook, they might tell you it is for the creative expression. Ask another person, and they might tell you it is for the social outlet. Ask another person, and they might tell you it is to simply record and document the relationships with loved ones. If you ask me, I will tell you it is for all of these reasons, but most significantly, its for the therapeutic value.

I have long had an addiction to scrapbooking. It all started about ten years ago when I was invited to a scrapbook party. “What’s a scrapbook party?” I asked. I had no idea what it was about. Never heard of such a thing. I was told to bring some photos. So, I did. I brought some black and white photos of my daughter playing outside on her tricycle. In these particular photos, Jovanna was happy, zooming around on her tricycle with big smiles. She was trying to go as fast as she could from one side to the other. However, these particular photos were not a true and accurate depiction of Jovanna or our lives. Jovanna spent most of her time screaming, running away, hitting and kicking others, and throwing objects as if they were missiles and aiming for the most sensitive areas of the body. She was uncooperative, volatile, and basically did things you never imagined a child would do. I had already raised one child. It was a normal parenting experience. He is a good kid. I knew I was a good parent. But this situation was different. It was foreign to me and I was struggling to figure out how to care for Jovanna.

As I learned that evening more about the process of scrapbooking, choosing paper, thinking about placement of photos and objects on the page, playing with color, line, and form, I found myself focused on the happy moments in those photos. I recalled my feelings. I remembered her smile and her little giggle. She was enjoying herself. She was happy, and for a few brief moments, I was happy too.

I couldn’t have guessed how that one night, when someone invited me to a scrapbook party which I knew nothing about, how that night would eventually change my life forever. I made a large purchase that night, started my scrapbook goodie stash, and began scrapbooking every moment I could. Why did it take hold of me so? Why did I thrust myself into this activity with such fervor? It was many years later that I came to understand the answers to these questions. I knew it made me feel good when I did it. I knew it cast a ray of sunshine over my life and how I felt about my daughter, my life, recalling her smile, her giggle, and the sense of happiness that I felt in those few brief moments.

It was several years later that my daughter, Jovanna, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Aspergers Syndrom (AS). You may have noticed on our website at on the About Us Page, that we express a concern with the growing rate of ASD and AS and our support for organizations that create supportive and educational avenues for parents of children with ASD or AS. Now you have a greater understanding of why SCRaPDANGo has a special interest in this area.

I knew something was different since Jovanna was a brand new infant. Jovanna was diagnosed when she was about 4 years old. The diagnosis wasn’t a huge surprise, but it did provide some answers and some direction. At the time of the diagnosis, I didn’t fully recognize why scrapbooking was so important to me, why I spent every possible moment engaged in the activity. People around me didn’t understand why I spent so many late nights, after everyone was asleep, scrapbooking and then would force myself to get up in the wee hours the next morning to care for a special needs child, another child, work a full-time demanding job, and literally exhaust myself to unsafe and unhealthy levels in the “working mom” grind.

It wasn’t until about a year ago that I truly understood why scrapbooking played such an important role in my life and to my well-being. As I was flipping through the pages of my scrapbooks one evening, I noticed that I saw a lot of happiness in those pages. There was joy and fun times. Take any page layout in my scrapbooks and if you look closely. You will see happy faces and smiles throughout them. You will see me and my children enjoying each other and our time together. You will not see the photos that reveal the rest of the story. You won’t see photos of Jovanna throwing herself on the ground, screaming at the top of her lungs, calling us awful names, hitting, kicking, biting, and the list goes on. No, you won’t see those photos. But, you will see happy moments and family times laid out in my scrapbooks.

It was that evening that it finally occurred to me why scrapbooking is so important in my life. When I scrapbook about our lives, the things we do together, the times we spend together, I get to choose how I want to remember it. And I choose to remember the moments of happiness. It is the brief moments of happiness and joy that I want to remember. I don’t want to remember the sad times, the really hard times with Jovanna – we have those every day, day in and day out. When I reflect on my life, I want to recall happiness. There’s no reason why I have to focus on and remember the difficulty of being Jovanna’s mother. But there is good reason to remember the times we enjoy each other and are happy. So, when I flip through the pages of my life as laid out in my scrapbooks now, in the years to come, and in my older years, I will see and remember the happy moments of my life and the lives of my children. I will remember their smiles. Now, that’s therapeutic!

In a recent Scrapdango newsletter, we featured an article on scrapbooking the changes in your life and new life chapters. The challenge was to scrapbook about those things that force you to turn around and look at life differently. You may not have a special needs child, but we all have changes that affect us and the people around us, whether planned or unplanned. When we get married, we don’t expect to get divorced. But it happens and it happens to a great many of us. Events happen. No person can ever say that their life was uneventful. We all turn new chapters in our lives. These should be documented and brought to life in our scrapbooking. I have expressed in great depth the therapeutic value of scrapbooking to me. I don’t want you leave this article with the impression that I only scrapbook happy things. Because I have come to understand the therapeutic value of scrapbooking, I also have a handful of special scrapbook pages about the challenging times, difficult feelings, and things that have happened in our lives. I have a page about my divorce I went through last year. I have a page on my daughter and her disability, and my hopes and dreams for her. These pages were just as therapeutic as the others. They forced me to take special time and care to design a layout that captured my emotions and journal about my innermost thoughts and feelings. The power of this type of scrapbooking and the overall therapeutic value in scrapbooking can be healing, it honors the struggles and difficult feelings, and pushes us onward and upward.