Meet Sammy, the parrot Zoom art therapist

Fu Rong
Dr Erin Partridge keeps her art therapy class and workshops going through web cameras due to the COVID-19 pandemic along with her special helper: Sammy the parrot.
Fu Rong

Podcast EP04

Meet Sammy, the parrot Zoom art therapist
Ti Gong

Erin Partridge and her "co-therapist" Sammy the parrot are seen after an online therapy session with residents from an elder-care alliance.

Dr Erin Partridge keeps her art therapy class and workshops going through web cameras due to the COVID-19 pandemic along with her special helper.

"Sammy is the larger parrot and she thinks Zoom has been invented just for her," Partidge tells Shanghai Daily. "She likes to meet all my students."

When Partridge talks about art and art therapy, her eyes sparkle, her mood elevates and the inspiration spreads.

"For art therapy, we talk about going into the state of flow.

"We go into this state of flow where the clock kind of drops away.

"And we're just absorbed in the process of making.

"I've seen that happen even in a big group, where there's lots of activity and lots of people talking at first. At a certain point, all the chatter stops. All in here is pencil moving on paper and charcoal and someone with scissors. And all you hear are the sounds of art making."

Partridge, a certified art-therapist based in the United States, shares her views on how art therapy can be breaded by technology and some handy exercises that people can apply to engage with art on a normal day.

Meet Sammy, the parrot Zoom art therapist

Digital collage of an art journal page made by Partridge.

Q: What would you say about art therapy to get people to look at this field?

A: Art has been part of our lives before early civilization.

Art therapy is just an extension of that work, of using art in the service of human life and growth. It's not about making something specific.

It's about expressing something or releasing something and getting it out.

Q: But people are always busy and do not have the patience to sit down to face their emotional stress, right?

A: Yes. Absolutely. I have three students who are doing their master's around this idea of 10 minutes to 15 minutes doing some very short thing that someone could do on a break.

Just like a short doodle. I also have a student who's done her research about coloring in mandalas, with a very brief window of 10 to 15 minutes. 

Q: How can technology help?

A: I'm so inspired by some of the possibilities of using technology, how it might make art-making more accessible to people. Because not everybody's gonna have a studio like this with all the supplies in it and everything ready to go.

But we're all carrying these smartphones around with us and there's really interesting apps that have been developed that enable more free-image making, drawing, sketching and doodling. You can even make collage in the digital space, on the phone.

Q: What's your typical work day like? You get up so early at 4:30, right?

A: Yeah, so on a normal day, I get up early, I am a stand-up paddle boarder, so I go out and paddle on the day before the sun is up. There's something about watching the sunrise, watching that transition between dark and light that is just good for me but I think as someone that lives in metaphor, as an art therapist I love metaphor, somewhere where both things can be true.

I'm saying it to you, that's what our therapy does. Right? If I'm someone who's struggling with a certain thing, in my image, two things can be true at the same time.

So for someone coping with an addiction, they can have in one image about 'me continuing with this addiction, and here is me recovered and sober or recovered and not using anymore.' And likewise, for a normally functioning adult, 'here is me stressed out, here is me all calm.' Art therapy allows multiple things to be true at the same time.

I'm just realizing that my love for being out on the water before the sun comes up, and I see the sun and the moon at the same time. It's like turn 360 degrees, I can see both things. It's dark with the moon, and it's light with the sun.

Meet Sammy, the parrot Zoom art therapist

Q: So is this a reflection?

A: Sure, I think one of the beautiful things about art therapy is that sometimes people make an image and they don't know what it is about at first, and this is where the difference is between me alone making images on my own, and me making images with an art therapist or in an art therapy group, where I have the time to make, and then I have the time to share about it and reflect on it.

Q: Can you share with us some simple and handy practice that we can do to relief stress on a normal day?

A: Yeah, I think one that comes to me right away is to put your hand down on a piece of paper. Usually, it works better to use your non-dominant hand down on the piece of paper, and use your dominant hand to trace around the outside of your hands.

Do it slowly, and then lift your hand up and look at the outline of your hands. Some people like to fill it with color. Some people like to write words, some people write like to write the next five things I'm going to do today. The act of hand on paper can feel really grounding, especially if it's been very busy, hectic day.

Q: Will the parrots and dog be with you in art therapy?

A: Yes, here in the studio for sure, and they also do visit with the older adults who I work with. Sammy knows it's been a while since she's been able to do that and she's been saying more and more lately.

One story I want to share is I used to work with one client who was dealing with grief, and Sammy seemed to say at just the right time, like 'oh,' or sometimes even 'you're okay.' And just the right time for that client and it was amazing. Sammy is kind of my co-therapist.

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