Interview with Dr. Deah Schwartz, New Voice in Fat Poets Speak 2: Living and Loving Fatly
Dr. Deah Schwartz has more than 20 years experience using therapeutic arts, music, drama and recreation activities in a variety of clinical and educational settings with clients ranging in age from 5 to 80+. She has a Doctorate in Education, a BA in Theater, an MS in Therapeutic Recreation, and an MA in Creative Arts Education and is a Nationally Certified Recreation Therapist.
And…she is also one of the New Voices in the second volume of Fat Poets Speak: Living and Loving Fatly.
This is the first part of the interview. The second will be published at a later date. Read and appreciate her as she talks to us here.
1. First of all - at least to my mind- many of us are excited that you have just finished your second book. Can you tell us a little of what it is about?
The book’s title is: Dr. Deah’s Calmanac: your interactive monthly guide for cultivating a positive body image. It is loosely based on The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which is a manual that provides information for growing and harvesting hearty and plentiful crops and gardens. People struggling with Eating Disorders and Body Dissatisfaction often feel trapped in cyclical patterns with no way out. For example, Every January offers another reminder that whatever resolution was made the previous year has most likely failed and they are still struggling.
But I believe that our history is not fate—it is knowledge, and our past does not dictate our present or future behaviors. We can learn from our past, hold on to the positives, and choose to throw the negatives in the mulch bin. In order to reap the benefits of the repetition or redundancy that our calendar year presents, it is imperative that we take some time to examine the months and seasons for their predictable ebbs and flows and plan our garden of positive body image around the elements that are most certain to occur. This proactive approach has a calming effect in lieu of a self-critical outcome, hence the name, Dr. Deah’s CALManac.
2. What made you want to go into the field of eating disorders?
That is a difficult question to answer concisely but I will give it a try! My career path was heading in the direction of Expressive Arts Therapy because of my interest in psychology and the expressive arts. Concurrently, I was trying to figure out a way to resolve my own Eating Disorder by using psychodrama and drama therapy. This resulted in co-authoring a three woman play called, Leftovers, the Ups and Downs of a Compulsive Eater. While performing the show on Off-Broadway, New York, and up and down the west coast, I found that the audience inherently experienced a therapeutic benefit from watching the actors confront and ultimately step on the road to personal recovery. It reinforced my belief in the Expressive Arts as a healing intervention for Eating Disorders. In the process I found that even though my E.D. was improving, I was still grappling with my body hate, you see I was not just obsessed with food; I was obsessed with the desire to be thin. I was also working in adolescent psychiatric hospitals at the time, and noticed that the two areas were intertwined. The teens hated their bodies because they wanted to be thin, they developed disordered eating patterns to become thin, found ways to address their eating behaviors but still had to change their self-loathing to self-acceptance with or without a change in body size from their E.D. recovery. I also noticed that teens and young adults resonate with expressive arts and are more easily engaged than when only verbal psycho-therapy is used because there is an integration of the mind AND the body in the process. (I actually have a soundcloud recording Under the heading Expressive Arts Therapies
https://soundcloud.com/tags/expressive%20arts%20therapy explaining this concept if you want to hear a bit more information about that). So I suppose the answer is I gravitated to the field of Eating Disorders because of my personal experience with my own E.D. and in my professional life, seeing the efficacy of the particular therapeutic work I was doing with this population specifically.
3. How would you say the shape of your life today differs from what you thought it would be 20 or 25 years ago?
Life throws us interesting curveballs once in a while. 20 years ago I was an adjunct professor at San Francisco State University, working full time at a psychiatric hospital, and a new mom working on my doctorate. I really loved the balance in my life. Then I had a severe back injury that resulted in my having to leave my work and found myself at home as a full time mom and very part time doctoral student. The good news was how available I was for my son. Those were years I wouldn’t give up for anything, despite the pain and grueling rehab I went through because of my back, but unfortunately, it also catapulted me from my career path into the unknown. I found that I needed to find work that did not require driving long distances and a variety of other physical limitations due to my newly acquired back disability. And so I began to do two things. The first was writing. I co-wrote a workbook/DVD version of Leftovers that is a unique multi-media resource for Eating Disorders. I started blogging; writing articles, and as previously mentioned, just finished my second book. The second was I started a private practice in Oakland California called Dr. Deah’s Walkie Talkies. Part of the rehab for my back is to walk every day. Because I am a certified Recreation Therapist, I found that I could walk with clients who were struggling with body image and disordered eating and were either intimated to publically engage in physical activity for fear of being taunted, or they didn’t have time to squeeze in pleasurable physical activity and a therapy session during the week. In my ‘Walkie Talkies” we do both things at once and I was helping my back in the process! But despite the secondary gain for my rehab, ultimately my goal is that my clients find places in Oakland and other people where they can continue to explore trails and opportunities for weight neutral physical movement.
5. How does your son feel about what you do and how you identify yourself?
The timing of this question is amazing because of a recent conversation I was having with my son. Z (short for Zachary) was home from college over the summer and he and I were talking about the concept of people living up to their potential. One of the benefits of having a 21 year old son, besides being able to legally enjoy a beer together once in a while, is having more open and disclosing conversations. I told him that sometimes I questioned whether or not I was living up to my potential because when I was a professor and a hospital clinician my income was exponentially more than what I am earning in my post disability “reincarnation”. He looked at me and said, “But Mom, the work you are doing is all about helping other people make their quality of life better and feel better about who they are. You help others live up to their potential. That HAS to be the way you are living up to your potential.”
Yes, I was farklempt! It was clear that my son not only really groks (understands) what it is that I am doing, but he is proud and supportive.
7. What advice do you have for fat younger women who are worried about "fitting in" with their peers, but don't want to diet or starve themselves?
Well, because I don’t believe in a one size fits all philosophy, I would need a bit more information before giving what I feel would be a truly beneficial response. Chronological age is important, how long the person has been fat is a factor, the etiology of their fat has some import when offering advice about interventions. But assuming that all variables are equal, I would recommend the Dr. DEEEE’s 4 steps to increasing body-acceptance.
1. EXPLORE: Find your support systems, people and organizations, websites, therapists, family members (lol notice how they are different from people) who feel the same way you do. You do not have to fight this level of discrimination all alone.
2. EDUCATE: Educate yourself with facts facts facts about the realities of weight stigma, the relationship between fat and health, and the reasons behind size discrimination in our culture.
3. EMPOWER: Empower yourself with permission to love your body and EMBRACE the concept of body diversity.
4. ENCOURAGE: Encourage others to do the same, whether they are fat or not. Changing a societal norm HAS to include the oppressed and allies of the oppressed. If one group of people is discriminated against, all people are subject to being discriminated against.
8. Tell us the addresses of your blogs so we can follow right along with your essays.
The primary place to find my blog is on my website, Dr. Deah’s Body Shop at www.drdeah.com
Once a month I write an original post for the Fierce Freethinking Fatties Website at www.fiercefatties.com
I also write about once a month for http://www.arttherapyblog.com where I post an Expressive Arts Therapy Directive specifically created to explore issues related to Eating Disorders and Body Image Issues.