One of the common things that are experienced almost collectively by everyone right now is a seemingly (we hope) unending anxious state of will we be back to normal and what is normal exactly? However, as we walk into the third month of whatever this is, we have to ask ourselves what should we do, if this is a permanent situation. To help us figure this out, we’ve reached out to one of the best psychologists in the country, Zahara Legesse Kauffman.
Zahara is a psychotherapist that has been active in art therapy, psychology, social work, coaching, training and more recently an online social media guru that has been releasing helpful tips, raising interesting and pertinent conversations on the topics surrounding mental health in relations to the youth, children and women. She is also a mother of 2.
GETZ: How are you? What have you been up to in these crazy times?
Zahara: Well, I’ve been doing online consultations with individuals, companies, community associations as well as doing Facebook live and zoom for the public. I did a TV spot and two radio shows with Dr. Mehret for his Mindset Special program on Fana. All things considered, It’s been exciting and interesting.
GETZ: Can you tell us about your social media platform? How you’re doing it? Why you started it? What is the response?
Zahara: Society is changing fast and people are looking for a relatable space for reflection and address the issues they need to address. So I decided to create that space and take in questions and put out answers in a way people can relate and encourage anyone that’s listen to look inward to in be inspired and change for the better. That’s what I hope the platform to be.
We do taped sessions, live sessions and other times closed group sessions to help people come to terms with what they’re experiencing and generally be better. Including us.
I’m supported by a great content team; we have a great graphic designer that does all the great visuals you see on our platforms. The video production team is great with everyone. Lately, because of COVID, I am doing the recording myself, and let’s just say it has been interesting.
And the responses have been great, we’re creating that thing we wanted to create and we’ve also received some criticism, some constructive that allows us to work ever harder, some unconstructive that sometimes veers into the ridiculous but the team and I try to focus on what is important and helpful.
It’s intense work and we’ve just celebrated one full year of social media work so it’s been quite a ride. We’ve found our niche. I just started doing a radio show with the Mind-Set team on Fana radio on Thursday at lunch time, we hope this will help us reach more people and keep the social media going strong. It’s a lot of intense work but it’s rewarding.
GETZ: How about the stay at home part?
My husband and I are blessed with two kids, whom we learn so much from. Because of COVID, I work from home, while my husband runs our business Felek notebooks in our workshop. We now produce Facemask to address the needs of our county during this time. So you can imagine we lead a very busy life. Our eldest is seven and our youngest is four so they keep us busy. Now they’ve been picking the tools of the trade and I see them imitating me and addressing issues that matter to them while pretending to video tape themselves. As you know, since I’m working from home, I have to make sure they don’t interrupt my work while on zoom call so we do a lot of negotiating for school time and play time. It’s exciting to see this! We also do different little challenges around the house, we tend to get creative and do all sorts of things. We recently built a bird house, a small tent out of recycled cardboards and started a small vegetable garden. We sometimes do a little dance off to (appropriate) hip hop, R &B and Ethiopian music in between my meetings. So it’s a mix of being silly with the kids and work and some me time.
GETZ Mag: That’s just amazing and adorable! So we know you’ve worked on art therapy and we wanted to know what it actually is and how it can help creatives and everyone else cope in these times?
That’s actually one of my degrees and I use it constantly in my work. In a nut shell it’s using art to process your emotions and the unconscious part of your brain. I’ve done it here in a group setting with the Khul Wellness Centre and other agencies and it’s very effective, especially on quiet reserved people, because the creative process helps you understand and bring out your emotions in healthy manner.
And for creatives, it’s easier. Because that’s what art is. Primarily, it’s about decoding something raw and putting into something you can understand and cope with. So if anyone is struggling, I recommend keeping a visual journal outside of work and let your intuition tell you what you’re feeling. It’s about witnessing what comes out from something new you’ve created. That’s why it’s a lot easier for artists. Because it’s the intersection between psychology and creativity. I also recommend this book by Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections as it deals with this subject rather well. The American and Europe (I think) Art therapy association have some great resources as well.
GETZ: One thing people in our world deal with constantly is perfectionism but there’s this weird definition that makes look like a good things, something to achieve? In the lockdown it’s bound to get worst, what’s your take on it?
Perfectionism is mostly associated with wanting to be perfect. And this varies from person to person and we all have that idea of perfect. This image you tend to hold up. If you go deeper it’s about control. Trying to get everything in line to achieve the perfect status. People will ruminate that and mull over in their heads and try to live up to the expectations behind it. Because at the end of the day, you can’t be perfect. There’s no such thing. And the fear of not having that perfect status is paralyzing. It cages people from being the best they can be and it hinders people’s growth. For creatives, it stops them from sharing great art work. All because they couldn’t abide by an unseen standard of perfect. But there’s nothing wrong with trying your best to achieve the best, the danger lies in setting standards too high you’re obsessed with the idea of achieving that standard it prevents you from doing anything else.
GETZ: Something else that’s being pushed right now is the need to be productive. But that’s not the reality. Some of us have someone to take care off, other people want to be productive but aren’t. What are the realities of this?
You know during COVID when you find yourself sitting down or in bed all day and tired at home for no reason, that might be a sign that your body is responding to trauma. It’s not laziness, it might be mistaken for that but it’s not. In addition to the pandemic, which itself is traumatic, there’s so much past trauma in our daily lives and some we’ve all experienced collectively, now that we have some large amount of free time, we are left to face it. Especially if you live alone or it’s just two people. You’re confronted with that trauma you have not dealt with before or it is resurfacing again. In this context, it gets easier to be productive. So if anyone’s trying hard to be productive and they find it hard, maybe it’s time to reflect. Be productive by introspecting because you’re not going to get time like this again. Maybe ask yourself why you’re tired or why you can’t complete that specific challenge, why certain tasks aren’t easier. Be gentle with yourself. This time isn’t just to come up with great works of art but to work on ourselves while being good to ourselves.
If you want to be productive, start small. Don’t start with a large goal, try to do attainable ones and break them down and do little at a time, so that you can see results. That might encourage you to do more, hopefully.
GETZ: Before our last question, what movies/series are you watching?
Zahara: I’m usually super busy and I spend most of my free time with the kids but if I do watch something. It must be something funny. Normally I’m into the independent films, and intense dramas. But now I am sticking to shows like community, blackish and other quirky comedies. I also love Insecure and Fleabag even though it gets dark at times especially with fleabag. I also use songs from my younger days like India Ire, Jill Scott and Erica Badu with my kids for the dance off. Hey! they want me to pick the songs so yeah we have fun!
GETZ: Finally, as person engaged in therapy how do you see the world post covid-19? Nothing too specific, it could something you hope for?
Zahara: Well no one knows what the future holds but the next 2 years will be intense with or without the virus. There will be changes and change is good but hard. Because the world must change. If this doesn’t change the world, I don’t know what will. Some people will be gentler, kinder and others won’t. Even now, you see people breaking all the social distancing rules for silly things and not abiding by simple rules to keep them and others safe despite having people at risk living with them. However, I hope that the pandemic will turn us into a more loving people. The collective trauma we experienced and are experiencing now will take a while to take its course but I hope that it’ll make better people out of all of us.
GETZ: Thank you so much for the generous interview!
Zahara: No problem it was a great interview!
You can follow Zahara on her social media platforms ASK Zahara. Do subscribe to her channel for awesome stuff on mental health, especially in these trying times.
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