Seeing Social Work in the Philippines through a Psychosocial Lens: MAGIS at NASWEI book launch

We commemorated Human Rights Day this year with the National Association for Social Work Education, Inc. (Philippines), at their book launch of The Human Costs of the Philippine War on Drugs: a collection of case studies that poignantly capture the landscape in which social workers all over the country currently focus on.

We were in the company of professionals who have dedicated their careers and lives to the incredible and unique calling of Social Work. This professional field is all too familiar with contexts with profound needs for human dignity: conflict zones, disaster areas, national borders, and communities of poverty. To have a heart in these margins and knots in society is both a tall order and a natural inclination of the human spirit. As keynote speaker Evelyn Balais-Serrano said, “we have common humanity.”

As the field of Social Work goes through a paradigm shift from dealing with welfare, to involving themselves with the all-encompassing and currently controversial landscape of human rights, we are also significantly moved by the need for further deepening of resilience and strength in body, mind, and spirit.

We sincerely thank everyone we met yesterday and for the stories that were shared. We look forward to sharing in the journey of, and helping how these brave helping professionals help themselves and help each other.

1: Keynote Speaker Evelyn Balais-Serrano
2: NASWEI VP – NCR and Executive Director, Dr. Elsa H. Ruiz; with MAGIS Managing Director Kathy V. Ponce
3: NASWEI President, Dr Melba L. Manapol; and VP – Visayas, Ms. Rose Sequitin with MAGIS representatives Kathy (Managing Director), Miah Tanchoco (Assistant Director for Program Management), Adi Santos (Communications Officer)

A Morning with Asian Hospital and Medical Center: Fit for Good



Join us Saturday, November 18 as we share the therapeutic experience of dance and movement through a short talk and workshop with Dance Therapist Joey Atayde. Fit for Good is an initiative of the Asian Brain Institute for raising awareness about living well over the age of 50. The morning will cover a range of topics including physical and mental health and fitness, and an introduction to the Institute’s brain wellness program in context of dementia.

About the Speaker

Joey is a Registered Dance/movement Therapist with the American Dance Therapy Association.  She finished her graduate studies in Dance/Movement Therapy at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York.  She has worked with children and adults with mental illness, using movement as a form of psychotherapy and using this to integrate the body, the mind and the spirit.

7 Groups and Projects Changing the Conversation on Mental Health in the Philippines

The last decade has changed the conversation about mental health in a significant way. Here are just a few of the amazing activities happening around the country this week, and local organizations working on helping the country address mental health.

MHACTNow is the official campaign for the Philippines’ first ever Mental Health Act. The petition gathered more than 20,000 signatures, and together with the campaign, it was enough for the government to take action and spark nationwide discourse about its importance. The Bill was approved by the Senate on May 2, 2017, and is currently going through amendments for its final reading. Hopefully, this month of Mental Health Awareness will be topped off with the fantastic news of the Bill’s approval in the House of Representatives.

The Youth for Mental Health Coalition is a 1-year-old organization that has taken leaps in a short span of time. Their strong social media presence that has given Filipino youth a platform to be heard and acknowledged in context of mental health issues, and the Coalition has representatives all over the country.  They are holding the National Youth Congress on Mental Health this September 14, 2017. Check out their lineup of activities for this week as published on Facebook, as well.

MentalHealthPH is an online advocacy that, this week for Mental Health Awareness Week in the Philippines, is taking to universities to be part of talks, forums, and other events. They publish story submissions that capture a poignant snapshot of living with mental health issues, which you can find here.

Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Philippines is a professional community that provides psychosocial interventions to victims/survivors of disasters, crises, and emergencies in the Philippines. One of the head trainers and Program Director for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support at the National Center for Mental Health, Ms Thelma Singson Barrera, has activated thousands of psychosocial care providers all over the country through capacity-building in psychosocial support, and been involved with key first-response teams in some of the country’s most devastating disasters. We had a chat with her recently for Mental Health Awareness Week.

“I feel and believe that the awareness on Mental Health has improved in the past years,” she said. “More mental health programs have been established and are successfully in place… and as a post-disaster response, Mental Health and Psychosocial Support is now being recognized as important to be provided to survivors of disaster.” In her career of more than 27 years, Ms Thelma, who began as a hospital-based Mental Health and Psychiatric Nurse before moving into the fieldwork and training she does today, has encountered also the kind of response that stigmatizes the matter: “… if people know you work in a mental hospital, they will give a silly laugh and ask: ‘Don’t you get the disorder too for taking care of the mentally sick patients?’”

As seen in the conversation that transpired after Joey De Leon’s comment about depression and the consequent apology, how we as a society deal with battling stigma is crucial to support and advance mental health initiatives. Responding to lack of awareness with a sincere intention to share and help educate can bring out the lessons in difficult situations.

Self-expression can be a powerful partner for mental wellbeing – it is at the core of what we do at MAGIS as well.  It is not a surprise that there are also wonderful groups and projects that use the arts to have conversations and build an empathic community around mental health: Silakbo PH, Tala: Mental Wellness, Stellar Stranger.

Today, World Mental Health Day, we recognize and salute all the initiatives that have helped to achieve where we are right now with Mental Health. Mental Health can be a sensitive topic. It takes courage to continue the conversation in brave and empathic response to the need of understanding, awareness, and acceptance… and even more so to start it.



Featured image: A mindful prayer activity with MAGIS Creative Spaces, The Learning Child School, and Cartwheel Foundation in THRiVETrauma-informed Healing and Resilience in Vulnerable Environments; a teacher-training program conducted by MAGIS Founder and Director Gina Alfonso.

Thank you to Ms. Thelma Singson Barrera, from the National Center for Mental Health and long-time friend of MAGIS, for speaking with us this week.

Are you part of or do you know of more organizations making a difference for Mental Health in the Philippines? Let us know in the comments or contact us.

Thriving Creatively: the promise of art for healing

Last month, we launched our first run of THRiVE – a psychosocial training program in expressive arts-based approaches to healing and learning in the classroom.  This program is an opportunity for us to create and hold the space for educators to rediscover and be themselves through the ageless method of and tools for expression: art and creativity.

Training educators as people

We started the 4-day intensive standing in a circle, feet hip-width apart, arms stretched out and palms open on either side of us. This moment taught me the power of a standing being. I looked around at our circle. We had come together as 33 educators, coordinators, managers, community builders; but in that moment we were 33 people who were right where they needed to be, 33 stories to be told. The gravity of this collective presence was enough to build us up, a mountain beneath our feet.

To give these individuals space in this way was very important for lead facilitator and MAGIS Director Gina Alfonso. “Each of us has the right to be here. Each of us has a place in this circle and a reason for being here now.” she said.  With so many different journeys that led to the one moment, it was crucial to establish a sense of safety and belonging at the very beginning.   At THRiVE, educators learn to improve the way they work by improving their sense of self, first.

Trauma-informed practice

MAGIS developed THRiVE – Trauma-informed Healing and Resilience-building in Vulnerable Environments – with trauma in mind. Considering it in the broadest sense of the word, the activities over the 4-day intensive addressed both shared community and personal trauma, toxic stress, and the need for resilience. Through arts-based activities, the psychology of play, and individual and communal mindfulness practice, the group learned how to improve their professional work not only by being informed by the science behind the practice of the arts for psychosocial interventions in the classroom, but also by the experience of taking care of themselves first – the same way they take such thoughtful care of the students and colleagues they work with.

One participant described the experience as a realization of the blessings despite issues and everyday challenges. Through activities designed with self-awareness and mindfulness, there was also an element of healing. “I am able to say that I am healed and free from the heavy feelings I was carrying because of my own perception, thinking, and doing,” she said.

Mind the brain

The storytelling, self-awareness, and self-care practice doesn’t end with arts-based activities. From our year-old partnership with Mindworks self-awareness for us as their technology provides a detailed portrait of our brains: brain maps.  Mindworks uses EEG technology to depict brainwave activity, which can accurately show the current state of brain, and which neurotherapists analyze to inform customized programs for improving brain function and mental agility. The brain maps alone, along with interviews about them, provide a wealth of insight into the impact of personal history on how we think, our natural inclinations, and areas we can improve. This greatly helped participants of THRiVE to understand their strengths, their needs, and how they can better work together in their chosen professions.  Most importantly, knowing their needs helped them create their own plans for a self-care practice.

Creative souls

Bambi, one of the co-facilitators of THRiVE and Assistant Director for Community Relations, said the experience for her brought her to deeper appreciation of the arts as a vehicle of self-discovery and healing. Kathy, our Managing Director and a participant of the program, described it as life-changing.  Working behind the scenes, I was moved by the creative fluidity in the program’s facilitation: it was alive, responding to emergent needs of the participants.

Whichever side of experience, we all witnessed people heal, learn, and thrive through the arts. Visual art was a self-made, embodied mirror that someone may have been introduced to for the first time. “I didn’t even know I could do this,” one participant said in surprise. The a-ha moments were resounding by the end of the program. Movement and music gave life new rhythm, whether shared or individual.  Even the thoughtful selection of symbols was a creative experience in itself, giving new meaning to everyday objects around us.

We are deeply grateful for the vibrant participation of the inspiring educators of both The Learning Child School and Cartwheel Foundation, Inc.‘s partner Indigenous communities. We have learned as much, if not more, from each of you.

We also thank our friends at Cartwheel who co-facilitated this program with us.

Were you part of this program? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!

To learn more about THRiVE, or to express interest in organizing it for a group, contact us.

On feeling uninspired, and 3 ways to think with your senses

Some of you may have been directed here from our April 2018 newsletter. There was an error in the newsletter’s linking, so if you are looking for Art and Play for Resilience, click here.

Some of you may already know how important it is to look inward, read into you, and discover something new about your story. This is, however, easier said than done.  According to Art Therapist and and Professor Shaun McNiff, the distress of feeling ‘stuck’ partly comes from having experienced satisfaction in “feelings of potential expression”. In other words, the height of inspiration is what can make the silence of non-expression most demotivating.

Though in context McNiff was speaking about artists and creative block, this feeling is universal and not at all restricted to artists.  Ringing true beside the fact that creativity is innate in everyone, you don’t have to be an artist to feel uninspired, longing for a ‘creative streak’, or wanting to feel like you’re ‘on a roll’.  Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it flow: a “deep sense of enjoyment that is long cherished and that becomes a landmark in memory for what life should be like.” Flow is the sense of control, clarity, peace, and ease. Who wouldn’t make that the benchmark for their life’s moments?

This feeling comes and goes, and going through an uninspired period is difficult, no matter how you use creativity in daily life: as an artist, for leading a team, for solving day-to-day problems.

The silence and stillness of this period can be deafening, but McNiff invites us to try a kinder and more accepting disposition toward being stuck:

The most reliable way to deal with stuck or inactive conditions is to accept them, understanding they are universal features of the creative process and not something belonging to me alone. Acceptance of what is happening in the moment sets the stage for creative expression to regenerate itself.

Most days, we probably have to learn and re-learn how to accept our limitations and the rhythm of flow, but we have to seek out the openness. Acceptance is an undetected strength that is often overpowered by the noise of disappointment, busyness, and simply trying too hard. It is our pursuit of acceptance that leads us to the strength of openness to our reality. It doesn’t matter how small the moments may be – there is always the deep well of possibility, and the next a-ha moment.

Here are a few things to help anyone through the process of being in-between flows of expression, and of accepting the fullness of the present moment even when it feels dead quiet.  Remember to approach these activities with appreciation of process; not at all outcome.

Learn for the first time.

British Artist Leon Kossoff considers his entire career in art as “learning how to draw“. Perhaps, the more knowledgeable you are at something, the more important this is to practise. If you’re stuck, it may mean you need to warm up to a small degree of unlearning what you already know, to reach new and deeper understanding. This isn’t so much about the senses yet, but more a way of being, and a humbling and inspiring way to start the day. Kossoff would wake up in the morning and say, today I might learn how to draw.

Awaken the senses.

“In the creative process we do not just make things: we make ourselves,” McNiff says.  Have you ever said something along the lines of, “I’ve put all that I am into that”?  When we are creative, we are what we do. A simple way to acknowledge this connection is to engage yourself artfully. Artfully, because the explicitly creative act of expression is what opens up your mind and allows your whole body to feel. Awaken the senses, because your senses connect your thinking mind to your experiential, physical self that navigates your physical environment.

For the eyes: draw by looking
I often struggle with drawing because of the tendency to judge and analyze how well I can copy what I’m seeing. While there is value and often jaw-dropping skill in being able to draw accurately to life, there’s also value in the fluidity of instantaneously making marks according to what you see. This helps tone down the analytical mind that can sometimes hinder creative expression. So: put pencil to paper and draw something right in front of you, without taking your eyes off what you’re drawing. Let your seeing mind alone inform your drawing hand.

For the ears: draw what you hear
Blindfold yourself (or close your eyes) and draw what your ears hear. This exercises spatial awareness and can bring in a new way of taking in your surroundings. Here, your hearing mind informs your drawing hand and you might find you’ll still know where things are, how big they are or whether they are fragile or robust. To maximise this little experience, go somewhere outside where there are natural sounds, or to a bustling place.

For the hand: draw what you touch
Have a friend choose objects with differing textures and place them in opaque bags. Chances are, you’re going to know what’s inside – you don’t have to see a book to know you’re holding one. However, in this exercise, challenge yourself to draw what it feels like, not what you know it is. With your non-dominant hand in the bag, feel your way through drawing whatever you can’t see. How do you draw or make marks that will show something is rough or smooth? When I tried this for the first time, I spent fifteen minutes feeling my way through drawing a leaf.

Write a river.

Write whatever comes to mind. Set a timer of around 10 minutes, catch the first thought and go from there. This will exercise your sense of presence and the need to keep writing will eventually ask your brain to pull out all the stops and start asking other parts of yourself what stories they can tell. What did your hands touch? What are you hearing? How does it feel to sit on a chair? Some people prefer doing this with pen and paper, and that’s always an enriched tactile experience. However, you may also choose to type – there are others who prefer typing because to type is to be quicker in recording fleeting thoughts. 10 minutes not enough? Add another 10!

Whatever you decide to do, it’s helpful to reflect on it afterward. Does it tell you something about your feeling of being stuck? Does it tell you what you’re inspired by at the moment?  We’d love to hear from you if you’ve tried these activities, or what you did if you’ve come up with your own.

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper & Row, 1990. Print.

McNiff, Shaun. Imagination in Action: Secrets for Unleashing Creative Expression. Boston: Shambhala, 2015. Print.