Interview of Svetlana Kyun, a practicing psychologist, doctor and teacher, disciple of Gagik Mikaelovich Nazloyan, author of the portrait method of clinical psychotherapy - Mask Therapy.
EРR: Svetlana, can you tell us why did you join the Institute of Gagik Nazloyan, had become his student and for so many years you are using Mask Therapy as the main method of practical work? What interested you?
Svetlana Kyun: I think it was fate. Actually, I wanted to become an obstetrician, but everything went different way. I was 20 years old and I was looking for a job as a massagist. I accidentally found out that there is a vacancy at the Institute of Mask Therapy, I called Gagik Nazloyan, I came for an interview, and he hired me. Only when I came to Nazloyan, I had remembered that a year or two earlier, I watched a TV program about mentally diseased people and an innovative method of treatment. There was a dark-haired man, who sculpted someone's portrait attached to the wall. This picture got stuck insidemy memory. Now I think it was not "accidental." But then I was amazed by the personality of Gagik Mikayelovich, his attitude towards the mentally diseased people, and the very warm, lively therapeutic atmosphere at the Institute. I knew very little about mental diseases, and of course I did not know that schizophrenia couldn’t be cured. I learned it later, from relatives of patients, most of whom for many years underwent a cycle of repeated hospitalizations, and where every time they heard that there was no hope, it could not be cured, and they have to prepare themselves that things would get worse. I met former patients whose treatment, and the therapeutic sculptural portrait were finished. They were officially recognized as mentally healthy people, they received the conclusion of the medical commission at the place of residence (at those times it was the only possibility to withdraw from the register), and they brought it for Gagik’s medical history. And it also impressed me because I had read the stories of their disease. I passed the entrance test when Gagik hired me. I needed to make a facial massage to one of the heavy patients so that she felt better. And all the work with the patients was subordinated to this process - day after day to do something so that the patient could feel a little bit better. A person with a mental disorder is strange, incomprehensible and very lonely. He is literally locked in a circle of pathological loneliness, alone with a hackneyed record of his experiences and thoughts. His contacts with people and the world are broken. He may not remember, or even not know, what is normal contact, dialogue, communication with the other person. And even with the one he sees, looking in the mirror. The goal of the Mask Therapy is to find opportunities for contact of the mentally diseased people and to overcome the barriers of loneliness. When in the patient's life had appeared a sincere and lively dialogue with the therapist, the symptoms of the disease were having less space. This place began to occupy the healthy part of personality. Gagik's attitude towards patients was a combination of professionalism and love, manifested even in small things. He was saying: “If you do not love the patient more than yourself, then you cannot cure him”. When you create a portrait of your patient, this is a way how you can know him, feel intimacy with him, feel the most subtle nuances and shades of his experiences, then it is impossible not to love him.
The process of working on portraits of patients could bewitch anyone. Under the hands of Gagik, something new was born, it manifested itself, was constantly changing and becoming more and more obvious and similar to the face of a person. And all this was done only for a single patient, who at this moment was sitting nearby. The portrait had been living its own life, becoming more and more defined and similar to the patient, while the patient also had been changing, becoming more and more healthy, and his face had gradually changed. During sessions, the communication between patient and therapist was also an important part of the therapeutic process. The contact was multidimensional, through feeling of boundaries, through different emotional and psychical states, through glances and touches of the portrait or the patient himself, through silence and pauses, and even through others people presence. It was like a dance, when one partner feels the other one perfectly and leads him. The standard clinical part of treatment was also present: medical histories, supporting pharmacotherapy, working with the guardians/relatives of patients, searching for physiological causes of symptoms - all this was part of the process in general. Research work on the perception of the mirror image of Self and the development of new methods in the concept of Mask Therapy was permanent.
What was happening there touched me so deeply, it was so interesting that I understood - I want to study it. It became my dream to be a psychotherapist and a sculptor, and so I started my journey. It was an apprenticeship in its most classic form, both as a sculptor and as a therapist. On my eyes and with my participation, Mask Therapy was developed. There were a lot of patients with various diagnoses and conditions, and we worked day and night, and it was a good clinical school. A team of specialists was assembled - psychotherapists and assistants, who worked “avidly” along with Gagik Mikayelovich. In addition to portrait therapy, we began to use with patients treatment a group-work on the method of therapeutic self-portrait, rhythm-plasty, educational art-therapy, and therapeutic makeup. It was a very creative and responsible work. After all, by international standards of psychiatry, we did the impossible - cured hopeless patients. I felt that in this process I was in my place. And I still do not know another, equally effective method of treating the mentally diseased patients
EPR: Svetlana, can you tell from your own experience what is the power of this psychotherapeutic approach?
Светлана Кюн (Svetlana Kyun) : The first thing that comes to mind - it is a very special quality of contact and dialogue between psychotherapist and client. A person trusts me a very intimate part of himself - his face, sometimes his body. I am the one who sees him, I am the one who looks at him and looks very straight. The quality of my close presence says - now you can express yourself what is really important to you, and it is a safe place. I will be there, I will be looking at your bright side and your dark side, I will be looking at any kind of you, and I will accept you. And I give a lot of space inside myself for this manifestation, not knowing what I will meet with. But it is a very soft process. Dialogue and contact are realized indirectly. The methods of indirect mediated interaction are the reflection in the mirror, the drawing process and the drawing itself on the face, body,
and sculpture of a sculptural portrait. The Contact is not only verbal and visual, but also often physical. As a therapist, I’m very attentive to the person’s feelings, always trying to be present and showing natural interest. Together, we seem to go on a journey for what a person needs. Not all moments of what is happening are fully realized. We are in the deep contact, we are in the creative and therapeutic process, we are doing and discussing very specific things, but at the same time something else is happening. Something that is perceived at the level of physical sensations, emotions, feelings, spontaneous insights. As if from the deep appear and put to together invisible parts of the puzzle, that creates personality. And this part of work is no less valuable than the conscious part of the therapeutic process.
Secondly, it is what everything is built around - the face of a person, his body, his appearance - as the physical expression of his personality, his inner reality, invisible to the eye. For every person, in one way or another, a face is playing an important role. Not every person can «see» himself, but that’s another story. I have conducted hundreds of interviews about mirror experiences, and I can say that it’s very, very difficult to tell the truth about your face, as well as to look this truth about yourself in the eyes. It is very intimate. Excitingly. Important. Valuable. But interesting. After all, it is when a person looks at himself in the mirror, or at the photo, he says - this is me. He meets there with himself. With all those parts of his personality with which he is having an internal dialogue in the process of life. And even with those parts of himself, which, he does not suspect. Meeting with these parts creates the opportunity to enter into therapeutic contact and work, even in cases where it is not clear how this can be done in other, more familiar ways. Not so long ago, I had one patient who was delirious, he hallucinated almost continuously, both at home and during portraiture sessions. It seemed that he did not pay any attention to what I was doing, how I sculpted his portrait, he was busy with monstrous images, which he spoke about in the course of our work. The only thing that sometimes we could succeed in our verbal dialogue were some small pauses. But it turned out that he was watching my work. At the end of each session, he had looked with attention at his plasticine portrait and gave his own assessment – now the nose looks more like mine, and the eyes, too. But cheeks and forehead, are not mine. Some time later, he began to look at himself in the mirrors for a long time, and then he began to monitor his hygiene and clothing.
The Mask Therapy is an excellent and effective way to work with client, when he is unavailable or inaccessible to verbal techniques. For example, in reactive states. My colleagues and I had experience in body art with victims of terrorist attacks, assaults and violence. Even the simplest actions - a mirror, a little make-up and a hairbrush - help a person to get out of obsession in experiencing an event, switch to a state here and now and return to himself. Working on your self-portrait automatically facilitates a person’s communication and relationships with other people, even if there is no such goal. Also a client gets the development of fine motor skills, sculpturing skills, and a growing sense of self-esteem for being able to create a real sculptural self-portrait. The educational and therapeutic role of this technique is very important. One of my students, Tatiana Pesheva, works at a school with children. The younger ones sculpt themselves from the kinetic sand, simultaneously studying their features, facial expressions, various emotions, and it helps to develop not only curiosity to themselves, but also emotional competence. The elders sculpt themselves and sometimes portraits of their parents from sculptural clay. They are working on issues of a better self-understanding and self-esteem, relationships with parents and other students. She came to the idea of sculpturing faces on her own, and only later learned that the method of Mask Therapy already exists.
The third thing is honesty, it is very important to be honest in this approach. If you stop holding the correct position in therapy, you cannot sculpt properly, or draw a mask. Your work will surely punish you if you allow yourself to “fly away”. On the other hand, it gives a clear signal when something must be changed in oneself.
EPR: Svetlana, is it possible to use Mask Therapy with mentally healthy people?
Svetlana Kyun: Yes. In the late 90s I gradually began to work with client’s requests in the genre of body art, as a technique that I actively developed and studied. At the beginning, it was the topic of self-acceptance, self-esteem, dissatisfaction with one’s appearance, relieving stressful tension. It turned out that not only our patients, but also healthy people perceive and see themselves in distorted way, and the application of the mask pattern on the face greatly affects the perception of themselves not only in sick people, but also in healthy ones. It turned out an interesting effect. Suddenly in a mask, with a painted face, a man began to see himself, as if he had previously seen some other image in the mirror. "It is me! This is my face! ”- the people exclaimed -“ How did you guess that I am like that?” I also thought about whether I really “guess” what this person “really is”. As a result, I came to the conclusion that when I draw a mask on someone’s face, I erase that face, that image that sees the human mind. A person does not see himself, his own face, he is disturbed by interferences of self-images. The therapist will be able to draw a mask so
that a person could see himself only if the therapist is well tuned and felt into the client, if he entered into a resonance, and passes through his hands everything that belongs to the client, but not his own ideas about how it should be. Only then the mask will be harmonious for the client, and does not injure him. Alas, with a non-professional application of the technique, it happens.
When the “Mask” is applied correctly, a person gets a state of meeting with Self, and at the same time he feels how the boundaries of perception of self and the world are expanding; and then there is a place for new thoughts and feelings. There is space for much greater attention to self, to one’s needs, feelings and experiences, especially if they are suppressed in everyday life. This condition is very valuable for psychotherapeutic work in different genres in the session process. The mask helps the client to withstand difficult experiences, and turns for him to be an additional resource. The mask creates protection and the ability to observe yourself from the side. As a therapist, I can work with different levels of the client’s experiences, exploring different aspects of the personality. Even if in the therapy process, me and the client were doing nothing but drawing the mask in front of the mirror, looking deeply into it, and erasing it from the face or body, anyway, changes in client’s condition were noticeable. These internal processes of change occurred not only during the sessions, but also after the end of therapy. The mask starts the processes of self-regulation in the best way for the client, so that something newcould be arranged properly, and I have a lot of confidence in this process. Until now, this is one of my favorite ways to work, and you never get tired of it.
Then I began to lead a group of self-knowledge and therapy, which still exists and is called “Sculptural self-portrait”. People are coming to the group to sculpt themselves, to explore themselves and to change their attitudes towards themselves, to build relationships with other people, and even to meet with the most important person in life - with themselves, and spend precious hours with themselves.
Not so long ago, I began to sculpt portraits of healthy people. For a long time, I believed that portrait therapy in the form that I had known was a “heavy artillery” designed for the treatment of mentally diseased people. And only at a certain stage of my personal and professional maturity, I understood why I should make a portrait of a mentally healthy person, and how to build this process. This is a very deep, layered, unhurried and soft work with the person. This work has a beginning and an end, which coincides with the beginning of the modeling of a portrait from a plasticine blank-egg and it ends in the form of a completed sculptural portrait. Portrait resemblance should be undeniable. This work involves the themes of self-affirmation, dignity, experiencing the person’s values and significance, self-attitude, self-knowledge, person’s place in life, denial or loss of some personality part, and of course, various experiences and attitudes associated with trauma.
It is difficult to describe the feelings when my fingers touch the plasticine egg, and at the same time I look at the face of the person whose features appear in the portrait. At this moment there is a lot of trembling and warmth, tenderness and care inside me. It is a moment when we meet each other, the beginning of intimacy and joint path. In Portrait Therapy, client-therapist relationships are complemented by model-sculptor relationships, and this enriches the whole process. The feeling and attention of the sculptor, sincere interest and the inevitable love to the model, helps me, as a therapist, to be in contact with the subtlest tints of the client's experiences, and also helps the client to feel his importance and trust in me. While I sculpt client’s portrait, we speak a little about something special, topics for conversation arise spontaneously and naturally. My therapeutic position resembles the work of an obstetrician - my hands seem to give birth to the plasticine face of a client. The "face" is increasingly manifested in the reality of plasticine egg-billet. I peel off layer by layer, and his features take on a more concrete form and portrait resemblance. This is a very visible process, it happens in front of the client eyes, and it touches, awakens, collects the client. I am like an opened door, but at the same time I am present and I create space for the birth of the person’s integrity.
EPR: Svetlana, Can you tell us about the most typical reaction of the client to the methods of Mask Therapy?
Svetlana Kyun: Answering to this question it would be better to divide clients into two groups: healthy people and mentally diseased people. The goals of therapy are different, and so the reactions too.
Mentally diseased people have very different reactions, from excessive admiration to indifference, but there is something that unites them. No matter what type of reaction comes, there is always an interest in the work on the portrait, interest in face, even if it is not showed openly. There is another important thing - dignity. After all, society does not accept such people, and they are somewhere at the bottom of the social ladder. And suddenly, such a person becomes a model for the sculptor. And the portrait is molded only for him. They can feel it.
Most often, the reaction of mentally healthy people after working with a portrait or body-art mask sound like it is magic, some kind of miracle! This is how people talk about their experiences and feelings in the process, and about what internal and external changes have occurred. This is all about the feeling of unusual, their unusual appearance and condition. The second part of the experience is an encounter with something very intimate, fluttering and important about yourself. A person wants to take this knowledge and feeling with him carefully, and not to share it with others.
It is a little different story about self-portraits. It is usually about the discovery of something new and unknown in such a familiar face that a person
sees in a mirror during all his life. And it bring another - ahh! And it is a discovery about oneself; that even if a person thinks that he has no artistic abilities, he finds out that he can sculpt his face by looking at himself in the mirror. HimSelf. With his own hands.
EPR: If it is possible, can you share your personal story of the changes that have occurred in your life due to Mask Therapy?
Svetlana Kyun: When I sculpted my self-portrait, at one moment, looking at the plasticine myself, I realized and felt — that's who knows and understands me on 100%, like no one else in the world. And this meeting with Self is still precious to me.
I had a difficult fate, and I think that in my youth, I had all chances to go crazy. Perhaps, if I had not started to study Mask Therapy and help the diseased people, then this could happen to me also. I traveled to “Madness and Back”, working with patients and not in my own life. I tried the techniques of Mask Therapy on myself, and this gave me awareness and a sense of self-preciousness. And sometimes I still use them to help myself. During my work at the Mask Therapy Institute, the perception of my own face and body had changed - and in my youth I had so many complaints about them.
At one moment in my life, I “went out” of the “world of mentally diseased people and their treatment” into the “normal” world. And I began to look for the possibility to use methods of Mask Therapy with mentally healthy people, because I knew the potential of these methods and felt that there could be a great value for people. So I created the structure of body-art techniques for healthy people. I am constantly looking for explanations and clues about what my teacher conveyed to me simply as an experience. He never taught specifically. I watched how he worked and studied from him. Sometimes he would tell me one phrase or a couple of words over which I had been thinking for many years, and I began to understand their meaning only after acquiring relevant therapeutic experience and knowledge in other therapeutic approaches. And the more I understand, the more I realize how little I know. And it makes me constantly look for new knowledge and grow as a professional. I learned to trust my feelings and intuitions in working with clients not only in mask therapy techniques, but also in others. My experience gives me a good base and stability. I acknowledge myself both as a person and at the same time as a good healing tool with which I can work.
Also, I became a sculptor and makeup artist. Once I could not even imagine such a thing. But, I am a very specific sculptor. Technically, I can sculp anything from life. But, this is not very interesting to me. I turn on when a person comes to me and asks for help. And it is more interesting for me to draw on people faces or bodies. Sometimes I paint on canvas, but this desire comes not often. After all, the canvas is so empty ... and when I paint on a person, something itself tells me colors and lines, because the picture already exists, and I only show it, show the story.
Working with Gagik Nazloyan and being his disciple had changed my whole life. Mask Therapy has become a very big part of me. Each therapeutic portrait is a whole story of a person’s life and his family. And this feeling of intimacy stays with me after the completion of the portraits and communication with former patients - both mine and those with whom I worked together with Gagik and my colleagues. I do not know how it happens with therapists of other approaches, but more than once I’ve been catching myself on a feeling that it I had lived many lives in my life. It was very easy and very difficult to work with Gagik. He was a genius, with all the nuances of the manifestation of genius. While contacting his genius, it was impossible to remain the same. And when I need to do something impossible, I just say to myself - ok, let's do it. Because I can.
Translation and interview - Maria Vetluzhskih