Neuropsychologist uses art to give different perception of resilience
“Images of Resilience” with Dr. Scott Langenecker
6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 22
Park City Library’s Community Room, 1255 Park Ave.
Dr. Scott Langenecker says the road of life is filled with bumps, curves and potholes, and the best way people can maneuver these hazards is to develop and cultivate their resilience.
“Resilience is not something you’re born with,” said Langenecker, clinical neuropsychologist and professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah. “Resilience is a set of tools, most of which that can be learned.”
Langenecker will talk of ways people can strengthen their resilience during a free presentation titled “Images of Resilience,” at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 22, at the Park City Library’s Community Room. The event that honors Mental Health Awareness Month is sponsored by CONNECT Summit County.
People learn some of the resilience tools as children from their parents or teachers, he said. Others still pick them up along the way or through professionals.
The discussion, which will be highlighted with local art, will focus on how the appreciation of art and nature is one aspect of developing resilience, Langenecker said.
“The presentation itself is 40 minutes of content, but what I want to do is weave in some personal statements of the artists who have submitted their art,” he said. “It blends mental health awareness, tools for resilience, as I and the scientific field sees them, and the beauty of the world around us.”
One way to become resilient is experiencing art in the moment, according to Langenecker.
“Eastern medicine traditions teache that we all should be in the flow of experience,” he said. “In order to maintain your mental health through bumps and bruises of life, you have to sometimes let go of the past, and realize we can’t steer the car as well as we’d like to towards the future.”
Creating art is a time-consuming way for people to escape the traps of mental illness, according to Langenecker.
“While you may spend an hour with a therapist in a week, or a two or three hours with friends and family, there are a lot of hours you will spend alone with your own thoughts,” he said. “You can spend those hours making art outside, in a studio or on a computer.”
Langenecker said any kind of art — be it photography, painting, music, writing or anything else — helps.
“It doesn’t matter if you think you’re good at creating art or not,” he said. “I have siblings who are, and a long time I was intimidated by that. But as I got older, I realized it’s not about being an outstanding artist. It’s about enjoying the process.”
Langenecker’s artistic outlet of choice is photography.
“I really enjoy it, because I don’t have to be great at it,” he said. “I can just be good at capturing the moments.”
The neuropsychologist will also address the concept of resilience during his presentation.
“When most people think of resilience, they think of strength,” he said. “When they think of strength, they think of bodybuilders, mountains and steel and concrete structures.”
Langenecker, on the other hand, likens resilience to bamboo.
“It’s flexible,” he said. “It’s something that actually bends quite a bit before it breaks.”
Langenecker thinks of toddlers who fall down and get back up over and over again as an example of flexibility.
“To me, resilience is not being impervious to the trials and tribulations of life,” he said. “It’s really about getting hurt, but knowing you can get back up again.”
Humor is another good way to cultivate resilience, Langenecker said.
“Sometimes when bad things happen, you can either laugh about it or cry about it,” he said. “Using humor is a way to acknowledge that things can be tough and not turn out the way we want them to. It also helps us to be OK with laughing at ourselves.”
Another way to cultivate resilience is to realize that life rarely follows a linear path.
“We teach our kids a lot about going to school, getting a job and living happily ever after, but in reality, very few people follow that road,” Langenecker said. “You can’t predict the future, and sometimes there are cliffs you fall off. But what we can do is get back up and dust ourselves off.”
Sometimes getting back up takes a while.
“I know people who have taken years to figure out the right combination of therapy and medicine to get the strength beneath themselves to move forward,” he said.
Many times a person won’t get help for a mental illness because of cultural stigma, Langenecker said.
“We have this American image that we must be strong and independent, but the reality is that humans are social beings,” he said. “Part of resilience is to find people we can lean on when we’re not strong and when we have fallen down. And the reality is that we can do that. We should do that and we deserve to do that. That’s not something you see in Hollywood films.”
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