As we prepare for the inaugural AIGA Eye on Design Conference, we meet some of our esteemed speakers to find out more about them, their work, and what you can expect from them on the big day.

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Roxanne Kibben will be speaking as part of our Design + Mental Health panel. Kibben is project director at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Chemical and Mental Health, and has more than three decades’ experience working in the mental health and addiction fields, having served as a clinician, administrator, educator, and consultant. Kibben has been and continues to be an outspoken advocate and person in recovery since 1979.

As a mental health professional, what are some of the unique challenges that affect designers and creative professionals, in particular?

The need to balance the creative tension required between honoring our spiritual truth and producing results such that others like enough to pay us to do it, so we can keep doing it and pay the bills, too! The spirit part of our creativity, if we are honest with ourselves, is scary, vulnerable, and out there “on the skinny branches” of risk.

Some, if not all of us, have had someone in our past who has criticized our art or creative process and outcome. Those hurts are wounds that strike at our core, which I call spirit. Left unaddressed, unresolved, they tend to run our self-talk. That self-talk typically isn’t kind, considerate and polite, right? If you are at all like me, you pick up a thread of disapproval and run with it. In fact, the stories we make up are pretty rotten first drafts. Brené Brown, author and researcher, calls them “shitty first drafts”.

If we don’t want to be with the emotional fall-out of criticism, external or internal, we find a way to escape.

Trust me, I know. I don’t even need the external triggering event, I can take off running on my own internal fiction. That results in shame, fear, anxiety, sometimes covered up with anger, resentment, defensiveness—not a place one wants to hang out for long.

And so, we reach for a drink, a cigarette, something to eat, likely to have carbs and sugar in it, work harder/longer than others, stay in those relationships we know aren’t good for us, or maybe we can’t go an hour or two without checking our phone, social media or some tech engagement. Do that escape enough and you will probably cross that line and become addicted. Don’t go there, pressure yourself to be liked by most everyone and your work be acceptable, liked, and perhaps most elusive of all, be “cool” and you are likely to lose your “spirit,” the reason you do your art in the first place. There is a reason addiction is referred to as a spiritual disease, and it’s not just that booze is also called “spirits”.

You’ve gone from studying mental health to developing comprehensive addiction professional training programs and postgraduate certificate programs in addiction studies. If you could go back in time and give yourself a piece of advice when you were first starting out as a professional, what would it be?

I was entered the addiction counseling profession over 35 years ago and degrees were not necessary. I had specialized training that was included classroom and on the job learning which equated what was later recognized as an associates of arts degree. By my third year in direct service as a counselor I entered management of addiction services, realizing much of what my career goals had been just a few years previous. Despite my success, I suffered from the imposter syndrome. As the decades went on, I did go back to school to achieve my undergraduate degree and eventually my masters degree. When it came to determining what I wanted to study, it was how to take the counseling to the next level of systems change—organizations. Part of the decision making was based on being reticent to sit in classrooms with instructors telling me how to do something I had been doing for 10+ years by that time.

If there was one piece of advice I would give myself when I first started out as a professional, it would be don’t be so sure you know what you need to know or that you can ever come close to knowing all there is to know in any subject, let alone the one you claim as your profession. A closed mind is a most dangerous thing.

What’s one thing about the mental health field you wish more people knew about?

I wish people understood the nature of addiction as they understand the nature of diabetes or hypertension. Yes, there are medications for those diseases but the majority of the prevention, early intervention, treatment and prognosis lies in the social, behavioral and personal lifestyle changes a person makes. Stigma reduction through that understanding can help improve more outcomes for everyone—those with the addictive disorder, those impacted by that person’s addictive disorder and society at large. 

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