Alumna Tova Abelson and the Whole Health Card Deck
Alumni News

Six Suites of Self-Care

An interview with CIIS alumna Tova Abelman about her recent publication of the Whole Health Card Deck, which helps users connect to six key facets of wellness.

August 17, 2023

CIIS alumni are doing amazing things, and today we’re proud to spotlight the work of recent alumna Tova Abelman, who graduated in 2022 with a master’s in Drama Therapy. She recently created the Whole Health Card Deck for anyone looking to explore and bolster their self-care practices. Whole Health is a 50-card deck designed to support holistic personal wellness across six essential domains: mind, self, movement, sleep, restore, and nourishment. Each card contains a practice that can be incorporated into daily life, empowering individuals to cultivate a well-rounded approach to self-care that integrates the spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical. Appropriate for self-reflection and therapeutic work, these cards each feature original art Tova also created.

Tova was kind enough to sit down with us and discuss her time at CIIS and what led her to create this deck.

CIIS: What was the path from your M.A. in Drama Therapy to creating this deck?

Tova: I began with an idea for an app of wellness practices, and I’m proud to share that the app— Whole Health Mindful Behavior— is now available for both iOS and Android! In the process of developing that app, I decided to also create a card deck of practices. I was inspired by my personal interest in using various types of card decks for creative self-exploration and personal growth. These ways of working with decks were influenced by my experiences in the drama therapy program at CIIS and my love of stories, improv, and art. Play, creativity, flexibility, embodiment, relationships (to self and other), and expansive exploration are some of the themes inherent to drama therapy that are infused into my card deck.

I further refined the idea for the deck in my capstone class for the drama therapy program, with input from instructor Doug Ronning and other drama therapy students. In particular, during the last class before capstone presentations, one of the students encouragingly commented on a digital art image I had included, simply to replace a stock image. I was ultimately inspired, at the last minute, to add more of my own photography and digital art into my presentation. My overall presentation was thus imbued with a deeper sense of personal meaning and significance and reflected more of myself. With a greater appreciation of my own art and creativity as a result of this experience, I decided to redesign the entire deck to use my own photography and digital art on the cards! The redesign process and subsequent publication of the deck happened after I graduated. It reflected a kind of shift in identity as I began to see myself as an artist.

CIIS: What inspired this multidimensional work?

Tova: My card deck is grounded in my deep passion for a holistic approach to health and wellness. I drew inspiration from the creativity and divergent thinking inherent to drama therapy and art in general. I was fueled by the idea of creating an accessible creative tool for healing and wellness. And finally, my own interest in card decks of all kinds and unique ways to use them evolved into creating a deck myself.

CIIS: What sustained your work over the time it took to research and create this deck?

Tova: The idea of helping others forge a path to cultivate more meaning and peace and create positive goals in their life. There are many practices people can incorporate, and I wanted to specifically articulate these and present them in a way that is doable for people. I like the idea of a collection of practices drawn from a wide range of modalities and approaches to achieving wellness and wellbeing in body, mind, and spirit. There isn’t one “right” way or singular linear path, so I wanted to present options in a way that would allow people to flexibly pick and choose what makes sense for them.

CIIS: What do you use most in your work that you learned at CIIS?

Tova: CIIS has instilled in me a very wide sense of awareness, which fuels divergent and creative thinking in multiple areas of my life. I appreciate everything I learned at CIIS on the crucial importance of diversity and acceptance of difference and continue to practice my ability to discern and speak out regarding harmful dynamics, stigma, and marginalization. Finally, I think I’ve become a more spiritual person, or perhaps have increasingly begun to embrace and celebrate a more spiritual side of myself that perhaps has always been there.

CIIS: What is the greatest insight you gained from creating the Whole Health Card Deck and making it available to the public?

Tova: The importance of marketing!

CIIS: Do you have advice for other CIIS students who might be interested in creative projects like yours?

Tova: I think every person’s process and experience would be unique. I would encourage anyone with a creative idea to follow it and see where it leads. Remain open and curious. Be willing to balance the artistic/creative aspects with practical and pragmatic realities related to publication, distribution, marketing, and sales.

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