David Lubbers and the Significance of Change

David Lubbers

I told Lubbers I was a bit intimidated to photograph a photographer…


David Lubbers is a photographer. His black and white photographs are hung in group rooms, bedrooms, and common spaces at Sanford House at John Street. Lubbers’ images are provoking, thoughtful, and incredibly significant. His work is part of the healing environment of Sanford House.


And not only is David Lubbers a gifted photographer, but he is a captivating storyteller. It was Lubbers’ birthday when I met him at John Street. He was graciously willing to talk art, addiction treatment and what it means to be “significant.”


Art as Therapy

David Lubbers holds a degree in counseling, and worked in the California public school system for a number of years. This marriage of art and psychology piqued my interest in Lubbers’ work and his connection to Sanford House.


Sanford House offers art therapy services to residential and outpatient clients. Sessions are led by art therapists Leara Glinzak and myself. Art therapy invites clients to communicate, emote, and reflect by visual and tactile means. Many clients benefit from exploring alternative modalities of treatment (such as movement, mindfulness training, acupuncture, drama therapy and art). By exposing themselves to new types of therapies, clients learn how they “heal” best. It is this dedication to individualized care that sets Sanford House apart from other addiction treatment facilities.


Sanford House at John Street

Lubbers’ work in the second floor common room.


The Healing Environment of Sanford House

David Lubbers met Sanford House founder David Green 30 years ago: “We were living on the same street, actually.” Green reached out to Lubbers during the construction of Sanford House at John Street for men. Green was searching for artwork to promote a healing environment. Lubbers keenly accepted. According to Lubbers, it makes his work worthwhile when he can help others.


I asked Lubbers what type of art he has hanging in his home.


My idea of a significant piece of art changes. Some pieces, I don’t know what the message is. It’s up to the viewer. I’ve done my part, I’ve done enough. The viewer has to finish it… The viewer completes the circle. How limiting it would be, to start and finish the circle!


Finishing the Circle

This reminded me of a counselor’s role in facilitating change. As a therapist, it isn’t my “job” to tell folks what to do. It can’t be. I guide, I share information, I provide resources… I nurture opportunities to grow and communicate, I support… But it’s up to the client to find the significance in this process. For example,


“I’ve relapsed.” Or, “I’ve messed up. That means I haven’t found what works yet.” Not that it isn’t possible, not that he or she is a failure. We just haven’t found what works for the client yet.


It’s a beautiful sentiment. And a strong one. Are you attending meetings? How many? What kind? What worked this week? Why? How do you talk about your disease? Think about your failures? What messages do you surround yourself with? And who? What haven’t you tried? What can you try again?


Therapy isn’t a “one-time fix.” Battling addiction, much like depression, disordered eating, anxiety, or trauma, necessitates maintenance, accountability, and often a lifelong commitment. That’s intimidating. But it’s the reality. It’s intimidating, but don’t allow it to be a deterrent to you getting better.


A new path does exist. And you are inherently deserving of wellness. Figure out how to get there.


Photography in Sanford House at John Street


Gazing at Window Panes

Lubbers’ artist’s eye emerged in grade school.


I remember gazing at window panes… I placed the outside scene into a composition… Lined things up… I shifted and moved until it created a picture that was just right. Even now, my process has a lot to do with “arranging shapes.”


Art should draw something out of you, I truly believe that. Most people don’t realize there are messages in art. They may say, I like that. That looks nice… But art is supposed to draw something out of you.


Significant Art

I asked Lubbers to define what makes a piece of art significant.


To capture a fraction of a second… an event… that can speak for ages. These images are valuable. To look at art is to consider it. To consider, “What else is there? Beyond the frame?” It’s significant enough that it’s hanging on the wall in a frame! You should always ask, “So what?” That’s the significance of photography.


Lubbers gave the example of young JFK Jr. saluting at his father’s funeral. I told him I had the same photo hanging in my living room.


We both knew it was significant! But why?


We agreed that much of the clinical work that takes place at Sanford House is about reflection. Clients may be at a cross-roads, wondering “Where do I go from here?”



Lubbers’ waterfall photo, in a group therapy room.


40 Years in Black and White

Lubbers told me a story about the photograph hanging in one of the group therapy rooms. “My friend, he got ahold of me and wanted to know if I had anything for the cover of his book.” Lubbers offered his photo of a waterfall, falling from an unknown height onto a pile of rocks.


And my friend was so taken with the photo that he traveled to the place I had taken it. He wanted a color version and I only worked in black and white. I spend 40 years in black and white.


When he returned to the spot where I took the photo, the rocks weren’t there. My friend looked all over, he couldn’t figure out how the rocks had gotten there in the first place. Looking at the photo, he realized the rocks- smooth and flat- didn’t match the landscape around the falls. And then he realized:


They weren’t there because they were never supposed to be there.


This moment that was captured, it didn’t exist for a long time. It happened… and then it no longer happened. As a photographer, my value is all of the things that I see. Hopefully, this helps people to reflect. Reflection is the point of life. Everything is meant to be reflected upon, inspected. This photo of the rocks, it was such an example of that.


Thank you, David, for spending a few moments with me on your birthday. And sharing your artwork, full of significance, with the residents at John Street.



More information about David Lubbers’ photography can be found at davidlubbers.com


Author Jess Kimmel has always had a passion for art and when she discovered art therapy it just made sense. She serves as Art Therapist for Sanford House. Jess has a B.S in Psychology and an M.S. in Art Therapy. Art therapy allows her creativity to shine through her work and she thrives on seeing the confidence grow in the individuals she works with at Sanford House. Jess is from Hartland, Michigan and currently lives in Grand Rapids. She loves abstract painting, figure drawing and all facets of the art therapy process...