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The Healing Possibilities in the Art Therapy Treatment

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The process of creating art is a venture that evokes creativity, problem solving, and self-expression. The process of creating art is also healing and comforting, which produces the necessity for the field of art therapy. Art therapy successfully combines creating art and reflection in a way that helps a variety of populations to heal, grow, and see their world in a new, positive prospective. This semester at Adrian College, I was extremely fortunate to delve into the field of art therapy with an internship opportunity to personally witness the effects art therapy has on an assortment of populations. The internship sites were held at: Lenawee Medical, a long term care facility for the elderly; Maurice Spears Campus, a detention and treatment facility for troubled youth; and for one session, Catherine Cobb, a domestic violence shelter. Through this art therapy internship, I was able to learn more about the field, such as how to handle challenging situations, appropriately assign activities to specific groups, and actively engage others in a satisfying art experience.

My semester began with art therapist Shannon Miller at the Lenawee Medical care facility with elderly patients. The Lenawee Medical patients positively surprised me and were thrilled that we would be visiting every week to create art with them. The main change I witnessed the elderly undergo was their willingness to produce art and be creative. At first, many of the patients were hesitant to begin the assigned activities and would express statements concerning their lack of art skills. However, over the weeks, the patients began to open up and lose their attitude of “not being artistic”. I noticed that we had more success with the elderly in activities that were more structured and had a pleasing end result. When our activities were more “imaginative”, the elderly were often confused and would lose focus quickly. By having a set structure to a session, the elderly were able to concentrate on the steps they needed to take in order to reach the finished product. Although the activities had guidelines to help them, the elderly were given complete control over color, image, and additional personal choices. I believe the elderly benefited from the combination of structure and personal expression because it helped them focus on a task but also gave a sense of control that the patients often miss due to the life stage they are experiencing. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for the Lenawee Medical patients to be living in an environment that is reminiscent of a hospital, to be away from their family and homes they grew up in, and to submit to having others perform the daily tasks that they once did on their own.

One activity that I especially deemed successful with the Lenawee Medical patients was the creation of a group “autumn tree”. The patients each created a tree branch out of crumpled newspaper and coffee filter “leaves”. After the patients had created a branch with colorful leaves, they were able to write their favorite autumn memory on the piece. This project induced a lot of reminiscence in the patients and also sparked a group connection over the memories they shared. Reminiscence is important in this population, because many of the patients experience dementia, Alzheimer’s, or another sort of memory loss. In the end, the branches were put together on a large tree trunk and the tree was left on display in their common lounge area. Even after we left the session, the tree served as a reminder of the group unity and also inspired other patients’ favorite fall memories. Shannon Miller stated that one of the most important goals to focus on in art therapy is to always have the session’s impacts last even after the session has ended; I believe that this activity successfully was able to benefit the patients long after we left the building.

Perhaps the most useful lesson I learned at Lenawee Medical was how certain materials and tools affect the patients’ moods. Messy art materials such as oil pastels and chalk pastels made the patients more concerned about getting their fingers and clothes dirty and took the attention away from making art. Controllable and clean materials such as markers, crayons, and color sticks were favored more; they were also easier for patients who had trouble with fine motor movements to use. Also, I learned that bright colors were the best with this population due to the fact that many elderly patients had vision troubles and could see the bright colors the best. Overall, I learned to judge situations appropriately, when to assist a patient in their art making (such as cutting paper), and when to let them create on their own.

The second half of the semester took place at Maurice Spears Campus with Erin Nicol, creating art with trouble youths. Maurice Spears is split into two units, male and female, and I was very fascinated in seeing how the different sexes would respond to art therapy. Overall, both the boys’ and girls’ unit benefited from art therapy tremendously and I was amazed at their self-transformations from the beginning to the end of the semester.

At the start of the semester, we unexpectedly held an art therapy session with the girls’ unit on a Saturday when we learned the boys were out for the day. The session focused on the girls making an “inside-outside” mask; on the outside, the mask was meant to reflect how others view the individual; on the inside, the mask is meant to display how the individual actually feels on “the inside”. We had never worked with the girls’ unit before, so it was interesting to experience their first reaction to art therapy. My strongest memory was of my interactions with Megan, a girl who I had tried connecting with to inspire conversation and reflection over the project. Immediately, Megan shut down when I tried talking to her, made it clear that she hated the project, and did not want to engage in expressing her feelings. During the group discussion during processing of the masks, Megan was still “pouty” and non-expressive. When I returned for the second half of the semester to work with the girls on Thursday nights, I recognized Megan, but something had changed; she was open, expressive, and was actively creating art without putting up a fight! The girls had only been experiencing art therapy for a short period of time with the other internship group, but it was obvious on how much it had already benefited them!

Working with the boys’ unit, I noticed similar changes over the course of the internship. The boys became more expressive over time, thought deeper about their own lives, and were always trying to think of new projects to make in the future. My favorite experience with the boys occurred during the session where they were instructed to create a “self-symbol” using magazine images, paper, and markers. I sat next to a boy who appeared frustrated and was not working on his project. I attempted to spark conversation and asked him what he was going to include in his self-symbol; he responded with, “I’m really not in the mood for this” and refused to make eye contact with me. I assume he was hoping I would leave him alone, but I stayed and began flipping through magazines, asking him if he liked certain images. After a few minutes, his poor attitude changed and he accepted my help; together, we worked to find images that pleased him. The boy created a collage that was comprised of animal images, because he missed his own pets and expressed the good feelings caring for another living creature produced in him. This young man tested my patience, but I was able to see that sometimes all it takes is a tiny bit of encouragement to get patients to participate and release emotions that need to be let go.

Overall, I feel like the youth at Maurice Spears tremendously benefited from art therapy. Through our various projects of self-reflection (i.e. self-symbol, self-portrait of three views) and group unity (i.e. bridge construction, turkey creation, broken squares), the patients were able to learn more about their own selves and how to also connect their personalities successfully into a larger group collaboration. I have great expectations for the youth at Maurice Spears and hope that the lessons they learned in art therapy will remain with them for a lifetime. Solely through the patients art work, I was able to grasp the traumatic and heart breaking experiences these young individuals have faced. However, every time I left the campus, I felt exceptionally inspired and pleased because the boys and girls would always be laughing, smiling, and anxious for our next art therapy session.

Another experience I had this semester was at the Catherine Cobb domestic violence shelter with the Art Therapy Club. During our session at Catherine Cobb, we used Crayola Model Magic clay with children aged nine months – fourteen years to create any object they desired. Our stay at Catherine Cobb was one brief hour; however, we were able to learn so much from these children solely by the way they interacted with the clay.

At first, the children were hesitant to begin creating, but once they started to create, they aggressively beat on the clay with a force I was not expecting. The children beat on the clay with their fists, their arms, their feet, and even their own heads. The children did not seem interested in creating any object out of their clay, and if they did, they would quickly destroy it. The aggressive behavior I witnessed in these young children alluded to the possibility that they may have needed a fast release from detrimental emotions pent up inside of their selves. I also noticed that the children were more focused on impressing and connecting with us than they were in making an object out of clay. They formed extremely fast relationships and begged us not to leave after the session ended. It was apparent that these children have a hard time forming appropriate boundaries and relationships with others. I would like to see Art Therapy Club return to Catherine Cobb in the near future because I believe these children needed more than one art therapy experience to release their built-up emotions.

In comparison, the Lenawee Medical, Maurice Spears, and Catherine Cobb groups’ dynamics were completely different, but all groups were able to achieve successful results at the end of the art therapy sessions. One contrast I noticed the most in the internship was the use of “processing art therapy” and “art as therapy” with the patients. “Processing art therapy” was used especially in Maurice Spears and a few times at Lenawee Medical; it involves a discussion over the art making process and actual art piece at the end of the session. “Art as therapy” was especially used at Lenawee Medical and Catherine Cobb; it aims to use the creative arts as a therapeutic release without processing the art in any way. Both approaches were successful due to the type of populations they were used with. I learned that not every art therapy activity or approach is appropriate for every population, and to always put tremendous thought into how an activity will impact the group that experiences it.

In this world, we are all humans who have the ability to feel, to learn, and to grow. Art therapy is able to teach valuable lessons in a way that is safe, natural, and expressive. Through this internship opportunity with Lenawee Medical, Maurice Spears, and Catherine Cobb, I was inspired to work hard so I can someday earn my graduate degree and credentials to be a registered art therapist. I hope that soon our society will place a greater emphasis on the importance of the creative arts and realize the strong healing qualities it possesses. After this internship, I have an even stronger sense that art therapy is the right career choice for me. I will definitely use the lessons and skills I obtained from this internship in my future career and will never forget the individuals who helped me learn, stay encouraged, and want to stay active in the field of art therapy.

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The Healing Possibilities in the Art Therapy Treatment. (2019, January 03). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 31, 2020, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-healing-possibilities-in-the-art-therapy-treatment/
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