“A meeting of the world inside and the world outside” is how art therapy pioneer Eleanor Ulman described her profession. Art therapy is a way of looking to and through experiences using imagery and the creative process to find healing. It brings our internal experiences into the light.
Art therapists complete a master’s level training and education in psychology, human development and visual arts. They use art in assessment and treatment in many settings including private practice and open studios. Many formal elements of drawings provide developmental, emotional and cognitive information to the trained therapist. The creative process can access places in our brain that verbal processing alone may not be able to reach.
Art making has always been a part of my life. In early childhood, I loved to draw, often focusing on pictures of animals or nature scenes. My mom once sent me to a day workshop for artists at the Denver Zoo. I was the youngest “student” that memorable day of sketching giraffes, monkeys and bears!
This early pleasure in art lead to many hours of drawing, painting and looking at other artist’s work. The process of illustrating and creating provided comfort and ‘companionship’ through both normal life transitions and the difficult experiences of moving, changing friendships, the divorce of my parents, illness and loss. At high school graduation, I was awarded two small scholarships to study commercial art at West Texas A & M. I added undergraduate psychology courses that piqued my interest in that profession as well. Ultimately, I decided to complete my bachelor’s degree in Social Work. This led to a part-time position at a state psycho-social rehabilitation center for chronically mentally ill adults where I offered drawing and painting classes as well as life skills training. About this time, my interest in art therapy developed; I remember sending off a request for more information to the American Art Therapy Association. The profession seemed like a beautiful partnering of my interests in psychology and art and my desire to help others- to somehow address the suffering I could see among this exquisitely beautiful world. So, in the fall of 2004 I began my graduate work in art therapy, traveling to Indiana three times a year to complete graduate residencies. In January 2008, I graduated from St. Mary-of-the-Woods College with a Master of Arts in Art Therapy and obtained my license as a professional counselor in 2012.
Art making is the central focus of my counseling work. Our images are forms of communication; they are meaningful responses to the world around us. They are expressions that go beyond words and often show us things about our circumstances and ourselves that words are not able to articulate. Making art enhances perceptual acuity, increases cognitive functioning, allows integration of the senses and activates our creative center. All of these aspects are therapeutic.
Colored pencils are a wonderful media to use in therapy. They are portable, anyone can use them and sometimes they are needed as an expressive tool that allows colorful, emotional response that is easily controlled. In terms of the Media Properties Continuum, colored pencil is in the resistive media range, compared to a fluid media like watercolor, which is on the other end of the spectrum. It requires varied levels of pressure to make marks on the page. Pencil tends to facilitate more cognitive processing rather than emotional or affective therapeutic work. Using pencil can assist a client with problem solving, organizing thoughts, focusing on detail and containing emotion.
I currently see children, adolescents and women in my private practice, ArtLight Therapy & Studios. My work at the studio also includes free-lance illustration and fine art. My part-time counseling position with Hospice & Palliative Care of Western Colorado, where I have worked for twelve years, provides many opportunities for working with kids and teens using art directives like draw your family doing something together.
Drawing still provides a necessary creative outlet for me as I respond to the inspiring and challenging work that I do. Making art provides a way for me to know myself better. It can be a meditative activity that illuminates a path to healing- a window to the inside world.
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