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March 15, 2017

Art Therapy

Female employee caregiver helping female client in wheelchair paint flowers on a canvas

What is Art Therapy?

The images are used to explore feelings and emotional conflicts and differentiate this form of therapy from other forms of therapy.  Whether there are simple marks on a page or a carefully worked picture, the art therapist and client work together to understand what the artwork “says.”  With this understanding, they can cope better or create the change they need for their life to be more satisfying.  For our clients, the act of making art is therapeutic.  Exploring materials, experiencing choice making and guiding their own work builds confidence.


Where Does Art Therapy Take Pace?

 The range of people served by art therapy is vast and art therapists practice in a range of settings including hospitals, mental health centers, prisons, and nursing homes, veteran’s centers, juvenile centers and day programs for people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities, such as here at Curative Care. No matter the setting, art therapists know how and when to offer specific materials. 


What Are Some Benefits of Art Therapy?

For many people, some things are “beyond words;” words fail to adequately explain or describe emotions, thoughts, trauma or pain.  For others who are non-verbal, art therapy is a natural process for unlocking and expressing non-verbal communication through images.  For our clients, engaging in art making helps them to express, contain, explore and reflect on their thoughts and feelings and feel understood.  In our small groups, clients can work on motor skills, interpersonal skills, communication, peer support, self-esteem and gain confidence in their potential.


Art Making in a Day Program

The individuals served in our day programs face choices galore.  Our goal is to help them thrive. We do that by offering opportunities to experience the joys of independence, through activities that matter to them.  A beautiful way to see this independence is to offer and observe the art making process as an engaging activity that matters to them.

The day program staff, front line people engaging clients all day, is responsible for facilitating activities and projects with clients, who have intellectual and cognitive impairment and are unique in their needs and abilities. The staff shares the task to know each client and listen to both verbal and non-verbal communication. Staff responds to needs and abilities while offering choices and freedom to create.  This freedom of creation is the creative process.

The creative process can be described in different ways, and the stages having different names.  What is important is that a process occurs and the boundaries are fluid; moving through ideas, carrying them out visually to re-working ideas or experimenting with materials. Staff uses this process while imagining, planning and carrying out art projects with clients.  Clients use this process while engaging in the activity that allows and encourages independence and freedom. 

The freedoms of the creative process allow our clients to imagine, to play, to make choices, to try out ideas, to use their hands, to interact with peers, to learn skills that transfer to other areas of life and to build confidence in this setting that is accepting and non-judgmental.  They learn to expand their horizons as they become more aware of possibilities for themselves. Staff help move the process along, knowing when and how to assist and more importantly, when not to.  

Learning and knowing how art materials work informs staff decisions when planning new projects or re-working old ones.  The trend to recycle discarded materials encourages clients and staff together to come up with creative solutions for free materials. There is no elite group of people who possess this ability to be creative.  We all are inherently creative.  When you recognize the satisfying, creative possibilities in your life you will know of the vast opportunities it presents to people with intellectual or cognitive disabilities.

Mary, Senior Program Coordinator

Mary has a Master’s Degree from Mount Mary University in Art Therapy. Mary has been with Curative Care for 21 years. During her time at Curative she has designed a rotating art therapy program for 7 day programs, organized a client art show, provided art activity training for day program staff, worked directly with clients to beautify day program areas and facilitated programming for developing art for the Curative holiday card. She is also a member of the TAP the Potential organizing committee. In Mary’s spare time she enjoys making art, gardening and cooking.

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