Can you speak with all the colors of the spirit?
Explore the healing power of art
By HEATHER LANCASTER
Columnist, Allegany Magazine
The past few years have been a roller coaster of emotions. The pandemic has taken physical, mental and emotional toll on all of us. Changes in guidelines, modifications for work, school, and daily activities have been extremely frustrating, discouraging, depressing, and anxiety-provoking. How we deal with stress, major life events and loss is different for everyone. Some people like to exercise to decompress. Nature walks, self-care, reading, cooking, coloring, painting, gardening, mowing the grass, or whatever makes you happy are great ways to recharge and let go of a some of that negative energy. In all of these unique examples of de-stressing, have you ever thought about the creative ways art can manifest as forms of therapy and how diving deeper into the process can help heal individuals in different ways?
I started thinking about all the creative ways I’ve personally dealt with stress and anxiety over the past two years as a way to connect interior design, art, and creativity with well-being. . And everything is logical. I made some design updates to my home, challenged myself with professional interior design work for clients, started experimenting more with cooking and creating art projects with my daughter helped me to face the uncertainties of the world so abnormal. For me, being creative is a way of life, but it got me thinking about how other people deal with stress, and art isn’t an uncommon way to express yourself and decompress. Art has a beautiful way of manifesting emotions through various mediums, which is something quite magical. Think about all the different works of art that you have seen throughout history and in your lifetime. Paintings, drawings, sculptures, glass work, architecture, cinema, music, literature and theatre. All works of art tell a story and express an emotion. These stories are created from the colors used, how an object is depicted, etc. And no two pieces are alike, which makes it unique to the artist who designed it!
The American Art Therapy Association describes art therapy “as facilitated by a professional art therapist, effectively supports personal and relational treatment goals as well as community concerns.” Art therapy is used to improve cognitive and sensorimotor functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, improve social skills, reduce and resolve conflict and distress and advancing societal and ecological change. I contacted the local art therapist, Lauren Yoder, LPC, ATR-BC. Her answers to my questions about art therapy shed new light on the many ways art can heal the mind and body.
HL: How did you start your career as an art therapist? What do you find most rewarding or challenging?
LY: I discovered the profession of art therapy after leaving one of my classes at the University of Maryland. There was a flyer for a workshop on art therapy, and it caught my eye. At the time, I was a double major in criminal justice and psychology, but I was looking for a change. I went to the workshop, and quickly changed course to get the courses required to apply for graduate studies in art therapy. After the University of Maryland, I attended George Washington University where I got my master’s degree in art therapy. Since graduating, I have worked with people of all ages in a variety of clinical and community settings.
HL: What is art therapy for someone who may not be familiar?
LY: Art therapy invites individuals to engage in the creative process to help communicate emotions, memories, experiences in ways that verbal language may not be able to fully access. Traumatic or empowering material is difficult to communicate verbally, and art can help individuals make sense of their experiences. Clients can use traditional or non-traditional materials, and there is absolutely no artistic skill required to engage effectively.
HL: How do you approach the needs of each client and what types of art therapy do you practice with them?
LY: My therapeutic approach is trauma-informed and person-centered. I meet clients where they are and offer them experiences aligned with their therapeutic goals. In the beginning, artistic creation can be centered on access to security, coping skills and grounding. Once these skills are well established, we can use art to help explore difficult or traumatic memories and help give voice to those experiences.
HL: Can you tell me a bit about your practice?
LY: My private practice is Arts and Healing, LLC and I am the sole owner and provider of my practice. My husband and I moved to the Cumberland area after living in Alexandria, Virginia for the past 13 years. I hold a license to practice in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
HL: Do you have a memorable story of how art therapy has benefited someone or a group that you could share?
LY: A few years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in mural projects at a few sites in the Northern Virginia area that supported teenagers who had either been in juvenile detention centers or residential environment. The wall designs were positive and inspiring, and provided uplifting imagery to an otherwise uncreative space. I was so impressed with the teenagers during the process of painting the murals. Most providers or adults would describe teens as having major behavioral difficulties, but I never encountered a single problem. They were collaborative, helpful, engaged, positive, creative and respectful. Instilling a sense of confidence in their ability to follow instructions and collaborate positively impacted the outcome of the mural project.
HL: What kind of positive effects have you observed with art therapy?
LY: I have seen art therapy help people understand and heal from difficult experiences. I really enjoy working with people who identify as “non-artists” and helping them unleash their innate creativity. All human beings are capable of artistic creation and creativity, but more often than not, people lack the ability to express themselves artistically.