Art Therapy goes beyond words at Chowan University
“I tell my clients that art is when words are not enough,” said Zulay Romero. At her words a ripple ran through the room. Backs straightened, heads nodded, bodies leaned forward. A close listener might have almost perceived the sound of pulses quickening. She certainly had everyone’s attention.
A native of New Bern, NC, and 2017 graduate, Romero was one of the first to complete what is now a new pre-art therapy minor offered through the Chowan University School of Fine and Applied Arts. She will complete a Master of Science degree in art therapy and counseling at Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) in Norfolk, VA in May 2019.
Romero returned to campus on Tuesday, October 9, to participate in the What is Art Therapy? panel discussion, part of a weeklong Cultural Arts Celebration with the theme A Healing Art. She and co-panelists Dr. Mary Roberts, Dr. Jennifer Place, and Abigail Williams discussed the purpose of and path to pursuing a career in art therapy. Roberts is director of the M. S. in Counseling and Art Therapy program at EVMS; Place is chair and associate professor of psychology at Chowan University; Williams is a graduate of the art therapy master’s degree program at EVMS and currently teaches Introduction to Art Therapy as part of the pre-art therapy degree program at Tidewater Community College. The discussion was moderated by Chris Rupsch, Dean of the School of Fine and Applied Arts.
In answer to the question, art therapy is a mental health service that utilizes the creative process in its methods with clients. According to EVMS, art therapists facilitate client engagement in the creative process of art making and understanding resulting artworks for healing. Practitioners help clients explore their emotions and lived experiences; foster self-awareness, self-esteem and social skills; reduce stress, and manage and recover from depression, anxiety and addictions. Art therapists work in tandem with other mental health service providers to support treatment goals.
It may sound a little soft or touchy-feely but the practice is grounded firmly in science, integrating treatment methods with neuroscience and an understanding of the brain’s functions. As the panelists explained, each artistic material they work with has a different set of purposes, tasks, and effects. Certain materials stimulate certain areas of the brain. Art therapists use these materials to move a client or patient along a continuum in order to reach their therapeutic goals.
While the growth of art therapy as a field is relatively stable in terms of numbers of graduates and practitioners, awareness of and respect for the profession is growing at a much faster pace, which is likely to result in greater demand in the future. This is exactly why Chowan University is so pleased to offer the new pre-art therapy minor, which combines selected studio art and psychology courses into a framework for graduate-level study in accordance with American Association of Art Therapy (AATA) recommendations.
As Roberts summarized, “Art therapy is career of passion, and compassion.” The passion in the room was certainly palpable. It was clear that each member of the audience was left with at least one of two burning questions: 1) how do I become an art therapist? Or 2) where do I find an art therapist for myself?