Celebrating Creative Art Therapy at The heART Studio

March celebrates Creative Art Therapy Month. An alternative to traditional therapy, art therapy allows clients to explore a different side of themselves in an often less intimidating and less clinical space. Opened in 2022, The heART studio at HSVS has given those who pass through its doors an opportunity for healing through a sense of total artistic freedom. 

We sat down with Monica, one of HSVS’s art Therapists, to discuss the process of art therapy and its benefits for those looking to explore it. 

For those who are new to the program, can you describe HSVS’ art therapy service at the heART studio?  

The heART studio is a non-clinical space used primarily for art therapy programs. We’re doing a wide range of programming here, including an artist residency that allows young adults to explore any identity or professional goals and form an artist community together in this space. We’re also doing therapeutic visitation for families to have children and their parents visit each other in a safe setting with art and materials for play therapy to help them engage as a family together.  

 What are some of the main components of an art therapy session? 

 It’s very similar to talk therapy, but we also have artwork in the room. That can make the situation less intimidating for many people because it can feel less direct than talking about something out front. Therapy can be complex, but having something grounding that’s material-based or image-based in the room can help inspire the dialogue between therapists and clients. There’s also the artwork all around us to bounce off of. Unexpected things can happen just by creating something and having an enjoyable experience. 

What does the structure of a typical session look like? 

I let whoever is in the room show me what they want to do, and that’s awesome. I let them take the wheel. People figure out intuitively what they want to do, and that’s what’s beautiful about this space. It’s a non-clinical space, so we can have stuff on the walls that other people have made. So when people are here, they get inspired by each other, and maybe they’ll see something on the wall and be like, I want to do something like that. 

Can you describe an art therapy session to someone who has never experienced it before?

When a client comes in, I’d ask them to look around the room and see what inspires them. What intuitively looks interesting to you? What do you gravitate towards naturally? Then, I suggest they play and interact with it. Don’t have expectations of what anything should look like or what your skills are, and have a good time. See what happens.

I imagine that can be easier for some than for others. If someone needs help diving in, how do you guide them?

Maybe we even start with that. Where does that hesitation come from? What? What’s happening in your mind that makes you feel like you’re not ready to share? What do you need to remove that block? Do we need to switch materials? Do we need to wait to make art and stretch or spin around the room? What is it you need?

That’s so true. What is your favorite part of being part of this program and doing art therapy work?

HSVS Art Therapist Monica

My favorite part is that other people get to see each other on the walls through their artwork. We have private sessions and then some less private sessions, like the residency program group that comes in. I like that the people who come to this room feel the energy that others come to, making them feel less alone. They get inspired by each other even without ever having met each other.

So, how would one refer someone to the art studio?

Currently, there are two primary channels: therapeutic visitation through the HSVS clinic or joining our free Artists Residency program.

Describe the Artists Residency program.

Like any other artist residency, we’re providing space and time for young artists to create a body of work and explore themselves through their art. The artists are co-creating this program with me because this is the first time we’re ever offering it. It’s a time dedicated to creating. You may want to learn about many different things because it’s fun, and that’s fine. You may want to go into a specific type of creative job, and you want to learn about that industry and get practice making a portfolio and having some support doing that. I’ll support the person in figuring out how to get those resources and encourage them to do it.

It’s a free program for anyone with Medicaid ages 16-25. No portfolio or anything like that is required, and no need for someone to have a background in art. Just explore. It would be great if we had more people coming.

How long have you been working in art therapy?

I used to work in art and design, and I felt that the most pleasurable and meaningful experiences with art were less product-based and more about ways that the art process allowed me to connect with people. I wanted to pursue something more about people connecting with each other through art and using all the emotional capacities art can bring out. I finished my Master’s degree last year, and I’ve been with HSVS since last summer.

What are your hopes for the art therapy program at HSVS?

My hope for the program is that we have a lot of people coming here, and all of the different types of people that come here, whether they’re coming through the clinic or therapeutic visitation or the residency, get to meet each other through what’s on the walls in this room. We would also love to interact with the public by having the artist residency artworks on display, like in a show, and having that really showcased.