Art Heals

expressive art therapyexpressive art therapy Photo: Jon Reese Staff members in the Student Health and Counseling (SHAC) office organized an expressive arts group fall term to help students deal with clinical conditions like depression and anxiety and undiagnosed issues like loneliness and struggles with perfectionism. The pilot program, which accepted seven students, was so successful that SHAC began launching more small-group therapy options as the year progressed.

“Our students are so good at being in their heads that they can sometimes struggle to get in touch with their feelings,” says SHAC psychotherapist Leah Wellstone.

To combat that reality, Wellstone and her colleague, counseling psychologist Nate Page, met weekly with the students for such activities as drawing, painting, writing, improvisation, and discussion. At one meeting, students began painting self-portraits, then passed the unfinished piece to a neighbor, who added to the painting before passing it on to the next person. When they were finished, several people had contributed to each portrait.

Wellstone was impressed, but not surprised, by how much the students learned and grew over the term. “Art accesses parts of the psyche that might take much longer to reach through traditional therapy,” she says.

The students formed such a tight bond with one another that by the end of the term, they were lingering long after the group’s official ending time.

“In individual therapy, the therapist is the help giver and the client is the help receiver,” Page says. “But in a group, everyone empathizes with one another. The students get to be both help giver and help receiver. It’s empowering because they’re actively involved in healing other people.”

“I see it like a kind of family therapy,” says Wellstone. “Carls help Carls, right?”

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