December 7, 2023

What is art therapy? What does an art therapist do? Some may view art therapy as glorified coloring, but art therapy is so much more than just coloring. An art therapist is an individual that works with others to express their emotions through different mediums, this could be coloring aggressively on a page but could also be poetry, spoken word and acting.

On Tuesday, Sept. 24 the education department hosted art therapists Carrie Burick and Jane McKelvey. Burick and McKelvey spoke on the topic of art therapy, and how to support your students who have or are actively experiencing trauma by expressing their emotions through art.

The traditional set-up in Blair 201 was changed by the two therapists who chose to rearrange the seats in a circle, which changed the environment, and that was their goal. By changing the set-up in the room to be more relaxed, it prompted students to ask more questions and share about their experiences in the classroom with students and art.

One of the questions asked was how to encourage students to talk about their feelings. In response, McKelvey shared a story about a previous individual that she worked with who didn’t speak about their feelings but would draw and paint. While the ultimate goal is to have those that they are working with talk about their feelings, talking isn’t always the best approach. This particular individual did not speak with McKelvey for almost six months, but rather came every week and sat in silence while working with art.

When asked how they know what the best medium is for the individuals that seek out art therapy, Burick explained that it all depends. Individuals that are very particular and need to be in control would not receive watercolor paint during their first session. Burick also said that typically during sessions when individuals want to draw they are given pencils without erasers.

Every student in the room shuddered at the thought of using a pencil without an eraser to draw. Burick asked the room why they thought she would give individuals pencils without erasers, Taylor Horton (’20) said “to show them that what they’re drawing isn’t a mistake.” That was exactly what Burick was looking for.

“The discussion was very valuable as a future educator,” Samarra Sucharda (’20) said. “I think even for someone not going into the field it is good to know what recourses are out there for our students and how we can involve them in the classroom. The two art therapists who guided this discussion were very knowledgeable and expanded my understanding of how art can be used to help kids guide their emotions and help take them through any trauma that was experienced in their lifetime.”

The discussion continued on with the back and forth of Q+A before the evening wrapped up. The following day, McKelvey and Burick spoke with educators from Springfield City Schools.

“Art therapy is a way for students to express what they are feeling instead of talking about it,” Jamey Rettig said when asked what she learned during the professional development. “It’s not only used for people who have had trauma in their life but can be something that educators use as a strategy for behavior management.”

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