I sat down with one of our volunteers, Amy Lowright, a registered psychotherapist and a board member of the Art Therapy Association of Colorado to hear her thoughts on art therapy. Amy received her MA in Counseling Psychology and Art Therapy in 2016 and has since been providing art therapy services to individuals of all ages with histories of interpersonal violence.
Caryn Oppenheim: What drew you to art therapy?
Amy Lowright: Art helped me process what I was going through in my own life, when I maybe did not have, or realize I had, other avenues to do so. I wanted to be able to offer that creative resource to others with similar experiences.
CO: What is the biggest myth about art therapy?
AL: A myth I often hear is that an art therapist’s role is to interpret the art that a client produces. It’s more about the process. Art is inherently regulating to the nervous system. The art provides another focal point for individuals while in the room with a therapist. If accessing or sharing their feelings fails to come naturally or proves hard, art allows them to feel less vulnerable. A lot of times people do not have an idea of what they are going to create, but even if they do, there is usually something that comes out of the art that is a surprising insight as to what is going on for them.
Some great metaphors happen in art therapy that are symbolic and meaningful for the client, and an art therapist can help guide that. However, for the most part, we cannot, as art therapists, directly interpret the art.
CO: Can you tell me a story about how art therapy has impacted a client?
AL: I have numerous stories I could share. I was counseling a young girl who was called to testify against her abuser in court. We decorated a small rock in session and worked to associate positive feelings with it so that when she went to court she could hold it and remember how brave she was.
I saw another client who had experienced abuse most of her life. After having several years of space from it, she began exploring her new identity without the abuse – she began to notice herself improving her grades, having more motivation, and building healthy friendships. She came to therapy struggling with letting go of her old identity as an abused child and embracing her new identity as a thriving young adult. She created a piece over several art therapy sessions that showcased the many sides of herself, creating an opportunity for us to acknowledge and celebrate them together. I believe creating that art piece first allowed her to articulate and explore her new identity deeper, and helped her move forward from her past.
Thank you to Amy and all our therapists for the work you do.
We need you! If you are a therapist and want to use your gifts to assist others in need, consider volunteering with Metro Volunteers’ Pro Bono Mental Health Program. Contact Caryn Oppenheim, Denver Area Program Manager, at 303-867-0866 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.