Magee's Art Therapy program was highilighted in an article in Delaware's The News Journal. The article features interviews with Lori Tiberi, Magee's art therapist, and Kay Martin, an art therapy participant. You can read the full article here and below.
Form of expression: Art therapy helps heal
The News Journal
By Kelly Bothum
December 4, 2012
Art therapy has been used to help a variety of patients, from stroke survivors and cancer patients to children with special needs and prisoners battling depression. It's administered by a trained art therapist, who can use art therapy techniques to assess and diagnose a client or as part of an overall treatment plan. There are about 4,000 art therapists nationwide, according to the American Association of Art Therapists.
Art often is considered a way for clients to express their "visual voice" because it can help people who might otherwise struggle with talking about how they feel, said Ellen Horovitz, a professor and director of graduate art therapy at Nazareth College of Rochester in New York.
"What tends to happen is that the artwork someone makes is almost an unconscious equation of what is going on in the person," Horovitz said. "It's not about the product. It's process-oriented. This is more about another means of communication."
Because a patient who grips a paintbrush also is using the same motor skills needed to hold a spoon, art therapy also can be used to augment what's going on in physical or occupational therapy. For example, a patient trying to stand for longer periods of time can use that time to paint.
Special adaptations -- such as mouth tools that make it easier for injured or disabled patients to paint, foam wedges, finger splints or thicker brushes that are more easily manipulated -- also can encourage bursts of creativity and self-expression while improving motor skills.
Developing that connection between the mind and body can have profound effects on a patient's physical and emotional condition, said Tiberi, the art therapist at Magee, the only hospital in the region with a full-time art therapist on staff.
"All these things are really interconnected. It becomes a really relevant part of functioning," Tiberi said. "You don't have to be an artist to do this."
Wheelchairs, arm braces and spastic muscles are no deterrent to creativity for Lisa Bartoli, an art therapist who works with people who have physical, intellectual and emotional difficulties. She believes a persons voice can be heard in ways other than speaking, and that's what keeps her busy running Art Therapy Express, a nonprofit, instructional art program dedicated to helping people with special needs create meaningful works of art.
To do that also means to rethink the ways people can express themselves. For a person who lacks the muscle coordination to hold a paintbrush, painting with his feet might be an option. Maybe it's trying a different medium or working cooperatively with another person to show how he feels.
"There really is a joy when they can create something themselves. Lot of times, they aren't given opportunities to create art," said Bartoli, who has been an art therapist for more than 25 years. "What I realized when I first started is that what I saw in the pictures was the real joy that came when they were doing it themselves. It didn't matter if they were the only one with a wheelchair roller attached to to their chair or they were creating a huge mural along with another friend."
Much of Bartoli's program is run out of the Kaleidoscope Studio, an open art studio in New Castle County's Absalom Jones Community Center in Newport. Bartoli often travels to local schools with adaptive art equipment.
But each Wednesday, the space is open to all New Castle County residents to give them access to the transformative powers of art. She's encouraged by those who try their hand at painting a picture or creating a collage, because theyҒre willing to venture outside their comfort area.
"It's an acceptable place to go and get your frustrations out. You can pound clay," she said. "But then you can start to use it as empowerment and regain your control and even acceptance in the end."
Horovitz said art therapists often are the last stop for other mental health professionals who need help trying to reach a patient or getting them to be more communicative.
She's worked with several clients who were selectively mute and also those who couldn't seem to stop talking, yet couldn't actually express how they felt.
"The art becomes the voice of the client," she said.
That's something art therapist Christoper Morrett sees with the patients he works with at Delaware Psychiatric Center. Clients who suffered severe trauma -- as is often the case -- have trouble just using words to express their experiences and the impact. Repressed memories and denials can make it hard to figure out what's going on.
Here, art can help. But it also can provide clues about a person's emotional health and life history. It also can reveal details about the inner workings of the brain, said Morrett, who has been an art therapist for 23 years.
"Along with talking therapy and using cognitive behavioral therapy, a person doing art is working on all levels of functioning. Also, a problem gets projected out on them onto paper," Morrett said. "They can get a sense of control as they draw whatever they're drawing. They're using their bodies, their minds, their emotions, their sight, sense of touch. I have clients who say, 'I don't know what I'm doing.' That's the best kind of artwork."
Morrett is hoping to showcase some of his clients' work to highlight the power of art therapy. He's putting together a recovery tile mural, with each tile made from a client depicting what recovery means to them. Some are powerful, some are clumsy. All are personal, depicting a voice that might never have been heard.
"I ask people to put their artwork up and to describe what they did. It's not a critique," he said. "It's sort of daunting, but you get to see what other people have done. It's there. It's real."
Art as catalyst
By the time Martin ended up at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in March, she had little use of her hands. She never wanted to return to an art studio again.
"When you lose your hands, you take so many things away," said Martin, sitting amid the busy clutter of her home studio, where recycled plates, glasses and pieces of jewelry wait to be reworked by her. "I thought I'd never be able to do art again."
After 13 weeks of day treatment at Magee -- "It's like Olympic training. It's no joke, Martin says -- she began thinking about ways to return to her passion. Her biggest thrill came in October, when her self-portrait was among those chosen to be displayed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art as part of a joint venture with Magee. The piece includes stark images of her hands in contorted positions -- completed before her accident.
Tiberi said that's a common reaction for patients who have suffered a life-changing injury like Martin.
"They really have to invest back into their creativity. For those who have had to a have a change of life, art can be a catalyst," Tiberi said. "To have an outlet to help the person reduce their stress, anxiety, improve their mood and distract them from their pain can be really big."
More than a year after her accident, Martin has found some peace in her life. It wasn't the way she planned, but she now pursues her dream full-time.
"We can't let this be a bad thing that's been given me," she said.
Contact Kelly Bothum at 324-2962 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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