We all enjoy art, and we all experience and consume it everyday, whether by going to a museum, watching an award winning film or just by listening to our favorite Spotify playlists in between classes. Art therapy allows the participant to not only relate to art through an experience of it, but to make our their own art in a low-pressure and inclusive environment.
“We all have these experiences where we feel like words can’t quite capture what has happened to us or what we want to explain to other people,” Emily Walsh, owner of Ithaca’s The Art Therapy Studio, told me when we sat down to talk about all things art therapy. “Instead of talking, [art therapy] would use art supplies,” she explained, which allows those who participate in art therapy to “have something that reflects the fullness of [their] experience[s] back to [them].”
A therapist with 11 years of experience, Walsh just recently celebrated her five year anniversary of the opening of The Art Therapy Studio in Ithaca. “I wanted to be in a place that has an active arts culture, and it would be a healthy environment for me where I would have access to nature. Ithaca combined all of those things.” Walsh told me that she felt that Ithaca’s creative culture would be perfect for providing people interested it and excited to try art therapy.
Art therapy, however, is also for those who may not describe themselves as artistic or have much artistic experience. Walsh explained to me that art therapy requires no background knowledge about making art, and even better, “You don’t even have to have an idea about what you’re making. You can just come and smush some clay around [and] get more into your body and the present moment and enjoy yourself.”
Drawing or using clay to muddle through emotions may sound a little childlike, but Walsh explained that “com[ing] back to a childlike place” can be incredibly helpful for the process. She explained that sometimes we all can “feel like we are having a battle … between two different parts of us. And it’s hard to put into words why we feel so conflicted.” She went on to describe how the process of art therapy can make these conflicts more concrete and that in her mind, “Imagery can help us connect with our most genuine selves. It can put really complex ideas all into one image, and having that in our space at home can feel really powerful.” She described a recent project she did with her Creative Sanctuary Club, a monthly event she hosts in which she leads participants in making their own creative sanctuary through collages, where they “consider those things [that would make up their personal creative sanctuary] and translate those things into [their own] environment.”
These forms of exploration can be especially beneficial for students who are dealing with “this balance of having a stronger sense of who [they] are and having a very strong sense of reaching out into the future. [In this] period of life where there is a lot of pressure to be performing well and anxiety about the future,” it can be “really good for people to take a break from their logical, thinking, wordy brain and just relax and use [their] hands.” Indeed Walsh enjoys working “with people on confidence, self-compassion and figuring out how to match [their] values and what [they] most want in [their] lives.”
She described a past event held at the Tompkins County Public Library back in September — an Ugly Art Therapy workshop in which participants took a list of “all these personality characteristics of things you’re told not to be” and circle the ones which they felt most negative or insecure about. Walsh elaborates that “ugly art is about reclaiming all of that stuff, like anger or not knowing or periods of time that we go through in our life where we feel things are out of control or we don’t understand things … about taking our defenses down against ugliness and understanding how its so important for our growth, our souls and our culture.” It was her first event at the Tompkins County Public Library, and it turned out to be a huge success.
Her upcoming event Flourish works specifically with people struggling with anxiety and depression by using art journaling to develop methods of coping. Walsh draws from her own art making practice in order to decide “what is it that [she] really want[s] to offer to people and the world, and what I think people will really understand and benefit from. And making sure I can translate that so other people get it.” Walsh explained:“I’m handing people a framework and they make it their own.”
To learn more about The Art Therapy Studio and its upcoming events see please visit thearttherapystudioithaca.com
Emily Walsh, MA, LCAT, ATR and The Art Therapy Studio is located at408 West State Street, Ithaca, NY
Erin Hockenberry is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.