Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Art Therapy and Creative Writing Groups in the
 Department of Youth Corrections Setting

 Art Therapy with Juvenile Offenders

     Teens in this setting typically have limited family support and often have a history of substance abuse, which complicates their bereavement experience.  Their losses, in general, are more complicated and often occur under less than ideal or even violent circumstances.  The group members often can make direct connections between their losses and their initial offense or crime.  The grief over the loss of their loved one is compounded by the losses associated with incarceration: freedom, independence,  choices, contact with friends and family as well as identity.  Establishing identity is a major developmental task for adolescents and art making provides a creative exploration and support the development of emerging positive identity of the teens.

     My involvement with Department of Youth Corrections has consisted of providing eight week groups focused on bereavement support.  Art therapy and creative writing directives have been utilized with this population in an effort to provide meaningful expression to the experience of losing a loved one and the resulting behavioral responses that are often connected to incarceration.  The creative process itself is healing and encourages a sense of integrity and autonomy.  Topics for group sessions included grief education, feelings, story of the loved one, coping skills and memorializing.

     Typical art directives may include collage work to illustrate the story of their loved one, creating a coat-of-arms to introduce them and their loved one to the group,
or mask painting to facilitate expression of feelings related to grief.

Benefits of Art Therapy

1.  Provides a form of non-verbal communication for teens that do not have a      
     good mastery of verbal communication.
2.  Acts as a bridge between client and therapist, especially where the subject
     matter is too embarrassing to talk about.
3.  Helps release feelings such as anger and aggression that are so common in juvenile   
4.  Enables a teen to process traumatic loss on a sensory level where it is initially  
    Riley, S. (1999). Contemporary Art Therapy with Adolescents.  London, Jessica Kingsley Publishers.     
     For example, creative writing was co-facilitated with a trained volunteer who is a professional writer.  Directives for free writing were given after a prompt was read which included poetry, topic discussion or song lyrics.  Teens were given a set period of time to “free write” a response.  Each group member was given the opportunity to read their work aloud to the group.  The writing exercise provided a way for teens to express their thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental atmosphere and to develop and form vocabulary for their experience. 
     One group worked to choose writing selections to compile in booklet form which several students illustrated.  A copy was given to each group member and the work was shared with the facility program director and others.  The creation of the booklet provided acknowledgment and value to their creative work and gave the teens a forum in which to relate the powerful experiences of loss and change.   

Thursday, July 27, 2017

ArtLight Therapy & Studios was selected by Feedspot as one of the Top 30 Art Therapy Blogs on the web!

Very honored to be on this list.  I'm in good company.  Thank you Feedspot!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Colored Pencil-  Student    Summer/Autumn 2013  (previous publication)

     “A meeting of the world inside and the world outside” is how art therapy pioneer Eleanor Ulman described her profession.  Art therapy is a way of looking to and through experiences using imagery and the creative process to find healing.  It brings our internal experiences into the light.
     Art therapists complete a master’s level training and education in psychology, human development and visual arts.  They use art in assessment and treatment in many settings including private practice and open studios.  Many formal elements of drawings provide developmental, emotional and cognitive information to the trained therapist.  The creative process can access places in our brain that verbal processing alone may not be able to reach.
     Art making has always been a part of my life.  In early childhood, I loved to draw, often focusing on pictures of animals or nature scenes.  My mom once sent me to a day workshop for artists at the Denver Zoo.  I was the youngest “student” that memorable day of sketching giraffes, monkeys and bears!
     This early pleasure in art lead to many hours of drawing, painting and looking at other artist’s work.  The process of illustrating and creating provided comfort and ‘companionship’ through both normal life transitions and the difficult experiences of moving, changing friendships, the divorce of my parents, illness and loss.  At high school graduation, I was awarded two small scholarships to study commercial art at West Texas A & M.  I added undergraduate psychology courses that piqued my interest in that profession as well.  Ultimately, I decided to complete my bachelor’s degree in Social Work.  This led to a part-time position at a state psycho-social rehabilitation center for chronically mentally ill adults where I offered drawing and painting classes as well as life skills training.  About this time, my interest in art therapy developed; I remember sending off a request for more information to the American Art Therapy Association.  The profession seemed like a beautiful partnering of my interests in psychology and art and my desire to help others- to somehow address the suffering I could see among this exquisitely beautiful world.  So, in the fall of 2004 I began my graduate work in art therapy, traveling to Indiana three times a year to complete graduate residencies.  In January 2008, I graduated from St. Mary-of-the-Woods College with a Master of Arts in Art Therapy and obtained my license as a professional counselor in 2012.
     Art making is the central focus of my counseling work.  Our images are forms of communication; they are meaningful responses to the world around us.  They are expressions that go beyond words and often show us things about our circumstances and ourselves that words are not able to articulate.  Making art enhances perceptual acuity, increases cognitive functioning, allows integration of the senses and activates our creative center.  All of these aspects are therapeutic.
     Colored pencils are a wonderful media to use in therapy.  They are portable, anyone can use them and sometimes they are needed as an expressive tool that allows colorful, emotional response that is easily controlled.  In terms of the Media Properties Continuum, colored pencil is in the resistive media range, compared to a fluid media like watercolor, which is on the other end of the spectrum.   It requires varied levels of pressure to make marks on the page.  Pencil tends to facilitate more cognitive processing rather than emotional or affective therapeutic work.  Using pencil can assist a client with problem solving, organizing thoughts, focusing on detail and containing emotion.
     I currently see children, adolescents and women in my private practice, ArtLight Therapy & Studios.  My work at the studio also includes free-lance illustration and fine art.  My part-time counseling position with Hospice & Palliative Care of Western Colorado, where I have worked for twelve years, provides many opportunities for working with kids and teens using art directives like: ‘Draw your family doing something together.’

     Drawing still provides a necessary creative outlet for me as I respond to the inspiring and challenging work that I do.  Making art provides a way for me to know myself better.  It can be a meditative activity that illuminates a path to healing- a window to the inside world.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

the new Meditation

Why making art is the new meditation:

•Art is a vehicle for meditation and self-connection

•Art provides a feeling of flow and freedom

•Art allows for true self-expression

•Art helps us become steady and centered
                  Washington Post ,  Aug. 26, 2015

Monday, March 30, 2015

Ceilings for Healing Project

    In my work as a Licensed Professional Counselor andArt Therapist for HopeWestI encounter families daily that are touched by illness or loss due to cancer.

    The subjects that capture my interest are often nature-based and symbolic of my personal insights and discoveries!   Nature – based images connect us to itspowerful healing qualities.  The mandala (circular form) is containing and healing; its shape conveys wholeness and facilitates our ability to be centered.  I am deeply interested in the healing aspects of art making and its inherent communicative and transformational qualities.

    I am dedicating this work to my mom, Bonnie, who died with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia in 2007.  She encouraged my path with art and inspired me with her gratitude throughout treatment.  

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Blue Heron & the Butterfly


     I've only had a deep and direct eye contact with a Blue Heron once.  It was shortly after Mom died and I was spending a lot of time walking along the Colorado Riverfront Trail.  I was near the bend where I had recently tossed half a bouquet of flowers into the river as a small memorial to Mom.  I took the other half of the flowers home to place in a vase on my kitchen table.
     Listening to the river that day, I looked to my left to see a Great Blue Heron standing tall and confident by the river's edge.  She turned her head and looked at me- a direct, assured acknowledgement of my loss.  In one look there was a serene confidence expressed before she lifted off in magnificent flight, soaring down- river.   It was unmistakable- she knew and told me so.
     I think of that moment- of clarity as deep knowing conveyed without words from another creature. I'm reminded of it on days like these when bike rides along the riverfront trail and walks at Connected Lakes serve up more heron encounters than I have known before.  And then on my last day of school at the community college, one flew right over my car as I turned left toward the college, meeting at the corner.  Yes, one could say its a boon year for herons, but, I always know its a sign from her- a small note of knowing, a reminder of presence.
     Herons represent diversity just by their ability to move through elements.  A kind of liminal quality is assigned to them as they move from earth to land to water.  Herons have the ability make these transitions and maintain stability.  They speak of transition...and what is death if it isn't the great transition.
     According to Native Traditions, herons represent self- determination, self- reliance.  They have the ability to progress and evolve.  They symbolize standing on their own  They may sit while the rest of us lose patience.  Individuals who have the characteristics of Blue Heron need to follow their heart rather than the prompting of others.
     If that doesn't describe me, I don't know what does.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Teen Retreat 2014

     Each year I am amazed by the courage and creativity of the teens that participate in Camp Good Grief Teen Retreat.  This year all seven of them came ready to work, tell their story and support others.  The comfortable and intimate setting on the Mesa allowed the teens to appreciate the beauty of nature and provided a retreat from every-day concerns and pressures. 
     Teens have particular challenges when they are grieving.  They need their grief to be acknowledged by the larger community, by the adults around them.  They need to be able to communicate in their own unique voice.  Since peer relationships are very important to teens, working in a supportive group with a common goal is very helpful.  Older adolescents struggle with needing support and not wanting it; this ambivalence sometimes complicates the grief process.
     Many of their experiences in loss are beyond words; they are difficult to describe or express verbally.  Art–making and music give teens a different kind of voice, putting teens in greater control of their communication.   Non-verbal communication is often more comfortable than putting ambivalent feelings of grief to words.
       The teens attending retreat are usually open to working in a unique and creative way to cope with and commemorate their losses.  With a little encouragement, they used drumming, art-making, writing and working with horses to learn about grief, coping and to explore compassion and empathy.
       Participants were invited to represent aspects of self by altering or redesigning an everyday object – a matchbox.  Through the creative process, they explored symbols and words that transformed their box into a pocket shrine.   One theme, “Keep the Change”, included coins decorated to represent a change in them since the loss which they wanted to keep.  The process of altering the box allowed the teens to explore ideas and feelings on a concrete and tangible level.  Working with a variety of materials allowed them to access the sensory level where we store traumatic experiences.  They used their boxes to share about experiences with grief and empathy as well as support and compassion.
       Often teens can use the experience of a creating art to learn larger life lessons.   Each teen used writing to express a tribute to their special person or to list five words that describe them.  The rushing water of the creek and the tall aspens overhead provided an inspiring backdrop as several shared a poem or letter as they lit a candle in a simple memorial the teens designed for closing. 
      When we give teens the opportunity to approach and work through their grief expressively, we allow them to work on a level that makes sense to them. We acknowledge and support their grief in a way that can be understood on many levels and can be witnessed by others.

Riley, S. (1999).  Contemporary Art Therapy with Adolescents.   London, Jessica Kingsley    

For more information on art therapy visit:

American Art Therapy Association at,
Art Therapy association of Colorado at
ArtLight Therapy & Studios at