Art Heals Hearts – 2013

Healing Power of Art

By Jessica Belasco

Published Sep. 8, 2017 on; Updated Sep. 29, 2017

“Art Heals Hearts” is an exhibit of works created by people who have benefited from art therapy. The exhibit, held in conjunction with a two-day art therapy workshop for mental health professionals, is open to the public Monday through Friday at the Ecumenical Center, 8310 Ewing Halsell Drive. RSVP at 210-616-0885.

“We wanted to have an art exhibition so that we can share these very special and very powerful stories, with the hope that it will reach hearts and minds of individuals who are also working through their own challenges,” said Mary Beth Fisk, CEO and executive director of the center, which offers faith-based counseling and education to the community.

Art therapy helps those struggling with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other emotional problems to use art to express themselves, explore their feelings, work through trauma and improve mental health.

“It’s to help the individual understand and relate the symbolism that’s in the art to their particular struggle or their particular journey,” said psychologist Frank E. Emmett, clinical director at the Ecumenical Center.

“Art has been known as a pathway to the soul for a long time. It unlocks feelings, those deep-seated things that we’re reluctant to express even to ourselves sometimes, in a manner that is safe.”

There is a handful of certified art therapists in San Antonio who treat adults and children, although many other mental health professionals use elements of art therapy in their work.

You don’t have to be a Picasso to benefit from art therapy. No artistic skill is required, said Vicki Williams-Patterson, a board-certified art therapist in San Antonio who will be teaching the workshop at the Ecumenical Center. That’s because therapy isn’t about making art in the traditional sense but instead using it as a therapeutic tool.

Clients use a variety of media — paint, chalk, clay, yarn, collage. Although the creative process itself can be therapeutic, it’s also a way for the client to communicate with the therapist. Sometimes, when people are unprepared or unable to talk about their emotions or thoughts, the art may be the only form of communication.

Art therapists don’t simply tell their clients to draw pictures about their feelings, Williams-Patterson said.

“We ask them to do things like draw pictures of trees or doodle and play around with colors and other more playful ways of engaging people,” she said. “There’s a variety of techniques that don’t appear to directly access emotional states, but they tend to engender emotional states so people find they are suddenly able to talk about their feelings after they have drawn them on the paper. When people are overwhelmed emotionally, they haven’t digested their experience and therefore they can’t talk about it, because it’s still in pictures in their head.”

For Martha K. Grant, who was sexually abused as a child, art therapy with Williams-Patterson helped her depression when plain talk therapy didn’t.

“Things like that get buried in a child’s psyche,” said Grant, who is both a visual artist and a poet. “Creativity is a way to break through the conscious mind that is holding on very tightly. There’s only so much you can talk your way through. Art really does reach something in a very primal, unconscious level.”

Grant still remembers one drawing she created at the very end of her therapy: a pregnant angel.

“It was such a hopeful, hopeful message,” she said. “That one just came out of nowhere, out of my unconscious. It was such a metaphor for birthing new life and also the spiritual aspect of this new life that was being birthed, that was me.”