Art therapy heals and inspires individuals

Arts & Living General Cover Photo

Abbie Barth Contributions Kodee Christensen

When people hear the term “art therapy” they may think of hiding in your room doing a coloring book. However, art therapy is an actual type of mental health therapy that certified counselors use for patients to express their thoughts and emotions without needing to use words.

According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy is facilitated by a professional art therapist and is used to improve cognitive and sensorimotor functions, foster self-esteem, cultivate emotional resilience, enhance social skills, and reduce conflicts and distress.

In Topeka, the Valeo Behavioral Health Care provides art therapy. One of their art therapists is Raven Milam. She has a masters in science with a focus in art therapy from Emporia State University.

“The cool thing about art therapy is that everybody from any type of background can benefit from it,” said Milam.

Similar to other forms of therapy, art therapy is all about using the tools the therapist gives you to unpack and express your emotions.

“It’s very similar to going to talk therapy except you don’t necessarily have to talk to communicate and we’re prepared to give all these different materials as an avenue for alternative communication,” said Milam.

Unlike in an art class, in art therapy patients create a piece of artwork without considering grades or trying to fill requirements.

“What makes art therapy different from art classes, is that art classes are typically focused on skill building, which can be an aspect of art therapy, but it’s really just about the skill. And you can have fun doing that, but it can sometimes be judgmental,” said Milam. “In art therapy, we don’t judge. We promote healing and expression, and it’s more about the process of creating art.”

Kandis Barker, curator of the Mulvane Art Museum, sees that both art therapy and art education help boost the confidence of artists, whether amateur or professional.

“I think art therapy and art education can go hand in hand in a great many ways,” said Barker. “It helps people learn how to figure things out. You get these higher order thinking skills, something which breeds confidence and gives people a chance to have a mind of their own.”

Beyond art therapy, Valeo Behavioral Health Care funds a nonprofit gallery in downtown Topeka called Creations of Hope Gallery: Art and Advocacy. This gallery is designed as a place for artists to freely express themselves, just like their patients do in art therapy.

“It’s not a part of our clinical practice, but it is a gallery that promotes advocacy for decreasing stigma around mental health within our community advocacy,” said Milam.

According to Milam, everyone is welcome to submit art for the gallery. All that they ask is that the artist submits a statement talking about how art benefits people, both in their life and in others.

The gallery is located 727 S. Kansas Ave and has regular gallery hours of Thursday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday from noon to 5 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. The gallery is also open for the First Friday Art walk in NOTO each month.

Whether you are a professional artist or can barely draw a stick figure, the art therapists at Valeo Behavior Health Center believe that everyone can use art to express their emotions or get through a difficult time.

Edited by Adam White