Wellness Center Hosts New Art Therapy Group

Written by Emily Murphey.

The St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) Wellness Center has adopted a new way to reach out and help students through the use of what is known as “art therapy.” Maria Haugaard, a licensed counselor and art therapist at the SMCM Wellness Center has brought her love for art and counseling together to the  in her art therapy group. Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy which involves encouragement from a counselor for the client to freely express themselves whether in drawing, painting or modeling. Kelly Muldoon, another art therapist at the Wellness Center states, “sessions are for individuals, families, couples, and groups.” During these sessions, an art therapist might offer specific art directives to a client to help them approach an issue or topic that they might be struggling with. Or, an art therapist may invite their client to make whatever they would like in session if they just want to explore and create. Haugaard reflects “Chalk pastels can illustrate emotion through abstraction, and pencils a desire for precision.”

The benefits of the SMCM art therapy include allowing students to express their feelings in a tangible way in order to gain insight into their own psychological state, allowing students to relieve painful emotions in a creative manner and allowing students to become cognizant of feelings that they may be unaware of and to uncover the obstacles to heal. 

Before joining SMCM, Haurgaard used art therapy to help elderly and homeless citizens in D.C. while working with N Street Village.  At St. Elizabeth’s psychiatric hospital she worked with several populations, including the forensic patients, incorporating art therapy. She also noticed how those in drug rehab used art therapy differently between pre- and post-treatment. Each of these settings allowed people who normally may feel separated from society to freely express their individuality while also working with others. 

As a licensed therapist, Haugaard helps in facilitating the group activities and the therapeutic process by encouraging participants to analyze their artwork after the session. She also provides counseling while doing so in a group setting. Haugaard notes that at the end of the sessions, participants’ attitudes towards themselves tend to be different than when they first began. Muldoon also adds “Sometimes for someone with different physical abilities, the goal in treatment is to pick up a paintbrush and be able to make some marks on the canvas or mix colors. Or, for someone who may have limited cognitive abilities, the goal is for sensory activation to help them engage with their senses. ‘Art as therapy’ is often used for the therapeutic value of art-making.” 

SMCM is one of the few colleges in the U.S. that incorporate art therapy into their college mental health programs. The SMCM art therapy group is a nine week session hosted each semester on Fridays. Programs differ each semester, whether they are intended to help those with body image, drug abuse, relationships and grief. Currently this semester, two sessions of “My place in the world,” and “Loss and Renewal,” are available for spring 2020. Each meetup takes place over an hour and 15 minutes. The first 10 minutes allow students to reflect on their last week’s art work. The next 45 minutes are used for art time, and the remaining 15 minutes allow for students to come together as a group to discuss what they made and internalize what they discovered about themselves. Haugardd concludes, “No art skills necessary!”’ Muldoon says “Art has been a universal language for hundreds of years, so making art is a way to help a student communicate, explore, and understand what it is they are working on.” Muldoon also believes that with art therapy, certain parts of the brain can be activated which are not always used in verbal communication. By integrating these parts, it allows the possibility for people to heal from traumatic events. 

For anyone interested to learn more about art therapy, please contact Maria Haugard mbhaugaard@smcm.edu or Kelly Muldoon at kmmuldoon1@smcm.edu.

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