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A Great Accomplishment

Life Story Club Contributor

Feb 27, 2020

One of my greatest achievements was learning. I’m an art therapist, and I went to the art institute and got a master’s degree in art therapy. I’m now retired, though I do volunteer work, but… quite a few years as an art therapist. And it’s sometimes hard to give yourself credit, to know how much you are achieving. But I did. As time went on, I knew that there were people who I really needed to help. I couldn’t help everyone, but I did help some people.

I was just thinking of one person, one of the early clients that I had. King’s County Hospital, which was a God-awful state hospital, very grim. I worked for a program there. There was a young man. People came to these state treatment programs that had generally been hospitalized in state hospitals, psychiatric hospitals for years at a time. And this was supposed to be a way to shift them back into the world, and it was very hard to make that transition.

This young man was very withdrawn. He used to sit with his head slumped down. My therapy groups. I was told he did like to do art. People had seen him do artwork. He liked artwork. So we brought him into the art therapy group. He would sit there and I would put paper in front of him and a pen, grab him pencils, crayons. And maybe we’ll have music or we’d talk about something. And it was so interesting to watch. He would lay there for a while and then he would pick something up and he would make something. He would make artwork. And he would draw things, whatever it was. He would quietly do that. We would do that every week and he would always come. He very rarely spoke. I don’t know if at that point he spoke at all. And after a while I started working individually with a few of the people there. He was one I chose, I thought he could get a lot out of using art materials.

[And he did. And what happened is, very slowly, his whole world opened up to me. He would draw something and then he would talk a little bit about it. Some words would come out. It was a way of bringing him forth. Gregory, his name was. Gregory. And actually, to see the person inside them to the pictures he drew, and to the people he drew. The stories. He was actually able to tell a story too. He would tell stories. I think it’s a great way for people sometimes to express. So the stories, whether they’re joyful…

He was so touching. And I really looked forward to seeing him every week. He would come every week. I would always collect postcards from museums. Things I really like. I’d offer them to people to use as inspiration. And they do. And he did it, but he would change them. He wouldn’t just copy a picture. His pictures were so different from the ones I gave him. But he’d tell a story. A whole world in there, he saw in that. I don’t know. Degas, van Gogh, whatever. It was his own version of it. But it inspired him. He liked it a lot.

At first it wasn’t only me. I worked with a group of people. A wonderful group of people. We all encourage Gregory. We supported him, a network of clients. I wouldn’t say he was cured of his illness, because he probably will never be cured. Cured of his illness. He will always be disabled in a little way. But he has a much fuller life. And more things he can draw from.

Before that, I wasn’t sure if I believed in art therapy or not. It was something, you know. I was really just in therapy myself. And I was an artist, and I said “I need a career”. And I knew I wanted a master’s level degree, and I’ll have more options. But then, yeah, I saw that it could be a powerful form of therapy. Or it could be part of the therapeutic process.

Later on I had a private practice for many years, that I very recently retired from. And I offered people art therapy. Some people knew I was an art therapist. A little different than with Gregory, but we’d figure out something that the person wanted to work with, to deal with. Often people came to me for art therapy were interested in art or music. And we’d just pick up some materials, a few materials and, maybe or maybe not have a topic, and see what came out. And then talk about it. It was because drawing first sometimes helps open people up. So, maybe things will come out that they didn’t even expect.

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