Art Therapy at MSPP? The Healing Power of the Arts and Psychology

I was walking to the first floor kitchen to heat up lunch a few weeks ago when I saw some ‘action’ going on in the first floor lounge. In case you forgot, I’m new here. For all I know, commotion in the lounge could be a daily event. So, I ignored it. I stuck my food in the microwave, hit the auto-reheat button, ate and then went to class.

A few hours later I went back down to the first floor and saw this:

Sorry about the quality of the photo. I'll try to be better in the future.

Sorry about the quality of the photo. I’ll try to be better in the future.

What is it?
Well, it’s a quilt.
What’s it doing at MSPP?
Glad you asked.

As I looked at it, I felt a chill come over me. I couldn’t quite pinpoint why.

I had never seen a quilt like this before. It’s round, and that caught me off-guard. When was the last time you saw a round quilt? I don’t remember ever seeing one, and the oddity of the shape for the medium was unsettling to me. Quilts I have seen in the past have a pattern, unity, and order. The roundness of the quilt is accentuated by the gradation of colors as the eye focuses to the center, and that’s the end of its symmetry. Instead of neatly lined up squares and triangles, this quilt had six women. They all have different colors, postures, and features. Some are tragic; others appear in a strong stance. They seemed to embody emotions — fear, uncertainty, resilience. Despite the organized chaotic look of the quilt, there is a sense of peacefulness and equilibrium. I was transfixed.

This was one of five quilts put up that day. I looked down at the paper propped up on the table under it. – The paper read “Survivor Quilt Project: Incest Survivors Speaking Truth to the Next Generation.” It stated the quilting project represented “empowerment of survivors in mastering the experience of their trauma,” particularly those who have suffered from incest or sexual abuse as a child. As I read about the quilt itself, I am told that the empty space is occupied by the Invisible Woman who disappears — or tries to — out of ‘fear, dissociation, and the desperate need for safety’. My stomach tightened.

A Shush-Shush Subject

Looking back, I have to admit that I am a bit ashamed of my initial reaction to the quilt. As a doctoral student in professional training, it’s time to face reality. Even as I type this, I have a hard time attempting to tell you that over 40% of female children are victims of sexual abuse. I’d call that a social epidemic. It should be acknowledged boldly and directly, and there should be no need for apology for facing it.

A Better picture of the quilt. You can see the rest of the quilts at , but they're much more powerful in person. Visit the first floor of the MSPP Campus to see them in person,

A Better picture of the quilt. You can see the rest of the quilts at , but they’re much more powerful in person. Visit the first floor of the MSPP Campus to see them.

I think it’s courageous of MSPP to post this exhibit. As professionals we need to understand not only this population of people, but also what techniques we can use to aid in the healing process. Even if children are not your personal area of interest, children grow up to be adults. Statistically speaking, it will be inevitable that an adult patient will eventually come to you with a history of childhood sexual abuse.

Art Therapy at MSPP

I know what you’re thinking – how can art be therapeutic?

Although I have only been at MSPP for about a month, something I am already doing at my practicum is art therapy. When I mention to the group that we will be drawing, making collages, or coloring  I often get a groan, followed by a reluctant shuffling to the table. There’s always at least two people who sit out. But, of those who did make it to the table, the next forty-five minutes or so are spent coloring mandalas, free-style painting, or making collages. At the end of what I thought was going to be a meaningless session, I am always surprised and impressed in the thought that went in to the finished project. The artwork is either eagerly hung on the wall or taken home to show family or friends. I have yet had a participant ball up their work and toss it in the trash.

In my opinion, Art therapy is about letting the individual express themselves and their trauma in a way other than talking. It is both a physical and an emotional release. It lets the inner pain flow out, and it allows the individual to project the feelings from trauma on to something else. For some, it is music, paper, or canvas.  For some others, it’s quilting.

This and the other four quilts are only the beginning of this exhibit. If you are in the area, thinking of attending MSPP, or already attend, think about stopping by an open studio exhibit in room 117 now through October 23rd. Everybody is welcome to contribute to the making of a new quilt. To see what dates and times the room will be open, click here. All materials are provided. Here’s just a small sample of what you’ll have to work with:

photo2There is also tons of fabric as well as scissors glue, or anything else you could possibly need. No sewing experience is necessary!

  • To learn more about the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse, or about Incest Resources, INC in general, follow the link.
  •  If you are a female survivor of childhood sexual abuse and would be interested in participating in free therapeutic discussion groups, click here.
  • If you are a BS/BA level mental health professional, psychology or art major-or are currently enrolled in the MA program for counseling psychology at MSPP- and are interested in the healing power of the arts and psychology, click here.  The Expressive Arts Therapy program is new to MSPP this year! You can also register for the Open House for this program coming up in early December.

What’s your stance on Art Therapy?
Have you ever found expressive art to be therapeutic?

About StephanieN

Stephanie is a first year clinical PsyD student at MSPP in Newton, Massachusetts. She graduated Cum Laude from Clark University with a bachelor's in Psychology. Her interests are in community mental health and homelessness, as well as chronic mental illness including severe depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and psychosis. In her spare time, Stephanie likes to spend time playing with her daughter and (attempting) to cook new foods.
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6 Responses to Art Therapy at MSPP? The Healing Power of the Arts and Psychology

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  6. Registered Art Therapist says:

    This is great that you have seen the therapeutic potential of art. Have you looked at the American Art Therapy Association (AATA) website? Art Therapy is actually a mental health profession that is regulated and in some states licensed. Art Therapists are trained specifically to work with art as a therapeutic medium for purposes of health and well-being. To recognize a person who is competent to provide Art Therapy services, one can look for ATR (Registered Art Therapist) or ATR-BC (Board Certified Registered Art Therapist) behind the persons name. Perhaps you could consult and or seek supervision with an Art Therapist in your area to ensure the best care of the individuals with whom you are working with. There is an art therapist locator tool on the AATA website.

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