The Healing Power of Art

Lewis & Clark’s graduate school adds art therapy to its palette of counseling programs.

Lewis & Clark’s graduate school adds art therapy to its palette of counseling programs.

Credit: Robert Reynolds

The earthy smell of melting beeswax filled the air as Linda* applied layer after layer of the warm liquid to her canvas.

Slowly, a collage of imagery, fused in wax, emerged—a base layer of swirling clouds, a middle layer of windblown meadow grass, and a top layer of unfurling flowers. For several months, Linda had been experiencing high levels of stress due to her husband’s serious illness and her demanding job. With the help of an art therapist, she found that painting with wax, also called encaustic painting, helped her express her feelings. Each session gave Linda a measure of control she felt lacking in other areas of her life and enhanced her sense of resilience.

This is just one example of art therapy, an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art making, creative process, and applied psychological theory. A growing profession, it is also evolving as a field of study, with its own body of literature, professional organizations, professional identity, and code of ethics.

Mary Andrus (Credit: Tom Cook) Mary Andrus (Credit: Tom Cook)Until this spring, Oregon’s only master’s degree program in art therapy was housed at Marylhurst University in Lake Oswego. However, when Marylhurst announced its closure in May, Lewis & Clark’s Graduate School of Education and Counseling saw an opportunity to acquire a mission-centric, revenue-generating program that meets a community need. With the unanimous approval of L&C’s Board of Trustees, the graduate school officially adopted the program over the summer.

“The art therapy program adds an innovative and compelling new area of inquiry and activism to our excellent counseling psychology department,” says Scott Fletcher, dean of the graduate school. “We are so pleased to be able to broaden the pursuit of our social justice mission through expanding the use of creative forms of expression in counseling.”

Mary Andrus, who directed the art therapy program at Marylhurst, will now play the same role at L&C’s graduate school. “We are thrilled to have a new home at Lewis & Clark,” says Andrus, a driving force in the recent successful effort to secure licensure for art therapists in Oregon. “Our program offers art therapy to underserved and marginalized populations throughout the state. Oregon ranks as one of the lowest in providing mental health services to the community. Students in our program are helping fill that need.” Sites that support the community by providing art therapy services include inpatient psychiatric settings, outpatient community mental health centers, alternative schools, and shelters for domestic abuse and human trafficking survivors.

Andrus is excited about expanding the program to meet the additional needs of underserved and marginalized communities. For example, this year’s students will expand their work to include refugee communities and youth in correctional facilities. “The social justice mission of Lewis & Clark’s graduate school is a perfect match for where the art therapy program is going,” says Andrus. “When we open up our minds to different perspectives, we enhance our creativity and become better clinicians—and better people.”

All of Marylhurst’s art therapy students have decided to continue and complete their master’s degrees at Lewis & Clark’s Graduate School of Education and Counseling. “I am so grateful to be able to continue my education this fall at Lewis & Clark,” says Kat Scarim, a current student in the program. “The advocacy efforts of the art therapy cohort, staff, alumni, and beyond have ensured that community members will continue to receive high-quality art therapy services for years to come.”

Last year alone, the students provided 15,000 hours of therapeutic arts client contact in more than 30 volunteer, practicum, and internship sites across the state. “We’ve been working with clients at some sites for 30 years, and it would have been heartbreaking to lose those relationships,” says Andrus. “I’m really pleased to know that we can continue to offer our therapy services to this community.”

—Reporting by Roy Kaufmann and Shelly Meyer

* Not her real name

Program Details

Art therapists work with people who are experiencing medical and mental health challenges as well as individuals seeking emotional, creative, and spiritual growth. Here are some key details about Lewis & Clark’s new graduate-level program:

Credits: 54 semester hours
Program length: 8 semesters (usually 3 years full time)
Degrees offered: MA, MS
Next application deadline: February 1, 2019
Program start date for new students: September 2019

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