By Emma Albertoni, University of Denver and Umbra Rep Fall ’19
Now that my semester abroad at the Umbra Institute and in Perugia is sadly coming to an end, I have had a chance to reflect on my time here – the people I’ve met, the places I’ve seen, what I learned both personally and in the classroom. Since I have one more chance to rave about this program, I wanted to take it to discuss one of my classes from this semester, that has become one of my favorite classes that I have ever taken, and is one of the newest classes at the Umbra Institute!
Art Therapy, taught by Professor and Art Therapist Philippa Stannard, has only been taught at the Umbra Institute for two semesters, but it is a growing class that offers a lot of opportunities to create and learn about psychology, art, and how the two can work together to help all kinds of people.
Art therapy is a form of expressive therapy that uses the creative process of making art to improve a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Art Therapy started being recognized as a therapy in the first half of the 20th century, but the healing power of creativity and using art as a means to express oneself has been around since the beginning of mankind. Today, Art Therapists use all kinds of art (music, dance, visual art, writing, etc.) to help people reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, recover from traumas, help people communicate hard concepts that words may not be able to, allow people to practice self-actualization and self-expression, and allow them to heal and learn about themselves in a healthy way.
In the Art Therapy class at the Umbra Institute we learned about Art Therapy through many different mediums. We read the Art Therapy Sourcebook by Cathy Malchiodi, which provided a great foundation in an engaging format to begin learning about the broad and dynamic concepts within Art Therapy. Mondays we would have a lecture by Professor Stannard based on the chapter we read to solidify concepts, allow us to ask questions, discuss, and give us a deeper understanding of the concepts and theory behind Art Therapy.
Professor Stannard is so kind and knowledgeable! She expertly answered hard questions, taught (sometimes confusing) concepts with ease, and created an open environment for discussion and learning, which I greatly appreciated. She also shared her experiences as an Art Therapist with us. One of my favorite lectures was when she spoke about her work as an Art Therapist with Alzheimer’s patients. It was so interesting to learn how Art Therapy can help people with Alzheimer’s and to see how, even if it didn’t bring their memory back, it allowed them to be happy and provided them with a sense of comfort in the present moment.
Wednesdays, we participated in an Art Therapy activity that was relevant to the ideas expressed in the lecture to gain first-hand experience with Art Therapy and the concepts we were learning. We did activities like drawing emotions, mandalas, drawing our associations with music, collage, and a group activity with clay (some of my art from the class is shown below). Afterwards we would discuss what we created and our feelings or ideas about the activity. I always looked forward to Wednesdays, as I’m sure other students in the class did, because we were making things that had personal connections and sometimes even deep emotions attached to them. Experiencing the power of Art Therapy first hand gave me a lot of insight into the therapeutic properties of art making and the process of self expression. Being in such a supportive and open minded environment created a special connection between everyone in the class. I appreciated Wednesdays for the insight they gave me into the Art Therapy setting, and it was an amazing experience that I don’t think someone could get in a normal lecture-based class!
I think the course on Art Therapy is on its way to being a very popular class for a multitude of reasons; Art Therapy isn’t commonly taught in Universities, so students might not have access to one at home. It is particularly interesting for Psychology majors and Artists and anyone interested in learning more about the healing properties of the creative process. The class is unique because it provides students firsthand experience with art therapy through different mediums, giving greater understanding to the concepts and theory learned in the course.
I, personally, have enjoyed this class for many reasons. I have always been a creative person, I love to draw and paint, and I began college as a Music Major out of my passion for violin, music theory, and musicology. I switched last year to Psychology because I found an interest in learning about how the mind works, and the main thing I want to do with my career is help people. Art Therapy (which is part of creative arts therapies such as Music Therapy and Dance Therapy, etc.) has become my primary idea for my future since it combines both my love of music/art and my love of psychology. I am now planning on going into a master’s program with a focus in Art and Music Therapy. This class has solidified my idea for my future and grown my passion for Art Therapy. It gave me an introduction to the ideas behind Art Therapy and the ways it can benefit others, as well as first-hand experience that a lot of lecture classes don’t provide.
I recommend this class to every psychology student, because it is a great way to learn about a type of therapy that you might not have learned about before. It could be useful to anyone going into the helping professions such as social work, counseling, psychotherapy and education. I would recommend it to every student that comes to the Umbra Institute, no matter what their major or experience is. It gives a new perspective on therapy, psychology, and even about yourself and creative expression!
Article on what Art Therapy is: https://www.arttherapy.org/upload/whatisarttherapy.pdf
American Art Therapy Association: https://arttherapy.org
Art Therapy Sourcebook by Cathy Malchiodi: https://www.amazon.com/Therapy-Sourcebook-Sourcebooks-Cathy-Malchiodi/dp/0071468277
To learn more about the Art Therapy course click here.
The Art Therapy course is part of Umbra’s Multicultural Psychology Program