The room in which Ian Gingrich-Gaylord conducts art?therapy at Prairie View could be a metaphor for how it?helps people in a time of personal crisis. The subterranean room, a storm shelter with plenty of cello?music and art, can assist patients at the mental health facility in?Newton find a little shelter from a raging storm within, and even?creatively get connected to that storm.
?The basic premise of why art therapy works (is) because of?the idea of we are all creative people,? Gingrich-Gaylord said,?sitting in his office on a recent spring morning. ?Working with?the creative process can be a healthy way to develop a different?perspective on your problem.?
Gingrich-Gaylord, who is the only art therapist at Prairie?View, believes art therapy can assist patients with their problems.
?I think art therapy is most helpful…because it can give?people this poetic view on their lives,? Gingrich-Gaylord said. ?It?doesn?t necessarily make anything better. It doesn?t change the?facts of the matter, but if you can look at your life as this creative?act, this poetic existence, then you?ve changed your relationship?to your problems.?
The Bethel College graduate said over and over that people?will create a dark piece containing all these problems they?ve?been trying to avoid. They will look at the image and connect?with it, he said, and start to see their problems as artful, realizing?they can take a creative stance to their problems.
?People articulate they really enjoyed having (art therapy)?available to them while at the hospital,? said Gingrich-Gaylord,?who is a registered art therapist and a licensed professional?Art?therapy?counselor?at prairie view. He has been in the same position at Prairie View for four years.
One particular patient, an older adult, refused to attend art therapy. This?patient was dealing with anxiety and depression and was getting treatment in?Prairie View?s Comprehensive Diagnos tic & Treatment Center, because?outpatient services for her were not successful.
?Part of the treatment includes art therapy,? said Joan Brubacher, licensed?specialist clinical social worker at Prairie View. ?She was asked several times to?attend art therapy but refused. The social worker asked if she would go to art?therapy for 15 minutes. The social worker would then go in and check on her,?and if she wanted to leave, there would be no questions asked. We just wanted?her to at least try the therapy as many patients find it very beneficial.?
When the social worker arrived after 15 minutes, the patient indicated she?wanted to stay for the two-hour group session.
?The patient then returned, stating she really liked it and was now planning?to go daily,? Brubacher said. ?She indicated that it helped with decreasing her?anxiety and expressing her feelings. It helped to get in touch with some of her?pain, and it was also relaxing, as well as therapeutic. This patient who refused art?therapy for several days now became passionate about?art therapy.?
After she was discharged, the patient enrolled in an?art class and bought art supplies, telling her therapist?she used it as a coping skill and found it enjoyable.
?(Art) helped her to avoid ruminating about?situations that she couldn?t change,? Brubacher?said. ?In the process, she was able to gain?acceptance of her life circumstances. Since her?discharge, she has continued to thrive in spite of?further difficult circumstances.?
Gingrich-Gaylord works with inpatient adult groups, partial hospital?patients, people in the addictions treatment center and adolescents in?the residential psychiatric treatment facility at Prairie View.
?Most all the work I do is in groups,? he said. ?It?s all groups except?for the couple of people I see for outpatient. What I do is I use art?making and the creative process to help people to re-imagine their lives,?their experiences here.?
A lot of the work he does with patients is short term, maybe seeing?them three to five times, and part of his job in working with adults is to?give them a starting point back into the premise they are creative people.
He said many adults haven?t done art in years.
Gingrich-Gaylord, who has a master?s degree in art therapy, said?adolescents are different than adults because they are closer to the?creative spirit. Adults often have trouble tapping that spirit.
?Kids have a very intuitive sense of what they want to do, and my job?becomes this act of witnessing this creative act in action,? Gingrich-Gaylord said. ?Basically, the idea is that oftentimes you can see where?kids run into trouble through how they?re struggling in their art?making.?
Problems people bring to art therapy, Gingrich-Gaylord said, can be?explored through this creative process.
?A person can create an image that addresses their depression,?anxiety or whatever else, and enter into a relationship with the image?where they are responding to, elaborating upon and perhaps working?out a problem through the creative action,? Gingrich-Gaylord said. ?An?art therapist can help someone identify how they are connecting to, or?not connecting to, the image and help strengthen salient connections.
Establish ing a dynamic relationship with an image can aid in emotional?regulation, as the person creating the image sees their emotions?mirrored in their work.?
When working with adolescents, Gingrich-Gaylord has them do?projects with other adolescents, such as constructing water fountains.
?One thing that we do is that adolescence is that period of time when?somebody is moving from being a kid and having fun to mastering?something ? becoming an adult,? the art therapist said.
He said working on the group projects becomes a metaphor for the?adolescent finding a place in his or her community.
?It?s just this constant trial and error,? he said of adolescents ? ?this?working with this desire to master something, to take on more?responsibility. This is about a kid becoming part of a larger community.?
It?s not just what patients create that shows what?s going on inside of?them ? their choice of art material also can be helpful in therapy.
?The idea is that a person?s choice of materials really can say?something about what they need,? Gingrich-Gaylord said.
He rarely dictates to patients which materials to use; the materials?become an active part of their relationship. The way a person works?with material will move the art process forward. He said if a person is?working loosely with paint and is frustrated with that, sometimes?switching material helps move him or her forward. Also, what a patient?chooses to work with helps Prairie View staff learn about who the?person is.
?The bottom line is, how you work can tell you a lot about yourself?and help guide the process,? he said. ?It?s not just what you create. I?think part of being an art therapist is helping people realize their vision.?
Sometimes, the hardest part in art therapy is for the patient to get?started, so Gingrich-Gaylord will pick themes for people to use, such as??home.? The themes are intended as starting places, and he places no?expectations on the patients with their results. The theme simply acts as?an invitation to start making art, and the entities become their own.
Another benefit of art therapy is it allows patients to work on their?problems nonverbally. Gingrich-Gaylord said they know how people?respond to problems, and working with problems is not always through?verbal means ? the brain doesn?t always work on a verbal format.
?So art therapy can work on problems nonverbally that?s effective,??he said.
Gingrich-Gaylord is an artist himself. He mostly draws and paints,?and plays piano.
In his office is a painting he did of a fish with plastic grocery bags?painted and attached to the work.
Prairie View has a variety of mental health services. For more?information about Prairie View, call the facility at 316-284-6400.
Photos and story by?Wendy Nugent