Art is all about expressing yourself in a way that is completely judgment-free. When words aren’t able to reach your desired result, or maybe you can’t put what you’re thinking or feeling into words, art therapy can step in and allow you to express yourself in an openly creative way.
To learn more about Emily, art therapy, and her business, Present Not Perfect, with her business partner Abbie, check out the links below:
Tell me about your professional background.
I am an Art Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor from Oconomowoc WI. I completed my bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse where I studied Psychology, Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies and Art. After realizing these passions could be combined to further help others, I attended graduate school at Mount Mary University in Milwaukee, obtaining my Masters of Science in Art Therapy with a Concentration in Counseling. Since graduating in 2015, I have worked with a variety of populations across multiple settings. I worked as an Art Therapist at a large behavioural health hospital where I facilitated experiential and mindfulness-based groups across various levels of care and programs.
I gained valuable clinical experience working with clients with eating disorders, mood disorders, anxiety, OCD, and dual diagnoses. I have also worked for the county program providing community-based mental health services to youth and young adults. I am interested in creative ways to engage and treat young people who historically do not receive or stick with services. I have been able to utilize my art therapy background combined with evidence-based treatment models of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, and CBT to work alongside young people to encourage, model, and support them in obtaining their own life worth living goals.
Most recently, since becoming a mom, I have worked in private practice with my own LLC, serving children, teens, families, and young adults. I have also partnered with a dear friend to create Present Not Perfect, a company that creates intentional sensory play kits to foster early emotional literacy at home for families that pulls from my experience as an art therapist, and her experience as a special education teacher, coupled with what we have learned as moms during this pandemic!
What made you want to get into this field?
I have always enjoyed art ever since I was little. Art was just something I always came back to and found comforting. I took art classes throughout school and minored in art in college. I had an intro to psychology careers class freshman year where they mentioned art therapy and my mind was opened to the possibility of doing something I enjoyed, coupled with helping people. I sought out volunteer opportunities in which art was used for recreation at an adult day centre, and immediately saw how it fostered connection, boosted mood, and so many other benefits. I was hooked!
What has been your favorite aspect of this work?
There is so much I enjoy about art therapy! One favourite aspect is how while making art with a client they naturally loosen up, relax and talk more openly than if we were just sitting staring at each other— especially when working with teens! I also really enjoy getting to be creative with supporting clients in going deeper through coming up with directives tailored to them and their current needs.
Can you explain what art therapy is and what a typical session is like from start to finish?
Art therapy is a mental health profession based on the idea that creative self-expression is healing when done in conjunction with a supportive and trained art therapist. Art therapy views not only the process of art-making but also work within a final product, helpful in enhancing wellbeing. In a typical session, I first like to check in with a client, either verbally or through a brief expressive directive to gather what the client is bringing to the session; how their mood is and what they are needing out of the session. From here, the client will be given an art prompt/or directive facilitated by the therapist.
The art therapist may make art alongside the client (I always do) and follow the client’s lead with how much talking takes place while working. Having music on, materials available and ready, all make the space tailored to the client’s needs. At the end of the session the client might be asked to share or process, if they’d like, what they worked on or noticed in the session. Connections made by the client will be explored and plans for the next session also be discussed.
How can art therapy be supportive in overall healing and well-being?
Creating art has been shown to be clinically significant in reducing cortisol levels, the stress hormone. The process of being creative and focused, has many benefits in finding calm, new hobbies, sensory input, and mindfulness. Art can also help support individuals in expressing things that words fail to, and can also assist in healing, especially with the support of a trained therapist.
How has art therapy personally helped you?
Art therapy has been personally helpful for me in combating perfectionism and just focusing on the process. In art therapy, no one is getting ‘graded’ or ‘judged’ on their product. The process is more important. Art therapy has helped me be more vulnerable and unfiltered.
Is there a technique in your practice that you have found to be the most beneficial to the people you work with?
This is a hard question since I have worked with so many different populations and ages. I guess I would say any art directive that helps a client externalize the core issue or presenting problem has been helpful—and then has allowed work within that image, symbol, or metaphor throughout the course of treatment.
What would you say to someone skeptical about art therapy and its effectiveness? How do you approach that?
I would start by totally validating that for many people, art-making stops after elementary school, so it is expected for them to be somewhat removed from that process, and uncomfortable with trying something foreign to them. I like to provide information about how images and symbols have been used to help us communicate since the beginning of time, and that for many, this way of communicating, through art, helps express thoughts, feelings, and emotions for a variety of reasons, that words alone might not be enough. I also like to give information on just the process of art-making alone in reducing stress by talking about studies done on the reduction of cortisol- as previously mentioned.
Besides art therapy do you have any universal health and well-being tips that you’d like to share?
Self-compassion work has been instrumental for many of my clients, and me. The reminder that we are all human beings with flaws, it is hard because it is hard, and treating yourself like you would a dear friend are great tips from Dr Kristen Neff.
If there was one piece of advice you could give to someone who is struggling, what would it be?
You are not alone. Things can get better- it might be tomorrow, next week, next month, or in a year- but you have to be here to experience it when it does! Find a therapist with who you click, don’t be discouraged if it takes a few to find someone with who you feel you can connect. There is the right therapist out there for you.
Books: Self-Compassion, by Dr Kristin Neff.
What resources would you recommend? (books, podcasts, websites that you’ve found helpful)
DBT Skills handbook, by Marsha Linehan
To learn more about art therapy
Whether you need to take some self-care time to simply relax and focus on yourself, or you need to work through trapped emotions, art therapy is an expressive way to tap into deep emotions and can heal an array of issues.
Check out Present Not Perfect and learn more about Emily and Abbie here:
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