Creating Community One Brushstroke at a Time: Studio Based Art Therapy

by Cori Devlin

I became interested in developing an art therapy program for individuals experiencing mental illness after I visited a rehabilitation-focused art studio operated by the Coastal Mental Health Services. I went as a guest of my dear friend who was recovering from a hospital stay after experiencing psychosis. In the studio I saw people working on various activities; some were off in a corner painting with canvas and easels from a still life, others were drawing intently while my friend and I worked at hand building in clay. The studio was rich with creative energy and lively activity. You could see the focus and pride on people's faces. While in the studio, the walls that mental illness had placed between my friend and I dissolved. She shared with me the way her art making had given her the strength to continue when nothing else could penetrate her despair. It was her artist identity that empowered her to envision her future. In this studio I saw how art making creates community, offers respite from suffering and provides the possibility of imagining a new way of being in the world.

After that experience three years ago, I began researching how art therapy history and theory could be intentionally integrated to develop a studio based art therapy model that would enhance the therapeutic benefits of art making for people experiencing mental illness. This purpose has been the driving force that has compelled me to develop and implement the ArtWorks Studio model. The research included in this thesis represents a broad stroke across the history of cross cultural arts and healing rituals, the history of the art of the mentally ill and the psychological theories that informed the development of art therapy as a profession.

In conclusion, the essential elements that comprise the studio based approach to providing art therapy will be discussed. The detailed manual presented after the conclusion identifies how these essential elements were integrated into a dynamic program providing art therapy services to individuals experiencing mental illness.