The healing power of art therapy

Art therapy is a growing practice in Eau Claire


©2019 Casey Ryan

Amy Hahn created these “zendoodles” with her clients on their road to healing.

Art therapy has been a growing branch of counseling services in Eau Claire. Art therapists are able to work for hospitals, private practices and schools.

Art therapists are clinicians who work with people of all ages across a broad spectrum of practices. Developed in the 1940s, the practice works to provide people with an alternative form of healing.

Trisha Lundin, a former art therapist at Mayo Clinic in Eau Claire, worked in bereavement services to connect people with art as a healing tool for grief.

“It’s a vital resource for people who don’t feel like they have a voice or have words to put to an experience,” Lundin said. “I think that’s a driving force for bringing the arts into health.”

The American Art Therapy Association describes art therapy as an “integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.”

Lundin said there has been a lot of “exciting” research that has been able to connect creating art with emotional healing.

“I think there’s been more research about neuroscience and art recently,” Lundin said. “Hooking someone’s brain up to imaging machines while they’re making art really shows a lot of evidence.”

Lundin said there has been evidence that comes from the deeper part of our brain about how we store trauma. The evidence has shown that trauma can not come out of the brain with talk therapy alone.

“Trauma stored in the brain isn’t necessarily something that can be accessed through verbal language alone,” Lundin said. “Sitting down to talk about problems doesn’t have the same therapeutic effect as art making would.”

Amy Hahn, an art therapist who works as a private practice therapist, also discussed the benefits of art therapy versus talk therapy.

“Unlike just traditional talk therapy, art therapy is helping to rewire the pathways in your brain and it helps people heal from trauma,” Hahn said.

Hahn works with many different age groups in counseling. She said producing art is permanent because it is not subject to the distortions of memory. An art piece is a tangible object whereas talk therapy is only words.

“I work with a lot of different populations.” Hahn said. “I have worked with adults on a memory support unit, I have worked with adults with HIV and I have also worked with inpatient and outpatients in a hospital setting.”

Hahn said that participants working with her can expect to be welcomed into a warm, non-judgmental environment.

Hahn practices person-centered, strength-based approaches. Her goals are to work collaboratively with her patients to help them develop strategies to be healthier in upsetting situations and view challenges from a different perspective.

Participants who are resistant to therapy usually find it easier to relate to the art or images, Hahn said. The process can be helpful to those who struggle in finding words, because the art speaks for them.

Hahn said that she hopes her participants can release pain, express their feelings and get through life’s challenges with the help of art therapy.