BLOG: Stark County organizations collaborate to explore mental health benefits of art expression

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colored-pencils-760x425Stark County Mental Health & Addiction Recovery has approved funding for a 16-week pilot program through the Canton Museum of Art called Art for Health & Healing. The first eight weeks are on track to begin at the end of this month, which aligns with November as Arts and Health Month. The remaining eight weeks of the pilot program will occur in the spring of 2017.

During the first eight-week period of this pilot program, clients and staff from StarkMHAR contract provider organizations Child & Adolescent Behavioral Health, CommQuest Services, Crisis Intervention & Recovery Center and Domestic Violence Project will participate in an art experience at the Canton Museum of Art. The museum has hired a program coordinator who will plan each art experience with a licensed art therapist and will facilitate the art activities for the clients and staff. Group leaders and therapists will accompany their clients while at the museum to use this art experience in conjunction with current therapeutic efforts and/or to offer support as needed. This program can also act as a standalone experience for clients to visually express themselves, socialize and to focus on positive life experiences.

Gretchen Miller, a Cleveland-based Registered Board Certified Art Therapist and TLC Advanced Certified Trauma Practitioner, outlines how artistic expression is vital to recovery:

Four important themes and considerations that support how art can be a therapeutic tool for grounding, reflection and growth

Art expression can become a visual voice that can help retrieve content from lower-functioning parts of the brain where traumatic experiences live without words. Art safely gives voice to and makes a client’s experience of emotions, thoughts and memories visible when words are insufficient.

Activating and using the imagination to convey visual symbols and representations of safety through creative experiences can help bring some relief associated with overwhelming states of fear and alarm. Art making can help restore a sense of emotional safety and well-being.

Engaging in the expression of art as a form of trauma intervention taps into the implicit functioning of the brain that can tell the experience of trauma through visual representations, not words. Many researchers have experienced “the challenges that trauma has on our explicit (cognitive) vs. implicit (sensory) memory” (as noted in Steele, 2003).

Engaging in art supports the client to make choices, problem solve, make meaning and safely learn how to successfully navigate trauma reactions and stresses in the safety of the therapeutic experience. This creative process also strengthens one’s internal locus of control and empowers new ways of seeing the self and the recovery path ahead.

Provider staff from the four aforementioned provider organizations will have an opportunity to participate in this program as well. In regards to professionals who encounter trauma in their work, Miller explains that “using our sense of creativity in the work we do as trauma specialists is critical, as it helps us be open to and see new ideas or solutions that can empower problem solving, growth and different ways to view situations, tasks and challenging issues with clients, co-workers and ourselves.” As Miller attests, “Self-care in relationship to trauma work is an essential practice for professionals in this helping field.”

Sources:, accessed Nov. 15, 2016, accessed Nov. 15, 2016

About Stephanie Kutcher

Stephanie Kutcher, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor with almost 10 years of experience in the behavioral health field. She has a Master of Arts Degree in Counseling and Human Development, with a dual study in mental health and school counseling. Stephanie is the Client Services Coordinator at Stark County Mental Health & Addiction Recovery. In her role, she is the organization’s Client Rights Officer, and she works to assist the current system of care in becoming more trauma-informed. Stephanie participates in multiple community collaboratives and committees, covering topics such as trauma and resiliency, mental illness and developmental disabilities and human trafficking. She has experience working in the partial hospitalization and non-profit settings in clinical and administrative roles. She has also worked in group homes with various populations including adolescents, as well as adults with both mental health diagnoses and developmental disabilities.