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Spirituality, Art Therapy and Inclusion

One morning while working in a retirement community a woman in her late 80's came into the studio at 7am and she stated, "This is the only place that was open and has its lights on." I welcomed her in and she shared that she just learned this morning her niece unexpectantly died as she wiped her tears away she stated, "She was named after me. We shared a name and I know it sounds strange but it's as if a piece of me died too this morning." This woman proceeded to come to the studio almost daily and weeks after engaging in art therapy with me she stated,

"The studio is a sanctuary."

This phrase stuck with me and all the things I learned from Bruce Moon in class and texts about art therapy as an act of love and the reason I got into this field to serve others all started to flood back into my mind.

Mimi Farrelly-Hansen wrote:

"The individuals who come to the studio are those who are vulnerable, scared, hurting; those who have been abandoned, abused, outcast. They are in need. I offer them tubes of paint, pastel sticks, paper, canvas and crayons as if I were offering starving persons food by which to be sustained. Sometimes they balk or turn away, suspicious and fearful of what I offer. I let them know this is okay, but I leave the art materials there anyway, in case they decide they are willing to risk being fed. I don't try to convince them that art will provide emotional and spiritual nourishment. Instead, I let them witness it. They see others dab creamy paint colors on canvas carefully glue beads on the edges of a clay piece. They bear witness to a community of people who, in the midst of their own emotional starvation, not only are being fed but also are feeding each other by the small acts of their creation."


Our psychosocial needs indicate we need a sense of belonging and we may find that in a variety of aspects within our lives whether that be: church, the gym, music, theater, friends, family etc. It is no surprise that community within art therapy and spirituality align. They both share themes some including inspiration, existentialism, curiosity, challenges, values, exploration, fear, surrender and growth.

When it has been approached to me if it is possible to integrate art therapy within a service I can't help but respond with a resounding yes. Prior to facilitating an art therapy experience at the Inclusive Service held at First United Methodist Church (FUMC), I had Open Studio at I Light where a community mural piece hangs. This piece has been growing and for everyone that enters open studio has an opportunity to add to this piece based on the questions: What is missing from this piece, what would create an accepting community and what can you add to this space?

A young artist painted the words "LOVE PREVAILS!" She did not know I was about to facilitate an art therapy experience at FUMC and this piece offered the same message meant for the service that evening.

The studio is a sanctuary.

While setting up for the directive, I proceeded to lay out natural materials at a table to be the sacred space for taking pieces to create something whole and new as stepping stones moving into another direction. During this time a vessel was smashed and shattered on the floor. These broken pieces were added to the table laid out in all it's various fragments that were admired and chosen by the community to belong into the stepping stones. We all come from something that may feel at times it is broken, these pieces have shaped us and we learn to find ways of integrating these pieces into our own lives.

Throughout the service the words were sung from the Hymn Sing a New Church:

Trust the goodness of creation;

Trust the spirit strong within.

Dare to dream the vision promised,

Sprung from the seed of what has been

Bring the hopes of every nation;

Bring the art of every race.

Weave a song of peace and justice;

Let it sound through time and space

Draw together at one table

All the human family;

Shape a circle ever wider

And a people ever free

Mimi stated it so clearly:

"It is the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the squalor and wanting that is transformed to plentitude by the faithful act of making do with what is at hand. If the reluctant one is to be convinced to join in, it will be by the activity of the community."

This experience can alter an environment that can offer openness and play. It can develop honest communication and authenticity. We learn to respond to the art where we develop a relationship with the art and rather than interpret we create a more mindful experience. The same things we see in this space we also see in the studio.

Creating forces us to let go of expectations, we learn to become more comfortable in the unknown so in which case art is an act of practicing faith.

About the Author: Leara on Psychology Today

If you would like to get inspired today check out our Open Studio program and other programs on our website here: I Light LLC

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