Carla Washington, MA, LPC, ATRR is an adjunct professor of art therapy at Wayne State University and a licensed counselor with our practice, Beverly Hills Therapy Group. I asked Carla about her work, how she started, and how art therapy has evolved for her.
Can you tell me a little bit about how you came to be an Art Therapist?
My introduction to art therapy as a healing modality came at a time when I was considering a career change. At that time I was working at my son’s school as a graphic designer/publicist. Initially I was planning to study art education. My pathway to healing after my divorce led me to register for Intro to Art Therapy. As I learned about the field I was fortunate to be able to apply it to my own healing and growth.
How did you use Art Therapy for your healing?
Art therapy helped me explore my feelings and challenges when words failed. It also helped me use art to relax without the pressure of completing a technically specific finished product. Coming from graphic design which is one of the more technically driven art forms, using the colors and various materials to explore my thoughts, feelings, and challenges was and continues to be cathartic and freeing. Utilizing the same materials I can build visual maps and plans to help bring clarity and structure to confusing or overwhelming thoughts.
I see how you use art to help clients understand how they feel. Where do you take them from there?
The art is used therapeutically to expose and explore the clients’ thoughts, stressors, feelings and challenges. In addition to helping clients process their feelings, the images are used to help clients manage behaviors, identify and reduce stress and anxiety, self-exploration, increase self-awareness and self-esteem.
So how does that translate in your sessions? Can you give me an example of where art therapy helped one of your clients and how?
In a case where a client’s artwork reveals a past trauma or feelings of overwhelm after we explore the feelings and potential triggers we close the session with a new directive that guides the client to a state of peace and well being. Providing them with visual tools/coping strategies that they can access when they are in or out of session.
Recently, a client became very overwhelmed as they returned home from a weekend away. We used art to explore the triggers that brought on the anxious feelings. Once she could look at how her feelings began to build through a color study directive, we were able to reverse the process which brought her to a space of clarity and peace of mind.
How has the move to virtual therapy changed the way you practice art therapy?
As we have had to transition to telehealth over the past few months my practice has changed to accommodate my clients access to materials and general comfortability with art making. For my clients that have minimal artistic ability or interests and basic art materials such as pencils, crayons, markers, pens, watercolor paints and paper we continue to explore a variety of issues such as body image, eating disorders, self worth, body mapping, physical components of stress and anxiety. Of course for those with more extensive art supplies and skill levels we can use the art experiences to explore their emotions, thoughts and stressors in addition to enhancing their skills and creative mindset. For my clients that prefer to use digital media I have been using digital photo collage and drawing apps.
What kind of coping strategies do you practice?
Some of my favorite ways to calm my own anxiety about the future are creative cooking, painting, visual journaling, mediation, positive affirmations, music and dance.
Carla is here and ready to help. If you liked what you read and would like to explore therapy with Carla, please request an appointment through our website, or phone to speak with one of our schedulers.