by Jottalyn Campbell
John started experimenting with drugs and alcohol when he was 12. Thirty-five years later, he still struggles with his addiction. His is just one story of the 17 residents living at Houston's Lord of the Streets (LOTS), striving to overcome addictions and searching for a better life. UHCL's art therapy program provides LOTS clients a way to make discoveries about themselves and deal with a lifetime of emotional baggage.
UHCL's involvement began in June 1998, nine months before the center opened and Pat Farley Mueller, '90 MA, accepted the position as LOTS' director of management and chemical dependency counselor. Shortly after the opening, Mueller contacted friend and colleague Jerry Fryrear, UHCL professor of psychology, and his professional artist wife, Caecilia, '90 MA, to visit LOTS. Mueller designs the programs and activities, and as she expected, the Fryrears were eager to participate.
Fryrear recognized an opportunity to implement an art therapy program. Working on a weekly basis with the eight original LOTS clients, he began by suggesting they draw something others already knew about them. On the opposite side of their paper, they were instructed to depict something that no one knew. First, the group shared the known side; and as they felt more comfortable with each other, they revealed the unknown things.
Like the old saying, a picture is worth a thousand words. In the case of art therapy, pictures provide information and undisclosed details that observation alone may not detect. Art therapy unveils internal emotions. Sometimes these inner feelings are so deeply buried that clients are surprised by what arises through their art.
Joseph, 30, drew his likeness on the extreme edge of the paper. "My life is on the edge," he explained. His art was prophetic. Two weeks later, Joseph left the center and dropped out of the program.
Ron, 41, placed himself in stages of fragmentation. "Some days, I'm more together - some days, I'm just not all there," he says.
As the sessions continued, the drawings illustrated the progress of their recovery. Eventually, the clients embraced the idea of a wall mural. Looking around the facility, they decided to place it on a dining room wall. With Fryrear's guidance, the group recognized the common symbols of struggling, wrestling, fighting, searching, roads and pathways in their art. Thus, the theme, "A Fight for New Life," was born.
Recognizing the mural would take a long-term commitment, Fryrear expanded the program to include an art therapy internship. When the internship was offered to graduate student Debbie Haynes, she jumped at the chance.
Haynes says it is only through a bit of irony that she found what she believes to be her true calling as an art therapist. Initially, she enrolled in UHCL after carefully researching clinical psychology graduate programs. Although a long drive from her Sugar Land home, she chose UHCL because the program gives students more than what the state requires. Haynes enrolled in an art therapy class when a clinical psychology course she needed was unavailable. The course inspired her to continue studying in the art therapy program in addition to her clinical psychology graduate program.
"The whole experience of art therapy is so very powerful," says Haynes. "With that one art therapy class, I was hooked. The ages of the students in the class ranged from the 20s to 60s, and it was easy to recognize how valuable art therapy is across all populations. Some classmates said they have been looking for this all of their lives. Art is such a powerful medium. I'm making it my job to do more published research to open up more people to the value of art therapy."
Unlike most people's perception, art therapy is not an arts and crafts class, explains Haynes. And, it is not about analyzing someone's drawings. Art therapy can provide definite indicators of what the person represents - not what the therapist observes.
"If someone is not ready to disclose what is bothering them, art therapy is a great way to explore issues," says Haynes.
UHCL's involvement at LOTS does not end with Mueller, the Fryrears and Haynes. Tammy Fountain, '98 BA, is also volunteering on the project. Fountain, who has an associate's degree in applied design and visual art from Galveston College, is currently working on her master's degree in psychology at UHCL and is coordinator of the UHCL Women's Resource Services.
LOTS is a New Life Recovery Center, an agency that provides services for the homeless in Houston. The residential treatment program began as an outreach ministry of the Trinity Episcopal Church. Staffed with priests, clinicians, support personnel and volunteers, LOTS can house up to 31 residents. Residents are given the opportunity to stay up to 24 months while they rehabilitate their lives, enter the job market and learn to succeed on their own.
At Lord of the Streets, "A Fight for New Life" is the theme and motto for the mural that graces the dining room wall. Fortunately for the residents of LOTS, with UHCL's art therapy program, that "fight" has become a little easier.
"Art therapy uses the appeal that art has for most people, and all age groups - children, adolescents and adults - can enjoy art," says Jerry Fryrear, professor of psychology. "By using different art media such as drawings, instant photography, collage and storytelling, we can produce meaningful interactive dialogue and results that traditional therapy might not."
The UHCL art therapy program is one of two certification programs offered in the state of Texas, and one of 15 nationwide. Designed to be completed in two part-time academic years, the 21-semester-hour post-master's program with an internship field placement meets academic requirements for registration and board certification through the Art Therapy Credentialing Board of the American Art Therapy Association.
The UHCL School of Human Sciences and Humanities offers the program through
its Art Therapy Institute. The institute also offers workshops and other
learning opportunities in expressive art therapies. For more information
about this or other psychology programs, call 281-283-3314.
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