It’s easier to talk about your art than yourself. That’s the philosophy of Marni Reeve, Discovery Academy’s art therapist.
“We use art,” she explains, “because sometimes students don’t have the skills to express their feelings verbally or they feel afraid to express it with words.”
Marni uses visual arts as she works with students in three specific therapy groups. Right now those groups are emotional regulation, girls’ issues, and grief and loss.
She’ll work with each group for twelve weeks. Then the groups may change to include other therapeutic topics.
“Even though I tell students the first time we meet, ‘When you make art you’re expressing something about yourself,’ I don’t ask them to comment right away on their projects. When they’re comfortable with me, they talk about it.”
She says it’s easier for students to say, “In my picture, this is happening,” instead of “In my life, this is happening.” “It’s a safer way for them to approach emotional issues but it’s really the same thing,” she says.
Marni had been working at a local hospital in the pediatric center as a play therapist. Prior to that, she worked in the psychiatric unit of a hospital affiliated with Stanford University. She has Master’s degree in marriage and family therapy and art therapy.
“In a hospital setting, most of the kids are in and out in a few days,” Marni says. At Discovery Academy, she has the chance to work with students on a long term basis. “It’s that relationship piece I really like,” she says.
More than just painting, drawing or sculpting, the art projects are as unique as the students she works with.
For the emotional regulation group, Marni recently scoured a thrift store for all sorts of wooden objects. She painted them all white, and then let students pick an object. Their instructions: express artistically an emotion on the object. Later she asked students to explain what emotion they picked and why. Still later, she asked students to discuss ways they as individuals could express the emotion in ways that were positive.
The girls’ issues group is tackling a more traditional art medium – quilting. Marni says women have been gathering to quilt and discuss important issues for generations. The Discovery Academy girls share their feelings about therapeutic topics they recommended as they tie quilts. They are also writing letters of advice to younger girls important in their lives. The letters, written on muslin fabric, will be tucked inside the quilt as it is sewn.
Marni says this is an opportunity for each girl to reflect on what she has learned, what she considers valuable life lessons, and what she wishes to share with another girl she cares about.
“The girl they are writing to could be a little sister, a young friend, or an unborn daughter,” Marni says. “The fact the letter is sewn inside the quilt, where no one else will read it, makes it even easier for the student to be very candid and open about her feelings.”
She says every Academy art experience gives students another opportunity to discover their feelings and understand their behaviors – this time through the creative process. “In large part, I’m just introducing different mediums and methods. It’s kind of like giving them something they can take back to their lair and chew on.”
The art experience may also turn into a healthy coping skill students can use and enjoy throughout their lives.