I discovered today that one of my favorite professors in my master's program had passed away in February of this year. I met Dr. Joan Phillips while attending an art therapy course at the University of Oklahoma. Dr. Phillips was the instructor for the course and she was one of those larger than life individuals who exude so much energy, excitement, and positivism that you can’t help but admire them as soon as you meet.The course was focused on providing mental health professionals with some insight into the use of art therapy to help clients express/deal with their emotions. Dr Phillips' impact on me, both as a helping professional and personally, was profound and lasting. While attending her course, I was struggling with some depression (surprise, even therapists have emotions J). She encouraged me to resume my hobby of photography, something I had given up many years ago. She helped me see how photography could give voice to the feelings I wasn’t able to communicate. I returned home after class that weekend and shared with my wife what Dr. Phillips suggested. The next day, my wife and I bought a camera and the renewed love of photography has never stopped.
In Dr Phillips classroom, we worked with a variety of media from clay to paint to drawing pencils, to magazines, scissors, and glue. She taught us how to help others select the type of art media that would be most therapeutic for their needs. I remember her telling us that the clay is very difficult to work, which makes it a great medium for someone working through strong emotions such as rage. More than that though, she showed us how to express care for others without even speaking a word.
The American Art Therapy Association recently published a tribute to Dr. Phillips, which is how I learned of her passing. I believe the article describes her perfectly. She was one of those professors who inspires her students by teaching their hearts as well as their minds. The tribute can be read here.
The power of art therapy is amazing. Regardless of whether or not they possess artistic skill, it allows people to access their subconscious mind and the client often finds that the art speaks to what is affecting them and provides an effective outlet for releasing emotions. The art doesn’t have to be “pretty” or even have to resemble anything. In my case with non-photographic media, most would say my final product most resembled a mess, but the process was very cathartic.
Isiah 64:8 (NIV) “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”
Do you have a hobby or some type of artistic / creative outlet? Please comment below to share what yours is.