Art therapy has many positive effects

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Shawn Kafader
Shawn Kafader

The Art of Friendship was an intergenerational art exhibit, sponsored by Friendship Senior Options Foundation.

We have seen healing—a lot of healing—and a lot of acceptance of the past and present. People have found purpose. People who hadn't felt as if they had anything to contribute have created beautiful pieces of art. We launched our new art therapy program late last year to benefit our residents, and it has had a significant effect on many. 

Working with me as I oversaw the program was Kylin Jewell, a master's degree student from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, who worked as an intern here, introducing art therapy to the residents. She worked with a variety of residents, both individually and in groups, including our Living with a Loss group, with members who are residents dealing with the loss of a loved one or a loss of an ability or mobility. Kylin also worked with residents with dementia and residents whose health is changing.

Although participants might learn a skill in art therapy, that's not the purpose of the program. Rather, the purpose has to do with the process. The art becomes the healing vehicle for the person's life, a way for them to access and express feelings that are difficult to convey in words.

The art therapy sessions were run in several different ways. Kylin worked with a group of residents in a designated art room, and at other times, she worked individually with residents in their apartments. Sometimes a resident would talk while creating, sometimes he or she would be silent while creating and then would talk about it afterwards. Sometimes the resident would tell a personal story, and sometimes the art piece would tell the story.

As beautiful and compelling pieces of artwork began to emerge, we made the decision to hold an art show, exhibiting a sample of the creations. The idea evolved into an intergenerational art exhibit called The Art of Friendship, which was held in April. We began with an idea of an art show by the therapy program, but then other things started happening. Friendship Village has a long-standing collaborative relationship with the neighboring Hoover Math and Science Academy in Schaumburg. This year, a group of residents partnered with Hoover's photography club. Part of our art show featured this collaboration. We then opened up the show to students in the fourth and sixth grades to display some of their work as well.

We then decided to invite all artistic residents at Friendship Village to contribute a piece to the show. We had a great response from our residents. We had a wonderful variety of pieces, including sculpture, photography and painting.

I hope that art therapy is a constant offering at Friendship Village. I think it's cutting-edge right now, and we've been able to put together a quality program bringing together the different pieces that benefit our residents and their families.

Shawn Kafader, LCPC, is chaplain and clinical counselor at Friendship Village of Schaumburg. Friendship Village is a 35-year-old Chicago-area retirement community offering independent living garden homes and apartment homes as well as assisted living, memory support, skilled care and short- and long-term rehabilitation services. For additional information, visit www.FriendshipVillage.org.

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