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Art can be used for more than just entertainment or pleasure.

Art therapy is the therapeutic use of art making in a professional setting for people who have experienced illness, trauma or seek personal development. It emerged as a profession in the 1940s, according to the American Art Therapy Association website. About 70 years later, there are now 37 chapters in the AATA. Sherri Jacobs is a registered art therapist and president of the Kansas Art Therapy Association, KATA.

“Art therapy is a fast way of helping people come to terms with things,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs worked in a psych hospital in the past where patients were required to work on their art one hour each day. She said that it was powerful having the ability to get information out and see it in front of her eyes.

“It’s easy to lie when you’re talking but it’s hard to lie on paper,” Jacobs said.

Art therapy has also been used to help veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Jacobs said that trauma is stored in the right side of the brain and when soldiers come back and talk with therapists, it’s difficult for them because the trauma is stored in the nonverbal part of the brain. Jacobs said the creative side of the brain allows for expression through art.

The Kansas Art Therapy Association has about 55 members working across the state. ARTicipation kicked off Jan. 20 and is the latest event for art therapy in the area. It is an ongoing, interactive exhibit at the Kansas City Jewish Museum of Contemporary Art. ARTicipation is a partnership of local artists in the community providing workshops to expand art therapy locally and will conclude on March 17.

Emma Hardwick, a sophomore from Overland Park, has been interested in art her whole life, and took classes such as ceramics and print making in high school. Her mother used to volunteer at their church using art to work with the children. Hardwick said she would see kids who never really spoke up change after they’d completed their art.

“It was really cool seeing the different methods of helping the kids express themselves,” Hardwick said.

Art therapy has also been used to help young cancer patients and their families. Tracy’s Kids is a charitable organization founded by Tracy Councill in 1991. Emporia State University, the only university in Kansas that offers the graduate level degree program, will be hosting its annual Art Therapy Discovery Day with Councill Saturday.

Tracy’s Kids helps thousands of pediatric cancer patients across the country. Nine-year-old leukemia patient Ryan has undergone chemotherapy for more than three years. In a recent interview with BBC news, he said that whenever you’re feeling sick, art helps you take your mind off of what you’re going through.

“It makes you feel like you can really do anything,” Ryan said.

Neuroscience has recently come into play with art therapy, although it’s still in its early stages of research. Art therapy has been used to help Alzheimer’s patients. “I Remember Better When I Paint” is the first international documentary about the positive effects art therapy has on people with Alzheimer’s.

Judy Holstein, director of adult day services at the CJE Senior Life center in Chicago, said in the documentary that people still have an imagination all the way to the end of their progressional disease.

“The creative arts are an avenue to tap into a nonverbal, emotional place in a person,” Holstein said.

 

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