Therapist, painter team up to help residents heal through art
“I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration.” –Frida Kahlo
Whether you prefer doodling or are a master with a brush or a potter’s wheel, the creation of art can be a wonderfully therapeutic process. Unfortunately, many art classes are prohibitively expensive, and art therapy is not covered by most health insurance plans. Two artistic ladies in Ruckersville have come up with a plan to make art classes affordable and therapeutic for Greene County residents by forming their own nonprofit called Artistic Remedies for Creative Hearts, or ARCH.
Crystal Myers moved to Greene County in 2015 to set up a private counseling practice, but soon found that the need for services far outweighed what one Licensed Professional Counselor could accommodate. She transitioned to a group practice in 2019 but was still seeking a way to bring additional holistic treatment options to her clients.
“Part of my vision has always been to have a regional healing center for people to come to do counseling and to do alternative holistic (treatments)—massage, reiki sessions, chiropractors and stuff like that,” she said. “Also knowing that I have many clients who have these amazing talents that they’re not aware of, and through my work—both personally and professionally—realizing we’ve got to tap into all of that to help people be whole and engage in a way that’s going to feed their self-esteem and make them feel like a part of the community.”
Myers has her own home pottery studio, where she creates beautiful mugs and other creations with a wheel and kiln. She met artist Rose Guterbock a little over a year ago, and the pair instantly hit it off. “Rose has also had a vision and knowing personally that art helps you heal—it helps you process at a deep level that talk therapy can’t get to,” Myers said.
Guterbock lost her mother to suicide a few years ago and says she found her art to be a refuge.
“Some of my earliest memories with her were at art museums—she took me to the Art Institute of Chicago … she sort of instilled a love of fine art in me; and after her passing, I turned immediately to my art to process through everything that I was feeling,” Guterbock said. “All that I want through this experience is to offer people an opportunity to use the resources at their disposal to feel better, to heal, to find community, to find connection—because I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding around suicide and mental health care. Having a network is so important.”
Guterbock will be teaching weekly art classes in three age categories in the new classroom space at Myers’ counseling office. Friday evening classes will be for adults over age 15 and cost $35, and Saturdays will offer classes for kids aged 6-10 or 11-14 for $25. The first class is Aug. 13 and will be creating “book nooks”—a lighted box that sits on a bookshelf amongst the volumes that appears like a small window into another world.
The classes planned thus far cover a variety of mediums, from book nooks to rain sticks for meditation, painting and sewing and doodling. Myers loves to learn and teach new mediums and says she is extremely open to suggestions for future project ideas.
“There are the types of artists who pick one medium and that’s what they do their whole lives—and that’s completely wonderful and valid—(but) I just get so bored,” she said. “I’ve done craft fairs for 20 years now and there was a period when I was selling fairy houses and there was a period when I was doing etched sterling silver jewelry. … Our mission is to help people build resiliency through creative practice, and some of that comes to the front when you (ask) how do you problem solve that? What’s your idea? You tell me.”
Unlike the popular painting classes where the goal of participants is to recreate a set painting with help from an instructor, Guterbock said her classes will be collaborative and each participant will be encouraged to create something unique to themselves.
“Sometimes we have all these feelings and we don’t know what they are or how to deal with them or what they mean,” Guterbock said. “Something as simple as, visualize a magical getaway for you and you alone—what does that look like? What is in it? Who can come with you? What’s safe about it? It’s interesting because seemingly very simple questions can take people pretty internal, and … I think our focus is on positive self-awareness and then also support through community.”
“Rose is not a therapist, but what she just described—this idea of creating this magical place where you can go to—if the client’s able to put that into a tangible object, then the therapist can help them use that, especially with trauma or people with really high anxiety,” Myers said. “We bring that into therapy, we talk about it, we help them do guided imagery and teach them to down-regulate so they can process trauma or they can learn to encounter the world in a different way.”
Art therapy is a recognized treatment practiced by licensed professionals to improve well-being. Unfortunately, it is rarely covered by medical insurance and can be quite costly.
“That actually is one of the reasons that we decided to do the nonprofit route—so we could apply for grants and solicit money from big corporations that are helping to invest in community-based healing centers,” Myers said. “It’s such an amazing gift to watch a client transformed through therapy—like, you’ve gone from not being able to leave your home because you’re so anxious to now you’re totally rocking it and you’re going to Walmart and doing what you need to do and you’re starting to create things and share that with other people and you’re standing up for yourself … that’s the beauty; we’re all unique human beings.”
Art classes through ARCH will be available both to current clients of Life Works Professional Counseling and to anyone interested in exploring self-expression in a community setting. Patient confidentiality is very important to Myers, who assures those who are interested that neither the instructor nor other participants will know if a person is a client of the practice unless they choose to self-disclose.
For anyone interested in becoming a member of ARCH, an annual fee of $35 comes with the ability to showcase and sell artwork in monthly art shows, which are tentatively planned to be organized by color with August’s inaugural show organized around the color pink. The opening reception will be held at the studio on Aug. 7 from 5-7 p.m. and is open to all, with light refreshments provided.
To learn more or to sign up for a class, visit www.artisticremedies.org, email [email protected] or call (703) 217-1730. Life Works Professional Counseling is at 8767 Seminole Trail, Suite 101, Ruckersville.