What is Art Therapy? Podcast Episode #122
Alyssa talks with Janna VanderBand, an art therapist in West Michigan. We learn what art therapy is and how mothers, in any stage of their journey from fertility and conception to pregnancy and postpartum, can use art therapy to heal. You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes or SoundCloud.
Welcome. You’re listening to Ask the Doulas, a podcast where we talk to experts from all over the country about topics related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and early parenting. Let’s chat!
Alyssa: Hello, Janna! Nice to see you!
Janna: Hi! Nice to see you, too!
Alyssa: Via Zoom.
Alyssa: So we are talking to Janna VanderBand today, who is an art therapist in the West Michigan area, and we spoke probably a few weeks ago now, and I can honestly admit that I know nothing about art therapy. So I would love – and I’m going to assume many others don’t, as well, and then especially how art therapy relates to mothers, in particular. So maybe you can just kind of introduce yourself, tell us what in the world art therapy is, but then how do you actually work with mothers, in particular?
Janna: Yeah, absolutely. So I am an art therapist, and I guess to become at art therapist, I completed a master’s program in art therapy with a concentration in counseling. And then I kind of came to Grand Rapids and recently started a private practice. So it’s very small, but I love working with moms, in particular, during pregnancy and postpartum because I feel like having two kids of my own, my mental health was something that I wasn’t really prepared to think about with my own kids and kind of going through pregnancy and postpartum period, even though I was in a mental health field. It was just not something I thought about. So I’m really passionate about bringing art therapy to moms. But as for what art therapy is, it can be a little confusing. Like, what does this look like? What do we do in sessions? Do I need to have all these art skills? Is the art therapist going to judge me or grade me on my art skills because I haven’t done art since second grade? I hear that a lot. “I haven’t done art since second grade, and I didn’t like my art teacher, so I’m really skeptical about art therapy.” I like to tell people that the art therapy space is a nonjudgmental space. Art therapy is an integrative mental health and human services profession. It’s meant to enrich your life, to help you build a stronger family and stronger community. We utilize art making in the art therapy session, as well as the creative process, and then also psychological theory. So I’ve had training in counseling and aspects of human development and the human experience and how to develop a safe and therapeutic relationship while helping you to create art within that relationship.
Alyssa: So when somebody comes to you, does it start with, like, a regular counseling session? Or is it that you talk about art right away?
Janna: It usually starts like any other counseling session might start. So I do an intake and ask a lot of questions. Really, the goal is for me to get to know you and kind of get to know your context, like where you are in life, how are you feeling, what are some goals that you have for yourself, what does your support system look like, what mental health struggles and family struggles and potentially traumatic circumstances you’ve experienced, so that I can be as helpful as possible when helping you decide what’s important for you, what should we prioritize in your treatment, and are there some aspects of safety that we’re going to have to consider as far as how can we keep you safe. Some people come experiencing really scary thoughts, having experienced really scary situations. So it’s kind of this first meeting to understand what you need. And then from there, we will start to integrate some art. And some sessions don’t include any art. Sometimes, you just need a space to talk about something, and other sessions, I might ask, you know, what is an image that’s coming up for you right now? Let’s explore that a little bit. Or I might have some pre-planned. Let’s create this thing. Let’s do this. Let’s see if we can open ourselves up a little bit to what you’re experiencing and kind of understand what’s underneath whatever you’re experiencing right now, and art is a great way to do that. It kind of reveals things that we don’t even realize about ourselves because whatever we create, whether it’s art or tiny human beings or food or whatever, it says something about us. It tells us something about ourselves, and sometimes it’s a really good thing that it’s telling us, and sometimes it’s a really hard or scary thing that it’s telling us. And that’s why it’s important in the art therapy space to have someone who can really come alongside you and walk with you through what you’re discovering as you create.
Alyssa: So art is kind of a broad term. Do you decide after a couple of sessions with an individual what type of art you’re going to do? In my mind, I picture two people sitting next to an easel and painting, right, but it’s probably not always painting?
Janna: That’s a great question. I am more of a two-dimensional artist. I do painting and drawing and some collage, so that’s my general leaning as a therapist, what I will initially bring into the session. But it really is a journey, and it depends on the person that I’m working with as far as, you know, are they interested in working with clay? Can I bring in something? Is clay something that’s clinically necessary, because sometimes there’s some really good reasons to use it for your mental health. Maybe we’re going to do some weaving. Maybe we’re going to do some knitting, some sewing. It really can be a broad array of things. I even do a little bit of movement in my sessions at times because movement is really important for helping to integrate and process difficult feelings. So there’s a broad array, and we work up to it, depending on what the comfort level of the person is who’s in my office.
Alyssa: So I’m assuming you can help moms at any point in their journey, whether they’re trying to conceive, if they’re pregnant; maybe it’s a second pregnancy and they had a traumatic first. They could kind of see you throughout that whole journey during pregnancy and then even again postpartum?
Janna: Yes, absolutely. There’s a broad gamut of motherhood and birthing and hoping for motherhood and maybe not having that hope achieved. The art therapy space is – my goal is that it will be a really safe space for moms, whether they’re experiencing loss, whether they’re experiencing fear. Fear of birth, fear of something else related to being a mom, or even after and in the postpartum period when it can feel really foreign to be ourselves because now we have this tiny person who’s all of a sudden relying on us, and not to mention some other mental health needs that can arise after baby comes or before. So, absolutely.
Alyssa: It’s kind of – you know, I think – and I’m sure you know the statistics, probably, but the stigma behind admitting you want to maybe go see a therapist or that you might need one or thinking, well, I don’t have diagnosed depression, so why would I need to go see her? And oftentimes, this is almost preventative. Like, I’m all about preventative care, right? If we can nip this in the bud before these – you mentioned two big ones with our clients: loss and fear. And sometimes it’s just the fear of loss. Maybe they haven’t experienced loss, but we’re so afraid that we might because miscarriage is so common. So those are two big ones. And why not work through that now instead of waiting to see what happens postpartum, because now you’ve got the emotions, the hormones, the sleep deprivation, and a new human to care for, like you said, this new little human that needs you to survive. That’s not probably the best time to gauge whether or not you can do this. So, yeah, I’m all about preventative care, and it sounds like something that, even for the people who are like, like you said, I’m not into art; I don’t do art; I’m not good at art. What do you say to those people who are maybe hesitant for the art part of it who say, why should I go see an art therapist? Maybe I’ll just go see a therapist.
Janna: That’s a really good question. My answer to that is just that being engaged in art therapy, just like any other therapy, is going to challenge you. It’s going to require you to dig deep in some portions of your treatment, whether or not that includes art. I find that even for people who haven’t done art since second or third grade, that they gain a lot. It’s something that I hear pretty consistently is, I was really skeptical of this, and after our session, I really learned something about myself. I found that it was impactful for myself. So the biggest thing that you need to come into art therapy is just the willingness to explore and to put yourself out there, which is something that you would do in any therapy situation, whether or not it’s art therapy or more of a traditional talk therapy that might originally come to your brain when you think of, I’m going to engage in therapy. It’s just a different way to look at ourselves and get a different perspective.
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Alyssa: So while it’s still very relevant, COVID, are you seeing patients or clients in person, or do you have the ability to do art therapy via Zoom?
Janna: Yeah. I see clients in person, and then I also am able to see them over – I use Google Meets, but same as Zoom. And sometimes it requires a little bit of homework outside of the therapy session, which happens if I was seeing you in person, anyway. Sometimes someone will bring a drawing that they’ve created to the virtual meeting. Oftentimes, we’ll create during the virtual meeting. There are some interesting things that happen with having to see the art, but it’s not a huge barrier to do art therapy virtually.
Alyssa: I think we’re all kind of learning that there are some pros and cons to it. Things might be a little trickier, but then we found some things that actually work a lot better.
Janna: Especially for moms right after having a baby, I feel like it’s really nice to be able to just stay in your house and pop on a virtual meeting.
Alyssa: Yeah, especially like we mentioned if it’s your second kid and you have a two-year-old at home and a newborn. It’s nearly impossible. Even the thought of having to wrangle the toddler and get everyone in the car, and then there’s certainly going to be a blowout as soon as you get the baby in the car seat. Sometimes moms just give up. They’re like, screw it. Never mind. This isn’t worth it. Done. So these virtual consults definitely have been very convenient.
Alyssa: So if any of our clients are interested in reaching out to you, what’s the best way to find you?
Alyssa: Are you on social media? On Facebook or Instagram?
Janna: Yes, I’m on Facebook.
Alyssa: Well, thank you! Have a great day!
Janna: You, too!
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