Rockford counseling firm finds success with art therapy

Published: May. 2, 2023 at 6:00 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - Art therapy is defined as a distinct discipline that incorporates creative methods of expression through visual art media.

To one Rockford counseling firm, however, it’s much more than that. The practitioners at Forest City Counseling say art therapy is a way for clients who may not be suited for talk or other therapy to make life-changing mental health breakthroughs.

And when it comes to creating art during a session, anything goes.

“Non-judgmental. There’s no wrong way to do this,” said Forest City Counseling art therapist Rachel Johnson. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. Any other avenues we can help them process and help them connect with themselves, I think that’s huge. And it’s exciting to see.”

Johnson’s team says art therapy allows clients to connect with their emotions through a variety of mediums.

”Some people are really drawn to oil and pastels,” therapist Nicole Didier said. “Some are drawn to watercolors. Some are drawn to chalk. Just being mindful of what’s happening in your body in your mind–what you’re feeling–and connecting with the material.”

According to Mary McNamara Bernsten, executive director of the Rockford Area Arts Council, creative communities have done that for centuries, which is why she’s excited to see art therapy take off in the stateline.

”As artists, we are deeply connected to the therapeutic benefits of art,” she said.

And when their clients make those connections, therapists say true life change happens.

“Breakthroughs can be as little as huge relationship shifts, helping cope with stressors, [or] moving jobs,” Johnson said.

The term art therapy was coined by British artist Adrian Hill, who, in the late 1930s, used drawing to pass the time while recovering from tuberculosis. After he recovered, he introduced art to other patients, who also found it helpful while they were hospitalized.