Jett Ulaner Sarachek, an artist, art therapist and member of the American Art Therapy Association, presented to the Lehigh Valley Jewish community on the benefits of art therapy in her talk, “The Heart of Art Therapy,” on May 21. The Phyllis Ringel Memorial Lecture, offered by Jewish Family Service of the Lehigh Valley, took place at Temple Beth El.
Sarachek’s talk included defining art therapy, explaining its uses, giving her own reason for becoming an art therapist and offering a hands-on art creation experience. Each participant was asked to draw a tree that represented them.
At its base, art therapy is a form of “expressing your feelings through art,” Sarachek said – but it is far deeper than it may appear at first glance. “You know when you pick up a pencil and you start doodling while you’re on the phone?” Sarachek explained. “Maybe when you get off the phone, you might be feeling a little less stressed. It’s a form of relaxation in that way. That’s kind of an idea of what art therapy could be, but it’s a whole lot more than that.”
Going deeper, art therapy is the practice of “making art that can help you diminish any kind of pain,” Sarachek said. “It’s great for stress, depression, fear, and anxiety. Art therapists use simple art activities to help people express themselves and develop a sense of well-being through the creative process. By making art – whether it’s collage, clay, painting, or drawing – this is a way that one’s feelings and emotions become more tangible. Oftentimes when we’re feeling sad, depressed or anxious, most of us have a hard time talking about it, and we tend to intellectualize or say we’re tired or have had a bad day, but what an art therapist does is help them bring the feelings down into the heart. That’s why it’s called the heart of art therapy.”
As part of an art therapy session, the participant creates a piece of art and then describes it to the therapist and to the group, if they are participating in group therapy. The art therapist (and other group members) can then ask questions such as “Why did you choose to use such a dark yellow for the sun?” or “What’s that dark patch doing over there?” to help the creator verbalize his or her feelings that he or she put into the art. The participant thus forms an emotionally open relationship with the therapist (and group) and is hopefully more empowered to share more in the future.
“Collaboration and communication” are very important to the practice, Sarachek said, noting that the trust-building between participant and therapist is crucial to the goal of emotional openness. With such a broad goal in mind, art therapy is accessible to everyone.
Sarachek began her career as an art therapist at the Reading Hospital’s Spruce Psychiatric Pavilion with adolescents and adults. For the past 12 years, Sarachek has worked as an art therapist and clinical facilitator with The Cancer Support Community of the Lehigh Valley. Her art therapy group is called Creative Expression and is open to anyone who has been touched by cancer. Sarachek also uses art therapy with cancer survivors at the St. Luke’s Infusion Center in Allentown, working through the emotions of receiving treatment for cancer or watching a loved one battle cancer.
Rather than focusing on ending pain, art therapy focuses on giving people coping tools to deal with various stressors that occur in their lives. “The big takeaway is that it empowers the individual to realize that they’re in charge of their own lives and they can move forward from their pain, whether it’s mental pain or physical pain,” Sarachek concluded.