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Art Therapy Programs Gain Traction in Philadelphia

November 24, 2014 Category: Uncategorized

On Monday, November 10, the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services launched the Art of Recovery, an art exhibit in the Community Behavioral Health Office at 801 Market Street. The exhibit, which was open for two weeks, features about 120 works of art produced by individuals who live with mental illness, intellectual disabilities and/or addiction.

The show primarily consists of paintings, but also includes sculptures and masks. The Art of Recovery is the first art exhibit hosted by the DBHIDS, and the first art exhibit in Philadelphia exclusively featuring works of art by both amateur and professional artists on the journey from recovery to resilience.

“The department has recognized the importance of art in the process of recovery and the process of helping people to recover from mental health and substance abuse challenges,” said DBHIDS Commissioner Dr. Arthur Evans. “For us, this is the evolution of our ongoing work for incorporating art into the recovery process.”

The Art of Recovery is a part of an ongoing  initiative in DBHIDS to emphasize art as an essential element in the recovery process.

“To have a real recovery process,” Dr. Evans said, “art has to be a part of that, or certainly available.”

Healing through murals

Over the past seven years, DBHIDS, in partnership with the Mural Arts Program, has completed over 15 murals, with topics ranging from trauma to veterans to suicide. The collaboration, called The Porch Light Program, uses participatory public art-making with three goals in mind: overcoming stigma surrounding mental health issues, healing individuals, and impacting communities.

The Porch Light Program is not art therapy per se, but its a collaboration between artists, therapists, communities and those affected by mental health issues to achieve a greater sense of health and wellness.

“It’s working with communities to use public art as an expression of community resilience,” said Mural Arts Program Executive Director Jane Golden. “It’s a vehicle for both individual and community healing.

The Porch Light Program works with a number of provider agencies, including the 11th Street Clinic and the Broad Street Ministry. Perhaps the most recognized Porch Light mural is James Burns’ Rise and Shine mural (which Golden admits is one of her favorites) on Broad and Lehigh.

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“That says it all,” said Golden. “It’s a beacon.”

The next Porch Light undertaking is in the works: a community wellness project being lead by New Orleans artist Candy Chang. The mural will be an interactive installation of the I Ching, an ancient Chinese text used to provide personal guidance.

“It will really engage people on the issue of physical and mental well-being,” Golden affirms. “There are all these creative and wonderful people all throughout the city – how can art be a tool in representation and opportunity?”

Art Museum art therapy

Art therapist Marya Camilleri is wondering the same thing.

Camilleri, who has her Masters Degree in art therapy from Drexel, heads an art therapy program at MossRehab, part of the Einstein Health Network, in collaboration with the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The two-year-old program, MossRehab Outpatient Art Therapy Program, features special guided tours of the Art Museum about once a month. The art therapy groups, said Camilleri, are inspired by the themes of the tours. The groups reconvene at MossRehab after the tours to review the artwork, talk about what kind of personal meaning those pieces of art might have for the participants and create artwork on the basis of those meanings.

“Part of the theory behind art therapy is the creative process helps you express things in a  different way,” explained Camilleri. “Reflecting on those images will give you more insight into what you’re experiencing, help you discuss those things with other people and find support.”

It’s not just the art, added Camilleri. Many of her patients are drawn to impressionist art – often times because of the impressionists’ personal stories of overcoming physical or mental disabilities. “It can be inspiring for people,” she said.

These projects reflect how art therapy is gradually gaining traction in Philadelphia as a credible form of achieving resilience and reducing stigma.

“What we’ve seen is that art becomes a lifeline,” says Golden. “It taps into a part of people that is sometimes unacknowledged, not talked about. They don’t know it’s there.”

After all, she added, that’s what the creative process is. “It’s a journey of discovery.”

Image c/o DBHIDS


Porch Light Program

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