2 IU students pursue interest in art therapy with IMP

POSTED AT 12:00 AM ON Oct. 8, 2004 


Everyone has a particular medium that gets the person through life -- whether it's jamming out to a theme song, bingeing on a favorite food or simply having a cold one on a Thursday night.

Senior Christy McGovern, one of only two art therapy majors at IU, finds her medium through art. She has combined her love for helping people, a trait she got from her father, and her artistic talents from her mother -- and has made them into her own major.

McGovern said she was riding her lawn mower and contemplating her future when it hit her. She could go into art therapy -- the practice of using art as a form of communication -- to help people.

Amanda Flynn, also a senior and the only other art therapy major at IU, found out about art therapy while in the lunch line at the Collins Living Learning Center. She had been taking a lot of fine arts and psychology classes, and after talking to Karen Pollock, an art therapist formerly from Bloomington, she decided art therapy would be a good combination of her interests.

Flynn has worked with autistic kids since she was 13 in Brown County, and credits it with giving her a passion to help people. She specifically recalls a particular boy who calmed when pinching and molding clay saying that it helped his sensory needs.

Art therapy has been recognized as a distinct profession since the 1930s but is not yet well known, according to the Art Therapy Credentials Board's Web site. It is an important method therapists use to communicate with their patients, McGovern said.

Often, people who do not feel comfortable speaking can use art as a medium to portray their feelings. Therapists, in turn, can assess and better treat the patient after reviewing the art.

McGovern said children find an alternative form of communication through art therapy.

"(It) gives them a voice to express what goes on inside of them, which enables someone to help them," she said.

Although art therapy is not offered as a major at IU, McGovern and Flynn have devised programs through the Individualized Major Program to obtain their degrees. Tim Mather, associate professor of art and Flynn's advisor through the IMP, said that they have designed a curriculum to prepare Flynn to go onto graduate school as if the major were offered at IU.

"People who get into the IMP have to have a good dose of ambition and self direction ... they can end up doing pretty well," Mather said.

Once Flynn and McGovern graduate, they will begin graduate studies and get more than 1,000 hours of direct client contact and 100 hours of supervised contact.

Art therapists most often work as part of a team consisting of physicians, psychologists and social workers, among others, according to the ATCB. The work environment can vary from a private office, to schools or hospital rooms.

Flynn and McGovern both wish IU offered classes that dealt solely with art therapy. Even an "Art Therapy 101" informing students that it is a profession would help awareness, Flynn said.

Although both seniors are majoring in the same field, they plan to use the therapy in different ways. Flynn hopes to open a private practice for youth after working with different populations. She would like to specialize with people under 21 who have autism.

"I really want to be able to help people, genuinely help people," she said. "Things don't work on everyone but if I can impact someone, that could be momentous in their life."

McGovern hopes to use the treatment to help young women overcome eating disorders. Eventually, she hopes to make the process of creating art not always about the finished product, but also about the experience gained in the making. McGovern would ultimately like to provide people with a better self-awareness.

Though IU does not offer a specific art therapy program, other universities such as the University of Louisville and Nazareth College are beginning to recognize the major as a growing occupation and are instituting degrees for art therapy.

For more information about art therapy as an occupation, visit .

-- Contact staff writer Christine Lunde at .


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