CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. (AP) — The clients of the Jefferson Day Report Center have a new tool in their box for healing as the facility introduced an art therapy program.
The first official session was held Wednesday as interested clients focused on expressing themselves through art as a way to continue on the path of recovery.
“A couple of them have indicated they are artistic; others are like, ‘Look, I can’t draw a straight line,’” Jefferson DRC Executive Director Kelly Franklin said. “I said, ‘Don’t worry, me neither. That’s OK. This is something we’re going to learn together.’ This is something that even myself, I’m sitting through it and learning along the way.”
The program has roots in Franklin’s work on her doctorate in which she is focusing on trauma and trauma-informed therapy. While researching, she came across a pilot study conducted that measured the effects of art therapy on a prison population. Results showed remarkable improvement in mood, decreases in depression and improved social skills.
Further research led Franklin to believe a similar program would be beneficial for the clients of the DRC.
“It’s a form of psychotherapy,” Franklin explained. “It reduces stress, anxiety, helps with behavioral problems. It’s not really heard of that often, but we do have a population with adult ADHD, learning disabilities, lower education levels. It helps with that. It helps with TBI, traumatic brain injuries, PTSD. It can help with chronic pain, eating disorders; the list goes on.”
Art therapy sessions are typically hosted by a master’s level therapist, which worked perfect for the DRC, where all the therapists are also trained as recovery coaches, allowing the clients to benefit from several avenues of expertise.
Franklin explained art therapy doesn’t mean a therapist tells the participants what to create but rather, gives them a theme, such as, “Create a reflection of your past year.” From there, individuals have the freedom to tackle a medium that speaks to them and create something that allows them to understand why they made the choices they did and what they are feeling.
“Their art is going to form around them personally, not what we’re telling them to draw or express,” Franklin said.
The program ties into one that the DRC already hosts, a yearly rock burial ceremony during which clients paint rocks and bury them in a gathering with family and loved ones. The rocks are a form of letting go and moving forward.
“They paint the rocks with expressions, things they want to leave behind, things that led them down the path of destruction,” Franklin said.
The ceremony, now in its fifth year, will be a private event this year as the clients voted to keep it intimate with just them and their loved ones.
Franklin said the new program was met by overwhelming support of the clients, who were looking forward to a new avenue of therapy.
“Surprisingly, I received positively overwhelming responses, along with some questions: ‘I’m terrible at art. Do I have to be good at art?’ Absolutely not,” she said. “Art therapy is designed to help the client explore their feelings, perceptions and reactions to the world around them, so to speak. It doesn’t focus on their artistic techniques. Whatever they get out on paper, either by painting, by drawing, that’s an expression.”
To kick off, the program will be for those interested, but eventually, it will be added to the treatment program. Participants are starting off simple with paper, pencils and watercolors as the DRC aims to build a inventory of art supplies to be used that would allow clients to chose the media that most resonates with them.
In a way of giving back, Franklin hopes that down the line, interested clients will be able to have their artwork displayed and auctioned off. Any money raised would go toward future recovery efforts, whether it be purchasing interview clothes for a client, buying household essentials a newly released client is without, obtaining steel-toe boots for a client who needs them for work or so much more.
The goal is to also have the public invited in in efforts to reduce the stigma and allow individuals to see what goes on at the DRC.
The plan is to have the juvenile art therapy participants — sessions held in the juvenile wing by a younger professional — display their work in their area of the center as that program gets under way. The DRC began serving juvenile clients within the last year.
The DRC is accepting donations of art supplies at the Charles Town location. Franklin said supplies can be used — such as pencils, paints and other items — or opened, such as an open pack of canvases.