Art Therapy club celebrates 30th anniversary

This year the Mercyhurst College Art Therapy Club celebrates its 30th anniversary. Professor Cathryn Hahn, the club’s adviser, was there when the club started in 1979 and has since then become an associate professor.

The Art Therapy major itself is an undergraduate program that prepares students for graduate school or working in the field. Students go on to teach in graduate programs or open private practices. Mercyhurst’s Art Therapy program has been listed number one in the nation by the American Art Therapy association educational chair. It draws students from all majors and from all over the world.

Many other programs also involve themselves in the Art Therapy Club, such as students who major in Marriage and Family Studies, Social Work, Psychology and Criminal Justice, to name a few. Many of these students are international, hailing from countries like Japan, Ireland and Nicaragua. One Spanish student and former member of the Art Therapy Club was a Fulbright Scholar, the highest scholarship available in academia.

One student who recently returned from Iraq spent time in a Veterans Administration hospital where he experienced the application of art therapy. He had pieces of scrap metal in him. He also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. He discovered art therapy and it got him through the trials of war. This experience, says Hahn, is only one of many touching stories involving the use of art therapy in recovery.

Art Therapy is an adjunctive therapy, meaning it is part of a whole therapy system similar to psychology or physiology. The club’s mission is to ‘Help people make the invisible visible.’

“People who are undergoing art therapy do not know what sadness looks like or the language of heartache, but they can show it through art and their own drawings,” Hahn said. “The process of doing is more important than the product.”

The benefit of art therapy is that “it is like a virus in that is spreads from one person to another through creativity,” Hahn said. People learn about themselves and about others and are able to discover that everyone is creative. For example, some who use art therapy are special needs children, chemically dependent, mentally ill and geriatrics, which is the largest group relying on art therapy.

The senior seminar class in art therapy made a large mural in the Erie Office of Children and Family Services, 154 W. 9th St., to highlight the needs of others throughout the world.

“People come to Erie to make it their home so we help them. The mural is an extension of the college’s mission, to do something for others without expecting anything in return,” Hahn said.

The mural will take your breath away and encourage student involvement in the art therapy club. Professor Hahn played a big part in the construction of the mural by paying for it and encouraging her students to participate.

This year the art therapy program and the club have been having small celebrations and will continue to have them throughout the entire year.