Blank canvas is a pathway to healing for behavioral health patients

“Come on in, you’re welcome to join us” is the friendly greeting heard over and over as patients trickle into the group therapy room on the adult behavioral health unit at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center. Heather Lindsay, Art Therapist, is about to begin one of her art therapy sessions with a group of patients who are eager to start. “Grab a seat and some supplies, we’re about to get started.”

Art therapy has been found to be extremely beneficial to those suffering from illness, particularly individuals with mental health issues. Art therapy allows individuals to explore and express feelings in a new way and also provides them with a creative experience that most have not had since their youth. Through creating art pieces and analyzing their deeper meaning, the process becomes the therapy. 

Heather joined the St. Vincent Charity Medical Center team in DATE through a grant from the Cleveland Foundation and Margaret Clark Morgan Foundation. She received her Master’s in Art Therapy from Ursuline College and is also a licensed counselor. Since joining us and starting St. Vincent Charity’s creative arts program, Heather has helped the program flourish.

I want to give them a new experience and get them thinking about art in a different way. — Heather Lindsay

In a typical day Heather will hold numerous art therapy sessions in different areas of the hospital. She works closely with St. Vincent Charity’s behavioral health inpatients in geropsychiatry, Rosary Hall’s inpatient addiction detoxification unit and both 4A/B (What are formal names?). An art therapy session will usually last around an hour and in that time patients are able to create one piece of artwork, but they also leave with a lot more than that. Talk therapy is very much a part of each session she holds.

“While we are creating a piece of art, there is more to it,” says Heather. “Every project we do has a purpose behind it and we usually will have in-depth talks as we dive into our pieces more. Whether it’s helping patients explore coping skills, discussing goals for the goals for the future, taking a look at our past and think about where we want to go in our future, there is always a meaning behind what we do.”

Heather uses a number of different art techniques and activities in her sessions including collages, painting, stamping, ink blots and more. Throughout the session Heather will integrate questions and discussion topics that will get the patients thinking and talking with her and one another.

“I know that they can do art anytime they want, but I want to give them a new experience and get them thinking about art in a different way,” she says. “For example, we’ll do an activity and then I will ask them to identify what they see in their piece, how they relate to it or maybe it relates to a past experience in their life.”

“My goal is to see growth in a patient or when I see them respond in a different way that shows they are comfortable and feel safe,” Heather says. “I see success for my patients in a number of ways. If a patient says, ‘I never thought of that before’ and can explore new ways to look at themselves, that is a success to me. Or if they are vulnerable and share a private, painful memory that is success. But I also see success happen when the room is full of laughter and the group creates a wonderful bond!”