The Healing Station 3

The Art Station, the only facility of its kind in Texas, offers art therapy for all ages.

Hospitals have historically been considered drab, depressing places, full of empty, sterile corridors and the sights and sounds of illness. Many healing facilities have sought to change this impression, with artist -in-residence employed to enliven barren spaces and distract the senses from depressing environs. In addition to ornamentation, hospitals have come to view art as supplementary to the healing process, a view backed by both science and observation.

Recreational art can lure patients out of their rooms, and take the mind off pain and dilute stress. The impact of the visual arts on the mind has been well documented, with clear benefits. According to a study conducted in 2011 by the University of London, blood flow to the joy centers increased by around 10 percent when observers saw an attractive painting.  Thanks to these benefits, it makes sense that, as of 2007, around 40 percent of hospitals had arts programs. The prevalence grows year after year, and today a stroll through many hospital concourses will feel like a walk through a gallery.

The spread of art in hospitals aside, the positive effects of painting, drawing, and sculpture have long been recognized as aids in psychological therapy. Art therapy, a type of psychotherapy in which free self-expression gets encouraged through artistic production, is a recognized mental health profession. Facilitated by trained experts to treat a range of disorders, resolve conflicts, foster greater awareness, or treat addiction, art therapy appears as a godsend for many clients, a treatment that garners results where other therapies or even medications have failed.

“Art therapy can break through when traditional therapy can’t, because a lot of times finding the right words is too painful, difficult, or inaccessible,” says Peggy Marshall, CEO of Fort Worth’s The Art Station. “We serve a very broad range of needs, and treat things such as depression, mental health issues, anxiety, the effects of trauma, behavioral issues, substance abuse, chronic illness, and developmental delays.”

Despite art therapy’s benefits, public support for art therapy programs has been sorely lacking. In fact, across the entire United States, there exist only five art therapy centers that provide access to services regardless of income or ability to pay. One of these non-profit centers for healing exists right here in Fort Worth, in a non-descript bungalow at 1616 Park Place Avenue. Since 2004, The Art Station has charted breakthroughs and promoted healing for children, adults, and seniors alike.

“We have five full-time and one part-time therapist, and a clinical supervisor and director of operations and programming who are also therapists,” says Marshall. “What we do is provide art therapy to children, teens, and adults who deal with all kinds of challenges.”

Today, The Art Station serves clients with a broad range of programs and services. Though the center promotes healing of both the body and mind, its foundation, like all healing processes, began through pain. After founder Jane Avila tragically lost her son, she found a pathway to healing through art therapy classes offered at the now closed Art Therapy Institute in Dallas.

The classes brought closure in a way that no medication or traditional counseling could, and Jane sought a way to share her experience with others. The Art Station’s home, a historic fire station, went through its own rehabilitation, a process spearheaded by Jane’s husband, John, which won the 2005 Preservation Texas Rehabilitation Award. The space now radiates warmth and healing, a testament not only to the restorative efforts, but also to the energy of its expert staffers.

“Our staff knows how to use the properties of art to unlock and work through the situations and challenges that people deal with,” says Marshall. “They combine art with counseling and psychology, and are mental health professionals with dual education and licensing.”

The licensing and education process for The Art Station’s therapists showcases the high levels of training and dedication necessitated for the profession. Before they can begin the dual-track postgraduate work towards art therapy credentials, future art therapists must first receive either a master’s degree in art therapy, or a master’s degree in counseling. Either of these requires between two to three years at a school with curriculum approved by the American Art Therapy Association.

Typically, students in these 60 academic hour programs complete 18 hours of studio art and 12 hours of psychology courses before enrollment. From there, art therapy credentials necessitate 2,000 practicum hours with 1,000 hours of direct supervised client contact, along with successful completion of the board-certified ATCBE exam. Afterwards, the future therapists must still complete the Texas License Process, which includes the National Counseling Exam and 3000 post-graduate counseling hours completed over a minimum of 18 months.

To say that this process requires a high degree of dedication is a gross understatement. The therapists at The Art Station are not only highly trained – they have an unparalleled passion for their work, a fact exemplified through the intensely long hours of study and work necessitated for their practice. The benefits to clients are clear, and proven through the many successes that The Art Station can share.

Though it’s impossible to sum up the broad range of work accomplished at The Art Station, one story can give an idea of the center’s impact. The Art Station serves many young clients who struggle with behavioral issues such as anger or depression. A 17-year-old boy had withdrawn at home and in school, and struggled to communicate the source of his malaise.

Worried that her son might fail to finish high school, and discouraged over traditional treatment, his mother turned to The Art Station. Though the boy initially struggled to express himself, his therapist soon generated a breakthrough activity: the collaborative painting of circles on a large sheet of paper. This repetitive action, in which the therapist also participated, lowered the walls in the young man’s mind, and gradually allowed him to open up. Self-expression blossomed, and the client was able to share finally his hopes and dreams, a salutary accomplishment that led to growth and personal healing.

“When you work with a skilled art therapist, you’re able to go through the side door, so to speak,” says Marshall. “One thing I’ve learned is that trauma often does not get stored in the frontal lobe, but appears as snapshots in other parts of the brain. The process of making art can engage these parts of the brain, and give clarity to the pain by getting it out.”

All work at The Art Station is customized to the individual needs of clients, which get explored through an initial session with a therapist. The Art Station accepts insurance, and provides financial assistance dependent on family size and income. As a non-profit with a mission of healing, The Art Station also depends on the generosity of its community.

“We would not be able to keep our doors open without support, as we do not receive large governmental grants,” says Marshall. “About half our funding comes from private and corporate donations.”

To learn more about The Art Station and its services, or to donate money to support their laudable mission, visit www.theartstation.org.