Healing patients through art therapy in Milwaukee

NOW: Healing patients through art therapy in Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Local hospitals are offering free art therapy sessions both online and in person.

Art Therapy is a practice that serves as a healing tool, often to patients who are going through a life-changing illness.

"You can almost see their whole body just relax as they’re talking about this, it’s as if this weight is now suddenly off of their shoulders," explained Erin Hein, an art therapist at Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center.

Currently, this is the only location in the Milwaukee area that offers an in-person art studio session (though there are virtual options as well).

Hein, alongside Jill Mcnutt lead a 4-hour-long art studio session that takes place the second and fourth Friday of every month, serving people as young as 3-year-olds and up to those in their 90s.

“There's some clients where they really need to feel grounded and have that control, so you want to bring them something that is easily controlled and understood and manipulated like colored pencils," Hein said. "Or sometimes you have someone that is just too anxious and needing to let go of some of that control, in which case, we may bring them something like a clay or a watercolor or something that really kind of requires them to let go of that control and have more of an experience."

Hein said she first heard of the concept in high school, after she accidentally did it on herself following the loss of a grandfather.

"(I) ended up using an art class assignment as a way to kind of deal with that issue...suddenly people were telling me that art therapy was a real thing where you can use art to deal with your problems, it's like,'oh, okay!'"

For some, it's a form of meditation, and for others, it's a chance to allow one's most inner thoughts to paint a message.

"Purple is suffering and red is like pain, anguish, and so this is anguish pouring out of the middle of me,” said participant Zo Trembley.

Trembley was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder or multiple personality disorder in 2017. She said she's now integrated about eight personalities within her body.

"This is Lo, and then there was Zo; this is Tre, and we were three personalities of the person, and they came to me one day and said 'it's time for us to integrate," she explained, holding a collage book she created. "So, we walked--this is of course, all inside.”

The disorder often unfolds as a result of a traumatic experience.

"It could be violence, it could be neglect, or it could be, as it is in my case, severe repeated sexual abuse and I think it just evoked that for me; the red, the color has a lot of significance to me,“ Trembley explained as she displayed another one of her paintings.

Experts say art therapy has helped a number of patients who are facing life-changing illnesses.

"It's wonderful, hours can go by and you’re working on a project and it’s like meditation, only better cuz you’re fully engaged, mind, body, spirit,” Trembley added.

Though caregivers and community members are also welcomed to participate.

"We had a cancer patient who was estranged from her teenage daughter, and they would come in week after week and just work together in the studio," said Mcnutt.

The art therapist said she recalled a woman in her 50s going to art therapy for months at a time, awaiting to be called to receive a heart transplant.

"One time, she came down and every single thing she touched turned into a heart, no matter what, she picked up a piece of paper or she did a drawing...and that same weekend, her heart came, and she had her surgery," Mcnutt added.

A reminder that art isn't just for kids, and you don't need to be good at it, you just need to be willing to give it a try

"Every single day I hear people telling me, 'I’m not an artist, I can only draw stick figures,'" said Hein. "To that, I respond with, 'that is perfectly fine,' there is no need to have prior art experience, you don’t have to be an artist or have an art degree to participate in art therapy.”

Those interested in participating need to register ahead of time, here.

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