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Imagery reveals more than meets the eye to art therapist

Saturday, February 1, 2014

By its very nature, art can be soothing. For trauma victims or people experiencing anxiety, art can serve as a form of therapy, especially when guided by someone like Missouri State Art Professor Judith Fowler. Since becoming a registered art therapist in 1987, she has hosted a variety of workshops and researched art therapy for those in pediatric oncology units and those who are terminally ill.

Knowing the importance of art in life, especially in the life of children, she organized efforts to donate more than 150 boxes of art supplies and 75 boxes of craft supplies to communities affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. That’s when she founded Art on Wheels-Missouri (http://www.artonwheels-missouri.net/HOME.html), which later came to the aid of the community of Joplin – where Fowler raised her family – after the town was ravaged by a tornado in May 2011.

“When we worked with the kids after the Joplin tornado, we’d often have a group process where we’d all draw people…and we did look at how they responded,” she said. “When I saw the children’s work, I could tell by the colors they use, by the way they worked ….and what they omit, what they were experiencing.”

Whether it was hard scribbling, torn apart imagery or the use of very dark colors, a therapist might deduce that the child was experiencing anxiety, noted Fowler. One common theme for children after the tornado was drawing butterflies. Although no one can be sure why these showed up in so many drawings in the aftermath, it is an area that has intrigued Fowler.

“There were some children whose family took shelter in the bathroom, which was the only part of their house left. No matter where they were hiding for safety, many children claimed they saw butterflies circulating about them,” she said. “It could’ve been debris that was circling around or it could’ve been flashes in their eyes, who knows what they saw, but they drew butterflies.”

Fowler prepares her students at Missouri State to be art educators, and she instills in them the importance of sensitivity needed to look at children’s art work, even though Missouri State does not offer an art therapy option for students.

Art therapy training for national registration and certification is on the graduate level, with some programs requiring up to 2,000 hours clinical internship. For more information, visit www.arttherapy.org.

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College of Arts and Letters
The College of Arts and Letters supports more than 45 undergraduate and 10 graduate programs. The college incorporates seven academic departments, including art and designcommunicationEnglishmedia, journalism and film;modern and classical languagesmusic; and theatre and dance, and five interdisciplinary programs: antiquitieselectronic arts;global studieslinguistics; and musical theatre. The College of Arts and Letters promotes learning, scholarship and service to the broader community in all aspects of human communication — spoken, written, visual, musical, dramatic and electronic.

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