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KY therapist uses Art Therapy to help kids and adults who may or may not be artistic

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Art therapist Janet Osborn gives Leah simple directions in an art therapy session.
Cheri Lawson
Art Therapist Janet Osborn

One way to help improve a person’s mental, emotional, and physical health is art therapy.

Arts reporter Cheri Lawson traveled to Frankfort and observed an art therapy session.

It’s Thursday afternoon in downtown Frankfort at the non-profit organization, Yes Arts. Art therapist Janet Osborn dumps a container of colored pencils on a table next to two large white pieces of drawing paper. 

She guides 27- year-old Leah through her first art therapy session.

“What I thought we would do first is to start off with what we call a scribble drawing and the way this works is you’re going go ahead and choose any color you want," said Osborn.

Osborn who’s been working as an art therapist for 35 years gives Leah a simple direction.

“You’re going to close your eyes and you’re going to just let your arm, your hand go wherever it wants," directs Osborn.

”Leah whose first name only will be used due to the sensitive nature of the topic said she lives with anxiety and is willing to try art therapy. She agreed to be part of this demonstration.

 Osborn checks in with Leah to see how she is feeling.”How did that feel? " asked Osborn.

Leah is hesitant but seems pleased.“That was new. I’m not sure. It was good,” said Leah.

Art therapist Janet Osborn puts colored pencils, paints, and paper on the table to begin Leah's first art therapy session.
Cheri Lawson
Art therapist Janet Osborn puts colored pencils, paints, and paper on the table to begin Leah's first art therapy session.

 Osborn is a board-certified art therapist and said the training to be an art therapist is extensive. She said there are a variety of reasons someone might seek out this modality including anxiety, PTSD, or being in recovery.

“We are a mental health profession and people benefit from art therapy the same way that they would benefit from going to any kind of a therapist who does more traditional talk therapy. Art therapy provides a way of exploring our inner world of feelings, thoughts, and experiences through creative expression,” explained Osborn.

The art therapist said clients range from young children to adults of all ages. And clients don’t have to know anything about art.

“You do not have to have any experience in art or any training. It’s not for people who are comfortable with art. I mean, it can be. It’s not just for people who are comfortable with art. People will say well, I’m not really very creative and I don’t really know how to do art so I don’t think that would help me. And nothing could be further from the truth.  One thing I will say is just that it’s not an art class. It’s nothing to do with art instruction. So, it’s not about teaching people how to do art or make something specific. It’s really about helping people get reconnected to that creative source that everybody has. Some people will say, well I don’t know if I have one. We all do. We all have that part of our brain and ourselves," said Osborn.

Art therapist Janet Osborn usually participates in the session by following the directions she gives the client. She says that can help the client feel more comfortable sometimes.
Cheri Lawson
Art therapist Janet Osborn usually participates in the session by following the directions she gives the client. She says that can help the client feel more comfortable sometimes.

”Sometimes said Osborn when a person struggles with panic attacks or anxiety it might be hard to put what’s going on into words. So, she said art therapy can be a good place to start. 

“Sometimes people really don’t know what’s causing it, you know, the root of the issue. Or they may be struggling with something they just are uncomfortable talking about. So, what art therapy can do is it kind of bypasses that whole verbal expression in a way by encouraging people to use a different part of their brain to express and explore whatever is going on. So, my job as an art therapist is to do everything I can to create a safe and comfortable environment and then to provide whatever materials that I can come up with to help a person connect to their own inner creative self," said Osborn.

To practice as an art therapist in Kentucky it’s necessary to be licensed. That’s according to Marybeth Orton, President of the Kentucky Art Therapy Association.  She agrees with Janet Osborn and says art therapy is a wonderful way to express ideas or issues words just don’t cover.

“We as people take in 11 million bits of information every second. We can only really consciously grab onto about 60 to 100 of those bits. But everything else is stored within our mind-body system more implicitly. So, when you have a feeling, you can’t pinpoint art therapy is wonderful because we can put it out on paper or in a sculpture. And so, the right brain is able to express that, and then as we look at it the left brain is able to say, oh I know what this is and so we are able to have more dialogue about that," said Orton.

Nadia Paredes is the President of the American Art Therapy Association.  She said several studies are touting the benefits of art therapy. She cites one study where art therapy was used with 200 people who were hospitalized for a medical issue or surgery.

“The researchers found that participating in art therapy for an hour and fifteen minutes significantly improved their moods and also lowered pain and anxiety," explained Paredes.

Frankfort art therapist Janet Osborn will continue to work with individuals and groups. She said each session is about an hour and fifteen minutes and she usually recommends eight sessions to get started. But she said it varies with each client.

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Cheri is a broadcast producer, anchor, reporter, announcer and talk show host with over 25 years of experience. For three years, she was the local host of Morning Edition on WMUB-FM at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Cheri produced and hosted local talk shows and news stories for the station for nine years. Prior to that, she produced and co-hosted a local talk show on WVXU, Cincinnati for nearly 15 years. Cheri has won numerous awards from the Public Radio News Directors Association, the Ohio and Kentucky Associated Press, and both the Cincinnati and Ohio chapters of the Society for Professional Journalists.
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