As an art therapist, the most rewarding part of my job is witnessing a person reignite their creative spark and form a connection with peers through art making and group work.
Patients with eating disorders often struggle with perfectionism, comparisons with peers, and a diminished sense of self-worth — which, in turn, hinder the creative process and a person’s ability to interact authentically with the world. Working together in art therapy groups, patients form a creative community where they are empowered to overcome and share their struggles.
Our most recent community-building creative project in art therapy has been planting and caring for an herb and flower garden. As warmer weather approached this spring, patients planted a variety of flowers and herbs — spapdragons, marigolds, ipomoea, licorice plants, thyme, rosemary, and more. Group members discussed the importance of the plants’ root systems and witnessed the flowers reaching towards the sun as a symbol of hope. Every day the patients take turns watering the plants, observing the unique quality of each flower, and learning how the plants coexist in a mutually beneficial environment.
The thyme, rosemary, oregano, and mint grown in the herb garden are used in culinary groups to teach patients about the use of dried and fresh herbs in cooking. Anna McClintock, our Sous Chef, provides information about each herb and gives the patients the opportunity to smell, touch, and identify the similarities and differences. This often provokes positive sensory memories about holidays, nature, and the farmers market. The lavender grown in the herb garden is used to promote discussions about self-soothing and relaxation.
When the plants are hydrated, nourished, and cared for by the patients, the flowers and herbs thrive individually and together, making them an evolving visual metaphor.
Recovery. Transformation. Self-Care. Community.
In the classroom with Mindy Elliot, patients worked on a metamorphosis unit and observed the stages of change from caterpillar to butterfly. When the butterflies were ready to be released outside, the patients created a habitat for the butterflies in the flower garden. While group members reflected upon this restorative connection with nature, they also learned about self-care and cultivating an environment for themselves focused on recovery.
I am inspired every day by our patients’ bravery to transform their lives and ability to form recovery-minded friendships that I hope last a lifetime.
Written by Karen Kuebler, MPS, ATR-BC, LCAT, LPC,
Art Therapist, Veritas Collaborative