WEST LIBERTY, W.Va., Aug. 29, 2022 — During Summer II 2022, West Liberty University’s Creative Arts Therapy (CAT) students engaged in an immersive 6-week course, exploring creative art processes with natural materials and/or in a natural setting.
Students were introduced to the basic concepts of eco-therapy and the historical, cultural, and contemporary applications of nature- based art therapy that contribute to physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
“It is important for students to be exposed to the many possibilities of a career in Art Therapy,” said CAT Instructor Terri Giller. “My approach to this course was to present the basic concepts, but really focus on experientials and self-reflection to integrate the information.”
Art therapy is practiced in a variety of settings such as hospitals and schools. Recently, art therapists have been taking their practice outdoors, literally. Although considered a “new” trend, nature-based Art Therapy has its roots in ancient healing traditions, eco-psychology and expressive arts therapy.
“Students started the class by reflecting on their own experiences and relationship with nature, practicing awareness and engagement, and that really set the tone to get the most out of this course,” said Giller.
Students were asked to complete an art piece reflecting their relationship to nature in the first and last class of the summer. “For some students, this came rather easy, and for others, it took some time to get accustomed to.”
Senior CAT major, Manuela Hoffmann explained, “If I compare my first class to the last, I can see that I have come a long way in feeling comfortable in nature. I consider it an awareness I have opened up to …”
Reflecting on her final art piece, a 3D sculpture of a tent, junior CAT major Angelica Rogers stated, “I am growing, at the beginning of this class I may have had the whole tent enclosed, and now I showed how the tent was open on both ends, but still offering some shelter.”
Students explored the therapeutic benefits of nature journaling, creating art with natural materials, and created visual reflections on outdoor activities such as forest bathing and mindful walks.
“We are so lucky to have a campus situated on a beautiful hilltop, and access to natural areas such as Oglebay trails and gardens,” said Gillner. “Students were even able to engage in a community project, with non-profit Grow Ohio Valley, helping to complete a community mural.”
Grow Ohio Valley focuses on urban gardening to bring local, sustainable food sources to the community. Students were able to learn about their program, the growing field of Horticulture Therapy, and the therapeutic benefits of growing plants.
Nature-based Art Therapy (CAT 320) was a new course offering in during summer 2022, according to Dr. Susan Ridley, who is chair of the Art Therapy and Counseling Program.
“It was the recipient of the OER (Open Educational Resources) award for demonstrating a strong commitment to innovation, college affordability, and student success. In this class, students did not have to purchase a book, students were presented with contemporary, scholarly articles highlighting concepts important for the course.
“It’s really important for faculty to think of Open Educational Resources for their required reading,” said Ridley. “Students are under a lot of financial pressure right now, so I’m thrilled that the nature-based Art Therapy undergraduate course that Terri developed received this OER Award.”
The Creative Arts Therapy Gallery, located on the second floor of the College Union (s27) is displaying some of the artwork students created this past summer until mid-September.
CAT 320, Nature-based Art Therapy is a course open to all students, if you are interested or would like to learn more, contact Gillner at firstname.lastname@example.org.