“Art will say things when it’s difficult to verbalize,” Heather Sanrud Says. Photo by Denisa Kraus


By contributor Jenny Garceau

"Art will say things when it’s difficult to verbalize," Heather Sanrud Says. Photo by Denisa Kraus
“Art will say things when it’s difficult to verbalize,” Heather Sanrud Says. Photo by Denisa Kraus

Since 2000, VIU has offered Special Topics in Child and Youth Care: Introduction to Working With Children and Youth Through the Medium of Art. The course was designed by Heather Sanrud, a professor with the child and youth care program as well as a registered art therapist, who believes passionately in the benefits of introducing art as a therapeutic avenue in professional practice when working with people of all ages and backgrounds, either one-on-one or in group settings.

The course introduces students to the profession of art therapy. Sanrud is adamant about wanting students to know that this course does not give them art therapist credentials–it introduces them to the basic principles and a general overview of the profession and they walk away with the right tools to enhance their practice in a helping or teaching role. In addition to learning about the principles of art therapy, the class has a project where they carry out an art-based activity which provides an opportunity to engage in learnings about group dynamics as well. Sanrud recalls times when the group activity isn’t carried out successfully, “but sometimes there is more learning to be gained when it doesn’t go as planned.”

Having art experience is not necessary to enjoy the course or participate fully. It is experiential and having some level of comfort with different art materials beforehand is recommended. After completing this course, graduates will be using the skills to invite others to make art. Sanrud explains that what is required is that students “be willing to play, explore, and take creative risks.”

Even though the prerequisite list states students need to be in the child and youth care program, Sanrud feels admissions can be flexible and invites students to e-mail her  if they are interested in taking the course. She highlights the cross-application her course offers. “Education students who want to enhance their art component in their salesrooms and curriculum–they want to engage with their students in a different way.” Beyond education and child and youth care students, general studies and art diploma students have taken the course and possibly benefited from the experience. The class is also open to working professionals who are interested in expanding their skill set.

Some students take the course with the intention of finishing their degree and continuing  in the field of art therapy. To become a registered art therapist, one must attend a specialized post-graduate degree. Sanrud is “open to talking about what institutions and programs are available in Canada and the United States, as well as in Europe.” Once they have completed their post-graduate studies they will need to register with the Art Therapy board within their region. Whatever your intentions are going into the course, Sanrud “encourage[s] people to use art in a therapeutic way.”

One might wonder what therapeutic art looks like, and how it can be used with others. Sanrud explains that it is process oriented, not so much product based, and  “people aren’t expected to make museum-worthy art.”  When guided through an art activity, the person facilitating the process is exploring what the art is trying to say.

“When you’re engaged in more traditional ‘talk’ therapy, it can take a very long time to say the situations that are or were affecting their life,” Sanrd says. “Art becomes the third entity in the room; it shows the different things and feelings in their life.”

When you consider the average $120 an hour session rates of talk therapy, having a different approach to therapeutic situations is a great tool to give to future community workers in the child and youth care field. Sanrud expands more on the process by illuminating on the role the art therapist plays, saying that they “are the objective guide” of the process.

Art therapy isn’t necessarily sitting a person down with paint or pastels and having them draw their feelings. It can go beyond the visual into the full picture of expressive arts such as music or movement. The calendar description of this particular course specifies students will “experience the rich therapeutic potential of art making as a medium for effecting growth and change in children and youth.” What art means from one individual to the next may differ and Sanrud encourages students to be creative when thinking of the applications of the course’s theories.

As previously mentioned, the course is experiential. “Theory is learned by doing” is the last line of the calendar description. Sanrud seems to feel genuinely that the best learning comes from in-the-moment opportunities, trying skills out as you are being introduced to them.

The students walk away from the course with the activities they did throughout the semester, five individual projects, as well as five group projects. Sanrud says she has “heard students walk away saying how grateful they are to have something tangible at the end of our time together.” To have a physical representation of the course learnings is a unique experience in a theory oriented course.

Penny Case who took the course last year saw how the skills she developed seep into all aspects of her life. She encourages dialogue with her children, utilizes activities  she learned  through her work as well as in her current curriculum placement. She believes using art in a therapeutic manner is ideal for children and youth who have difficulty  verbalizing their emotions and life challenges.

“Being able to put their feelings somewhere makes them feel good in every aspect,” Case says.

Sanrud is proud of the course she has designed and teaches. She hopes it introduces people to see the power of creating art, no matter your skill level, as well as the power of seeing art. As she says, “art is for everybody.”          

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