GWU Columbian School of Arts and Sciences Features the Art Therapy Program!
Painting, drawing, and sculpting as means to express what may be verbally inexpressible are at the heart of the increasingly popular field of art therapy. At GW’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, the healing power of art is fully realized through an Art Therapy Program that boasts modern new studio spaces, a counseling center for hands-on immersion in therapeutic techniques, and an expanded 61-credit curriculum to facilitate professional licensure upon graduation. In sum, the graduate program—which was one of the first in the nation—adds up to an unparalleled learning opportunity for prospective art therapists.
“Our graduate program is, at its core, clinically-based art therapy in which students are trained to be professional clinicians, working with a range of diagnoses, ages, and diversities,” said Professor Heidi Bardot, MA ’99, the program’s director and a registered, board-certified art therapist whose past work includes helping hospice patients and their families deal with grief and loss. “Within this training, there is a strong emphasis on the artist identity, making a bright, airy workspace and gallery—in which students, faculty, and clients can express themselves artistically—an integral component of the work we do.”
The program’s new location at the Alexandria Graduate Education Center includes state-of the-art classrooms with "smart boards" and other multimedia equipment, an open art studio space for student and faculty collaboration, an extensive art therapy library and a gallery for student and juried exhibits. The facility is also home to the GW Art Therapy Center, where students work with clients under the direct supervision of licensed mental health professionals.
A Profession Born on the Battlefield
The outbreak of World War II marked the beginning of a profession first practiced in hospitals to treat soldiers dealing with “shell shock,” now clinically termed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Since then, practitioners have espoused the benefits of art therapy as an outlet for expression of feeling. Concurrently, evidence-based art therapy research focusing on the neurological implications of art-making to address trauma and loss, depression, and anxiety—as well as the efficacy of psychosocial interventions for cancer survivors—has become the trend and means to validate the profession. In 2007, art therapy was named one of the top 10 “hot” jobs by CareerBuilder.com, bearing out the need for such services during times of war and economic uncertainty.
The University’s Art Therapy Program, one of the first to be accredited by the American Art Therapy Association, was established in 1971 based on the teachings by the founders of art therapy—Edith Kramer, Hanna Yaxa Kwiatkowska, Bernard Levy and Elinor Ulman. All of the program’s current faculty are registered, board certified art therapists who bring with them professional expertise and the latest in clinical practice and research. Two new faculty members were added this year to mentor students on developing proposals to conduct original research from different paradigms as well as write grant proposals to implement program-related research.
Facilitating Professional Licensure
Thanks to the M.A. program’s recent expansion from 49 credits to 61, students now graduate prepared to seek professional licensure in counseling and art therapy. The traditional master’s program has been combined with additional coursework in trauma training—a huge growth area in the art therapy field to integrate the latest research on neurobiology and trauma treatment with expressive, art based approaches. Also offered are international opportunities, clinical training and a combined five-year bachelor’s and master’s degree option for exceptional students who are majoring in fine arts or psychology.
Students are required to participate in internships with children, adolescents and adults in a clinical setting for approximately eight to 20 hours per week. The intern program is one of the most extensive in the country, with more than 100 sites located throughout the Washington, D.C., area. These include the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Whitman-Walker Clinic, Children’s National Medical Center, Children’s Inn at NIH, Miriam’s Kitchen, and the D.C. and Fairfax County public school systems.
“Internships allow us to spread art therapy to new settings,” said Bardot. “And interns often become so invaluable they are offered a job after the internship is completed.”
The curriculum also offers courses on international social and cultural competency to prepare students for work with ethnically diverse populations. Last summer, art therapy students traveled to India as part of a three-week summer course called International Social and Cultural Art Therapy. A series of short internships with local organizations immersed students in the Indian culture so they could experience what it was like to be a minority. Students visited schools, a women’s shelter, a rehabilitation center and helped residents with disabilities, working on art projects at each site. The students received valuable training and needy populations in India were introduced to art therapy.
As director, Bardot’s goals include implementing trauma research within the art therapy center, creating additional collaborative research opportunities and continuing coursework in international and cultural diversity. And, of course, she remains committed to producing top students. “Many of our alumni have gone on to become leaders in the field, in the national association and in the educational sector,” Bardot said. “We are providing a breadth of experience, knowledge, and important connections within the field of art therapy, and I want to build upon our strong foundation.”
For more information about the Art Therapy Program at GW’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, click here.