Sandra Hewitt-Parsons learned a long time ago that art could be therapeutic.
Hewitt-Parsons had a stroke when she was eight years old and for a time she couldn’t talk.
“I found that art was a really good way of communicating when I couldn’t use my voice,” she said.
“When I was feeling frustrated I could go back to art and use it to express my frustration.”
The results may have often been a lot of scribbles using dark colours, but they meant something to Hewitt-Parsons.
“I had control over the piece of paper, whereas I didn’t have much control over other parts of my life.”
During the past 20 years, she found herself getting more and more interested in art therapy.
While living in Stephenville in the late 1990s and early 2000s, she offered an art therapy program to residents of the Bay St. George Long Term Care Centre.
After moving to Corner Brook she decided art therapy was a field she was interested in pursuing.
As a form of alternative therapy, Hewitt-Parsons said “art therapy isn’t as big on the east coast as it is on the west coast.”
She said it can take a variety of forms, like art as therapy, in which people draw or use other forms of expression, and it’s fun and helpful. Then there’s art therapy where a person is given a project to complete and whatever issues they have, allowances are made to see them complete that project.
Then there’s art psychotherapy, which is different again.
“Art psychotherapy is concerned about art, yes, but it’s more concerned about the psychology of art,” said Hewitt-Parsons.
“You do art, or you scribble or you can make something out of clay and you talk about it ... and you talk about your life and how it relates.”
While she’s been creating art ever since she could hold a pencil and has some formal training it in, Hewitt-Parsons was most interested in art psychotherapy.
She completed a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from the Grenfell Campus of Memorial University of Newfoundland in May 2011.
In September 2012 she started graduate school through a distance program offered by the British Columbia-based Kutenai Art Therapy Institute.
She graduated last week and received the Janice Souza Award, which is given to a student who has made a significant contribution in pioneering the development of art therapy.
A series of her work, completed as her final project and based on dreams she’s had, is on display at JL Gallery on Broadway in Corner Brook.
As the second person in Newfoundland to specialize in art psychotherapy, Hewitt-Parsons is setting up a private practice in the city and this summer will visit communities around the west coast to talk about art therapy and what it can do.
Clients can choose
She said clients will have the option of using conventional therapy or art psychotherapy, whatever they are comfortable with.
“I think some people are intimidated when they see a counsellor, or see a therapist, and they talk,” she said. “Because the pressure is on them to talk about themselves.”
She said art psychotherapy can help break through the verbal filters people often use.
For instance, she said when you ask someone how they are often the answer given is, “I’m fine,” but it’s given without much thought.
“You can tell sometimes that they’re not fine,” said Hewitt-Parsons. “But if that’s the only way I had of getting across to them, I’d be stuck.
“But then through the art people tend to open up more. Not about themselves at first, but about this art piece and then slowly and gradually it expands out.”
The form the art takes on can be anything from drawing and colouring to squishing clay in their fingers and ripping paper.
Good for children
Hewitt-Parsons said it’s especially good for kids who don’t like to talk much, or for people with mental-health issues who can’t really put the words together.
To get in contact with Hewitt-Parsons call 632-9464 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.