SaintA Art Therapist Pursues Doctorate

Child creating art with paint

Melanie Heindl looks more like a free-spirited artist than a doctoral candidate. But, as it turns out, she’s both.

Heindl is a licensed professional counselor and registered art therapist within SaintA Family Services; she is also an Art Therapy Doctoral student at Mount Mary University. She started the professional doctoral program as a member of its first-ever global cohort in July of 2016 and is slated to complete it in May of 2019.

The program, which Heindl describes as, “very hands-on with lots of applied knowledge,” requires two internships, at least one of which will be with SaintA.

“There’s a transfer of knowledge both ways. The work I do here is important to my graduate studies and what I learn in school can be applied during art therapy for our children, youth, and families right away,” says Heindl.

This spring, she will complete a Clinical Training internship with the goal of gaining trauma informed therapeutic insights, especially for those with historical trauma.

Historical trauma, also called generational trauma, has had a profound impact on Milwaukee families.

Related: Read “A Time to Heal,” by John Schmid of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Art Therapy for Clients with Trauma

Melanie Heindl
Melanie Heindl

Heindl started her career in behavioral therapy in Peoria, Illinois, which she describes as a mini-Milwaukee. It has similar struggles with generational trauma and related consequences like unemployment, poverty and crime.

Her experience there helped spark her interest in working with clients in the larger urban center of Milwaukee.

Though it’s starting to be more widely understood, the use of art therapy for individuals who have had a traumatic response to adversity, such as abuse, neglect, addiction, and violence, is still somewhat novel.

Practitioners like Heindl know how powerful of a tool it can be. SaintA incorporates art therapy into programs such as functional family therapy quite routinely.

For starters, since the process of creating art is a type of regulation, it can take a client to a more relaxed state. In addition, art therapy is usually done in-home so there are no worries about transportation and there are very few barriers to a productive session.

Art Leads to Truth

“This is an advanced therapy. It’s not just a therapeutic framework; it’s a completely different lens,” says Heindl. “Clients can see things differently and I notice how they become more reflective, more self-aware.”

Art therapy is so useful in trauma informed care because it engages mind, body, and spirit. It is highly expressive, often giving a voice to something previously unsaid. “It is what we call meta-verbal; the impact of art therapy is beyond the scope of words.”

According to Heindl, it’s not uncommon for something that isn’t being said verbally to be expressed visually. “Art is full of metaphors and imagery. I like to say ‘art leads to truth’,” she says.

Learn more about SaintA Family Services, where innovative treatments like art therapy are used to improve outcomes for adults, as well as children and youth.

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