Ms. Leigh’s Art Therapy Program Helps EHHS Students Triumph

The art therapy clinic, led by therapist Ms. Leigh Forte, is a program that runs every day at EHHS. This program gives students the space to be creative, while also talking out their feelings and thoughts in either a one on one session or in fluid groups with others who can understand.

Ms. Leigh started the program four years ago when she saw high school students struggling with loneliness and feeling like outcasts. She knew there was a need for professional support at EHHS, and she felt that a lot of students would benefit from her guidance. One specific method Ms. Leigh focuses on is fluid groups. These groups allow different students to come together in the art room to talk and create together; this results in a sense of community and acceptance. These fluid groups can help friendships blossom or provide a space for two students in conflict to talk it out with Ms. Leigh’s guidance.

One of Ms. Leigh’s main goals for this program is to create a safe space where students feel that they’re able to open up and truly be themselves. She looks at herself as the protector of her students. Four students enrolled in art therapy at EHHS all had similar views and feelings about their experience in the program. The students stated that when they walk into the room they all feel safe and secure. During sessions, they expressed feelings of detox from all the stress they built up. One student even stated that they feel like this is their time to block out the world, and only focus on themselves. After sessions, students expressed more positive feelings of relief, calmness, and better focus when returning to class. One student stated, “When I walk in I feel excited… During therapy I feel distant from everything else going on, this is my own time. After therapy, I feel relieved and able to keep working during the school day… I enjoy art therapy because it gives me time to refocus on myself.” Personally, I am involved in this program and find it an effective way to cope with stressors physically and mentally.

Art therapy is a form of expressive therapy that brings forward images originating in an

individual's mind. Two of Ms. Leigh’s students stated that they enjoy this form of therapy because they both love art, and it’s a surprising way to detox and cope. Coping skills are used by therapists to give to patients who feel over-stressed, irritable, or depressed. These skills can involve reading, going on a walk, singing, or even napping when you’re upset. The purpose of coping skills is to distract an individual's mind away from the current pain or problems troubling them. Here at EHHS this coping skill of art, either drawing or painting, is a favorite among students. It is seen as one of the most effective coping skills based on how Ms. Leigh's goals were exemplified and succeeded through the students' responses. One student stated painting is more productive for him because of the euphoria it gives off. He enjoys art therapy because regular therapy “hurts my brain to an extent because being stuck in a room talking and doing nothing is boring, it can be done with anybody but art therapy brings in more aspects.” Similar to this individual, most students stated that doing art is more productive for them because it allows them to calm down and talk more about their stressors. One student that she finds the combination of one on one with Leigh and doodling productive because drawing makes her more relaxed and able to open up when talking about feelings.

According to the students, art therapy affects them as people because it “helps you find yourself” when feeling ‘lost’ or alone. This is because art therapy is based more on the act of creation rather than the product; creation allows students to let out anything they want, and this can lead to them understanding themselves more, based on what they create. Also during this creation time scientists state that the activity in the brains' amygdala, which controls emotions affected by stress, decreases; this leads to an increase in relaxation, giving more room for individuals to think about themselves instead of the problems running through their brain.

Signing up for this program is simple. Either through the clinic or through Ms. Leigh herself, all it takes is filling out and signing some papers. Starting is quick when approved the art clinic is open all day and groups are usually during the lunch periods or there are specific groups Ms. Leigh runs for students she invites in. Art therapy isn’t just for students with mental illnesses, it can be used for anyone who just wants some time during their day to de-stress and be creative or students who just want a safe community to express themselves fully. This program has been incredibly helpful to me personally because it gives me the self-care time that I sometimes forget to give myself during the hectic week. My favorite thing to do is just sit in the art room, listen to music, hang out with some friends, paint, draw, and get some amazing, wise, advice from Ms. Leigh; Stop down today and see where this experience can take you!