Art Therapy at Friendship Village

Art Therapy

“It’s not about artistic skills. It’s about the process. In art therapy, art becomes the healing vehicle. A way for people to express, and come back in touch with some of their feelings that are hard to convey in words,” said Chaplain Shawn Kafader of Friendship Village. For the third consecutive year, Shawn is supervising art therapy interns who are working with residents of the retirement community. “Art therapy allows the residents to remain creative while experiencing the challenges of the aging process,” he said.

This year, Ashley Johnson and Caitlyn Brown, both counseling/art therapy students at Adler University, are interning at the community. They explained that they had several choices from which to seek internships, but upon hearing Shawn’s ‘spiel’, they were sold on Friendship Village. “I knew that this would be a good place to start,” said Caitlyn.

“Working with this population has always been a passion of mine,” said Ashley. “We often, as a society, neglect our older adults.”

The interns work with residents in independent living, assisted living, memory support, and skilled care, both individually and in groups. “Usually, referrals for residents to work with the interns come from our social workers although we do also invite the community as a whole. Typically, residents that we work with are facing a problem or challenge…perhaps grief, or a transition in the level of care that they’re requiring,” said Shawn.

Artistic ability is not a prerequisite for the residents to participate in the art therapy program. However, that notion is often a challenge in itself to overcome. “Participants always start out by saying, “I’m not an artist,” Caitlyn said.

“I’d say more than half of the participants don’t have prior experience with art, so I bring that to the table. Art’s either entirely new, or this takes them back to when they were doing art in grade school,” said Ashley. “So we start with simple projects and once they gain confidence, we go with more advanced directives.”

The artistic process, Ashley said, “creates a safe space to talk with someone that they can learn to trust. Everything they tell us is confidential. It’s really a matter of creating one-on-one time with someone who truly cares.”

“Art presents a new way of looking at a situation. Also, it creates a buffer. Once someone creates art, they’re freer in conversation. They’re not as closed off. It opens you up,” said Caitlyn.

“Both students are full mental health counselors. We use art as a mode for their counseling. When a resident is beginning to create something and is talking at the same time, the art-making disengages the thought process of the resident to explore life at an ever-deepening level,” said Shawn.

Three years ago, when the art therapy internship program was launched at Friendship Village, it became evident that beautiful pieces of artwork would emerge. The decision was made to hold an art show exhibiting these, and other pieces of work by residents of the community. An intergenerational component was added as students from area schools were invited to participate.

This year’s third annual Art of Friendship Intergenerational Art Show was held at Friendship Village on Wednesday, April 26th. The show featured the work of participants in the Friendship Village Art Therapy Program, Friendship Village residents, and students from Hoover Math and Science Academy, Conant High School and Schaumburg High School.

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