Manchester University
Oak Leaves

March 3, 2017

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Kay Guyer leads art therapy session

Photo by Tyler Roebuck

Alumna Teaches Art Therapy as Form of Expression

Destinee Boutwell

It is commonly said that a picture is worth a thousand words. The principle behind this quote can be used as a definition for art therapy and helps to express the goal art therapists hope to achieve. Art therapy can be used when words are not enough to express what a person is feeling. Statistics show that there are an increasing number of people visiting mental health professionals in the United States. Counselors are there to listen and talk people through life’s tribulations and sort out specific life traumas. However, sometimes memories are too painful to share, or emotions cannot be put into words. This is where the art therapists step in; they encourage people to use vast varieties of art mediums to create an art piece that expresses their emotions or depict a specific thing.
Kay Guyer, a Manchester alumna, led a Discussion Day course that introduced what art therapy was, how it was used and why it worked. She lectured and provided a space that allowed those in attendance to experience the power of art therapy. As a Manchester student, she was heavily involved with art and can be credited with quite a few art pieces across campus. She is now in graduate school studying art therapy and working with kids in elementary schools by exploring how art therapy can help them express their emotions and interpret the things they witness and experience.
As people walked in the door of the art therapy workshop, they were greeted by Guyer holding a box of oil pastels. She asked everyone to pick a pastel and directed them to a seat, where she laid a large white piece of paper in front of them. There was a large range of artistic talent in the room. Some people and never seen a pastel before, some had a little art experience in high school and others were art majors or art professors. 

Guyer began the workshop by instructing everyone to use the paper and oil pastel she had handed out and to illustrate a story that she narrated, about a young boy who got a new bike and decided to take it for a trip down a hill. The story resulted in the young boy crashing and being comforted and carried home by his father. Before Guyer began the story, she instructed everyone to forget the rules of art that they have learned over the years. Instead of drawing a realistic child on a bicycle, she asked that focus should be applied to symbols, the length or thickness of lines and the movement of the piece.
After she read the story and the illustrations were complete, Guyer paired everyone up, encouraging that they explain what the lines meant and what emotions were represented by symbols, depictions, or lines. Two people in the room shared that they had drawn roughly the same picture, but the homes where depicted differently for each of them. One depicted the home as a physical house and the other depicted the home with a heart. 

Guyer stressed the importance of reflection and analysis by the artist, rather than interpretation by the person viewing the artwork. She explained that art therapy is often an expression of emotion or a depiction of a memory, and as a counselor, it is important to not make assumptions about the art work because it can sometimes be an offensive or demeaning interpretation.
As she moved into the lecture portion, Guyer taught the history of art therapy and explained that the goal was to give people a voice where they might not be able to express words. It can also be used as a way to destress and work through daily life struggles. She explained at the end of her lecture that people don’t have to search out an art therapist to benefit from art therapy; it can be done in the comforts of one’s house or residence hall. 

To illustrate this point, Guyer assigned another project. She demonstrated a way to create a small book, folded like an accordion, where people could artistically express a problem that plagued their life. “Give your problem a beginning, a middle and an end,” Guyer said. She provided many art mediums including watercolors, string, construction paper, markers and pastels.

Around the room there was a wide range of colors being used. Some pictures had muted tones and hues, and others were vibrant and full of life and energy. Holly Granfield, a first-year in attendance, had a mixer of vibrant colors that flowed along the storyline. In the middle there was a space that was predominately black, but on the bottom there was a string of color that stretched along the whole length of the storyline. “My use of colors expressed the joy, happiness and thrill of curiosity and discovery that I have in my everyday life. This [black] area,” said Granfield, “is representing those rough patches that I go through where I get really stressed, disorganized and worn out. This string of color that runs along the bottom represents the hope that I continue to carry with me, even when life seems hopeless.”
As the workshop drew to an end, Guyer received unanimously positive feedback from the room. “I loved it so much,” said Granfield with a smile. “I am not that good at art, I can’t draw realistic things, but I had fun in this workshop. I felt less stressed and more relaxed about the problems I drew.