Week 5:
Assessment and Response

Karin L. Bostrom Fellow in Art Therapy

Institute for Therapy through the Arts | Evanston, Illinois

July 15, 2019

I investigated the process of art therapy this week at Institute for Therapy through the Arts (ITA). I had the opportunity to explore myself and the emotional status of ITA’s clients via assessments and a unique process called “response art”, which is art made in response to the client’s art.

During my session on Tuesday, I met with a client with symptoms similar to those of Parkinson’s Disease, including difficulty with visuospatial tasks. We worked on improving her movement by tracing drawings of geometric shapes with a clay called model magic. She used to create a specific art form that she loved, but due to her lack of dexterity, she can no longer create that art. In response to the client’s difficulties, I made two small model magic sculptures that involved movements the client could no longer make. These small blue shapes represented my gratitude. I am lucky to have the ability to make the art that I make every day. I would be lost without art, and I am so thankful for it.

These sculptures, I later learned, are called response art. The art therapy world is still debating whether an art therapist should create response art in-session with their client. Some say it is distracting for the client, while others believe it is a great way to connect and express feelings about the client at the same time. I tend to agree with the latter group because, for me, response art has been a great way to build rapport with clients.

My response art: a representation of my gratitude

On Wednesday I observed an art therapist give an anxiety assessment to a seven-year-old client. It was informative because the therapist needed to adjust the assessment to fit the client’s needs. As a child, the client didn’t have the reading level necessary to complete the assessment on her own, so the therapist read the questions aloud. In addition to this, the therapist wanted to make the assessment enjoyable for the client, so we created some index cards with the Likert scale responses written on them. We spaced the answers out on the floor so that the client could run and jump on the one she chose for each question. That way, we were able to complete the entire assessment, and the client never chose to not answer a question out of boredom or defiance.

However, the therapist and I questioned the validity of the assessment because of the client’s age. As a young child, the client may have chosen the answers she did for any number of reasons. She may have thought it was fun to jump on the answers that were farthest apart, or she may not have understood some of the questions. To counter these age-related validity issues, the client’s parent also filled out the assessment. It has been really cool taking the assessments that I’ve learned about at Cornell and giving them to clients and guardians. Without classes like Research Methods, I would not be able to question respondent’s behavior so well. This internship at ITA has really allowed me to apply the theory that I’ve learned in my classes at Cornell.

I put an ITA sticker on my water bottle after giving the client assessment

Finally, on Friday during our group supervision, we took part in a relaxation training exercise. ITA firmly believes in the importance of self care for therapists, clients, interns, volunteers, and everyone else in our community. It’s important to practice what we preach to clients and to learn how to care for ourselves because the work we do is heavy. Clients have traumas that are overwhelming. Learning self-care helps us not take on their problems personally, have their problems spill over into other areas of our lives, and compartmentalize to be present for each and every client and to keep ourselves in healthy – physically and mentally – to bring our best to our clients each day.

Our supervisor Amanda walked us through an exercise that allowed us to stretch each of our muscles and discover where in the body we carry our stress. When we were told, we tensed and relaxed our muscles while breathing deeply, working from our feet all the way up to our facial muscles. Before completing this exercise, I had no idea I carried so much stress in my back muscles, but after we finished, I was completely relaxed and felt much more centered. Meditation and mindfulness are important for everyone!

The interns taking part in a relaxation exercise.

Alexa Ferenzi '20

Alexa is a psychology and studio art double major and art history minor from Chicago, Illinois.