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artSHAPEDlife combines creativity with therapy

Therapy and counseling can take many forms, including one-on-one analysis, individual thought and group therapy. But a new form of psychoanalysis is emerging – art therapy. It has helped many overcome trauma, difficult relationships and behavioral issues by allowing the participant to express thoughts through creativity.
This past Sunday, artSHAPEDlife, an event to raise awareness of art therapy, was held at the Contemporary Art Center of Peoria.
The artSHAPEDlife event was part of the ALIVEinART campaign to increase knowledge of the importance of mental health, and how different forms of art can complement psychological thought.
Arin Davis, senior public relations major and co-coordinator of the event, said integrating an event like this into a campaign structure was a challenge, but believed it to be prosperous.
“Because art and therapy are topics that lend themselves to niche crowds, we really wanted to make the campaign relevant for all people,” Davis said. “We used various media outlets and both emerging and traditional tactics to raise awareness.”
Co-coordinator and public relations major Paul Friener said the group found artists through connections with the Contemporary Art Center, and utilized Bradley organizations such as the BU Jazz Band and Help, Empower and Teach to fuse different artistic mediums together into one event.
“Since our focus was finding mental health revitalization through the arts, we wanted a variety of people,” Friener said. 
Artist Morgan Elser and painter Adam Maas completed works of art during the event. Elser, a Delevan-based multimedia artist, uses green materials in addition to some bronze work. She said for her personally, art is a form of exploration and therapy.
“I’m reaching heights I never thought I could reach with my art,” Elser said. “It’s liberating and satisfying.”
She has been an artist for more than 10 years, collecting all kinds of recycled items such as buttons, string and fabric to form her artwork. She said the base for almost every project she does is something from nature, such as tree branches or gourds.
“The things we get from nature are so beautiful,” Elser said.
Senior public relations majors and co-coordinators Alex Navrotski and Alex Bahler said they thought the event was successful, and everyone they worked with was enthusiastic about helping out.
“We didn’t incur many costs,” Navrotski said. “One World and Qdoba donated the food, the Contemporary Art Center donated the space, tables and chairs, the artists and therapists donated their time and materials and we did all the publicity and printing ourselves.”
Five therapeutic workshops were held throughout the day, including a dream interpretation seminar, a Javanese dance workshop, archetypal storytelling and a guided mental imagery workshop.
The workshop I attended, entitled “Abstract Self-Portraits,” was particularly interesting. Chapin & Russell’s Brad Post, LCSW, led the workshop. The activity was to draw a portrait of ourselves describing our past, present and future.
Before we started drawing, we had to close our eyes, think about our past and get a clear image of that event or thing inside our head.
The group consisted of about 10 people. The self-portraits were varied, some having faces, others with symbols. When we were all done, Post asked for volunteers to describe their portraits. Only one woman from the group shared hers. It seemed like an emotional, almost uplifting moment for her to stand there and explain what she had drawn.
artSHAPEDlife was inspirational to all who attended. The venue was ideal for this type of event, and it was a very enriching experience. For some, art is more than just something to admire – it can be therapeutic, moving and life-changing.