Healing through art therapy

If you were to take a walk through downtown Oshawa, you may walk right past The LivingRoom Community Art Studio. It hasn’t been there long, but it has already had the power to bring members of the community together through the creation of art.

The LivingRoom is a non-profit, open door studio that allows people to walk in off the street and create art for free or to pay what they can.

Mary Krohnert is the founder and executive director of the Living Room Community Art Studio, and is a practicing art therapist. Krohnert says the studio is a form of art therapy in a “non-critical context.”

“I really believe that people, if given a safe space, the materials, the time and the permission to be with themselves [and] to make and create [art]…they can do their own healing.”

Krohnert says art is generally therapeutic. “For me personally art was a very important part of healing and growth in my life. It was the one place I found that I could express…and be myself,” she says.

She found she didn’t really fit into a traditional system. She couldn’t imagine herself working nine to five in an office. So she trained as an art therapist.

“I want to serve the community and create that place where we can offer people the same opportunities that I had when I was younger,” Krohnert says.

She says the LivingRoom provides a safe space for people in the community to connect with one another. They are given the opportunity to meet people they would have never otherwise met. They are able to connect through a common passion as well as the experiences they’ve faced in their lives.

“Instead of hiding things or pretending things don’t exist, this is a place where hopefully we learn to not be so embarrassed or uncomfortable,” she says. This positive space allows people in the community to accept the things they may be struggling with by the support of those around them.

Krohnert finds the people she’s come across at the studio are non-judgemental and accepting of its fellow guests, but they often are hard on themselves.

She says the sense of community at the studio acts as a mirror for those who are having hard feelings about themselves, and reflects back the amazing things they see within each other.

Mary Rykov, a music therapist based in Toronto, believes in the same idea as Krohnert, that healing happens in relationships with other people. She says there is also a role for art, such as music.

“I think there’s medicine, and there’s therapy and there’s healing. And I think healing always happens in relationships. We gain our self concept through relations with others,” she says.

Rykov says expression through art is not the only step when coping with physical, emotional and mental health. She says a good therapist will enable someone to move through his or her painful experiences too.

“Therapy is very painful and [it] involves a lot of courage,” she says. “The only way past it is through it. You have to have the courage and the fortitude to stick with it and actually go through the muck.”

According to the Canadian Institute for Mental Health, one in 12 young people from the ages 15 to 24 across Canada were given an anxiety or antipsychotic medication in 2013–2014.

“There can be people who have been so winded by their life experiences that they need some medicinal help to even look at what happened to them.” She says some drugs may be necessary, but doesn’t believe in solely prescribing them without therapy to accompany it.

There are counselling services available for students on campus at the Campus Recreation and Wellness Centre.

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Jessica Stoiku is a second year journalism student at Durham College. With a passion for writing, she enjoys exposing the arts and culture stories of people within the community for The Chronicle. She hopes to work for a publication that focuses on human interest and issues on a broader scale.