Art Therapy at Alpha 180

September 30, 2021

My name is Amanda Allard, and I am a Master of Art Therapy student intern, completing coursework at Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods College in Indiana. I joined Elizabeth Bickel Rolfe, LPC-S, LCDC, ATR, and Alpha 180 at the recommendation of my former art therapy supervisor. I’m lucky to share her desire to bring more expressive arts into the Alpha 180 programming. 

Art therapy is a kind of psychotherapy, in which clients create art with guidance. Clients are able to explore inner and outer worlds, gain self-awareness, express thoughts and feelings, build self-esteem, and better cope with stress. It is healing and growth through creativity.

As part of Alpha 180’s goal of helping young men learn that a life of sobriety can be fun, beautiful, and fulfilling, I offer an open art studio in the Alpha 180 Clubhouse two days a week. I hope to engage the guys in meaningful conversation, while also improving self-esteem through the creative spirit. 

The open studio allows me to tackle multiple clinical goals. First, I am able to offer a variety of projects and materials that allow clients with difficulty expressing emotions to do just that. Second, I come from a background in DBT, and I strongly believe in “mastery” as a key to distress tolerance and emotional regulation.

It is extremely common that people sit down with an art therapist, and say I’m not creative or I can’t make art. When a project is begun, it is often cherished by a client at the end. They’ve mastered a task, even a small one, and I want to be a reminder that you can make small art and master a creative task each day.

Finally, I get to model healthy distress tolerance, coping skills, and fulfilling creative life to the young men that move in and out of the Clubhouse on those days, simply by being present and making art, even if no one is at the table with me. 

So far, I’ve found and colored in weird coloring books, done origami, made inspirational jewelry, collaged with found materials; many of these are small projects that leave a takeaway token, an open invitation to join me next time.

I’m currently working on a collaborative collage piece, with clients and staff choosing imagery that speaks to them and placing it on a thrift store canvas. I’m also developing plans to create community murals on the exterior and interior of the Clubhouse.

The idea is that community and collaborative artwork show us ways that we positively interact with our community, or it may show us ways that we need to work on our interpersonal skills. The collaborative and community projects will foster a deeper sense of ownership in the Alpha 180, its program, and its people. 

By Amanda Allard