Visual Arts

Heidi Hafenstine talks about art as therapy and her Goddess Project

Most people stopped practicing art in grade school, and according to Heidi Hafenstine, that's why art therapy works so well for adults. Art, according to Hafenstine, offers a form of communication that taps into the subconscious. Because unlike language, most adults have lost their mastery and ability to "manipulate" the visual form.

Hafenstine runs her own practice, Intuitive Counseling and Art Therapy. Aside from helping her patients get in touch with their more creative sides, she's also been working on her own project, the Goddess Project, and she took some time to talk with us about the importance of art therapy and studying the female form.

So, what is art therapy?

There are actually tons of misconceptions about art therapy. I even come across people who think I work with artists. What I get to help clients do is to tap into their subconscious through art making. When a client comes to see me, there might be dialoguing, but a lot of our work is done through art. It's really all the art media out there you could possibly imagine, especially in the modern world. Everything from plaster, to clay working, to crayons - you name it. Then, typically toward the end, there is a conversation about what the art is. It taps into areas verbal language doesn't tap into.

Why is art therapy so important?

Art therapy is important for multiple reasons, but must mostly because it gets at the subconscious. We have defenses built in -- we use language every day, so we are good at it and we can manipulate it. But, especially adults, have lost track of the visual language. So it makes them more vulnerable and less defensive. They don't even know that they're communicating anything. Art slows down an over-talker and gives a new language to someone who is not a normally comfortable with verbal communication. It gives people a new language to use that they have not mastered.

Where did you study art therapy?

At DU, I did my undergrad in psychology. At the time, I was an independent artist. Then I became a counselor at a group for girls -- a residential treatment center. I started using artwork with my clients and that's when I started realizing that art therapy was a whole profession and a section of therapy. The Adler School of Professional Psychology, in Chicago, is where I studied and got my Masters in counseling and art therapy.

Is art therapy physically therapeutic, as well as mentally?

Yes, definitely. There are a lot of resources about how art therapy is similar to the trance a person gets into when they are meditating. Just being in a space where you are completely focused on something for a half an hour or an hour really provides a break for your mind and the benefits are well researched. I run a woman's art therapy group right now and one of the biggest things they are always telling me is how relaxed they feel in that group and how they feel very present and very mindful. So that act in and of itself is very healing.

Do you think art therapy is becoming more popular?

I think it's a growing modality of healing and more and more people are attracted to it because they are realizing that there is something for them to gain from it. All these therapies tap into something greater, and art therapy is not just for kids. Kids are already very visual because they are so visual they can tap into it very easily. But it is just as important and just as healing for adults, especially because adults are not as comfortable communicating visually anymore.

Is it important for you to be involved in a daily art process in order to be an effective art therapist?

Absolutely. As an art therapist, it is important that I incorporate art in my personal life. It does come out looking like a journal or a visual diary, just like what I encourage clients to keep. So instead of writing about the day, we create about the day. As an art therapist, I have to take it to the next day. It is very important that I engage in art-making. So right now, I am work on my project, "The Goddess Project," so that I can experience independence and growth of my own, while experiencing the history of women.

Can you tell me a little more about your "Goddess Project"

I have been working on it for just about two years and it's a mixed media project. I'm working with plaster and I took plaster molds of the busts of 35 women. I am turning them into corsets using binding around the edges and creating the corset look with eyelets and ribbing. They symbolize so many stories of different women. We are actually looking for an exhibition space right now.

How does this project incorporate your work as an art therapist?

Obviously this has been a long term project, and I started it in a time in my life when I was working with girls and women groups, so I was getting more comfortable using my feminine side. Most people think you have to get-ahead or be successful using your masculine energy, and this project responds to that.

It started out just about me and my personal project and when I got women together for the moldings, I realized that it's about the history of women over the centuries and that the modern-day woman really is a goddess--juggling work, and the home, and doing all of theses things beautifully. It's definitely honoring me, as a woman, but especially the women who live today. Women are identifying with the project and I am so lucky that I have been working on it for two years and yet still love it.

For more information about Hafenstine's practice, visit her website. For more information about the Goddess Project, visit the Facebook page.

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