Art Therapy in Schools Program Exhibition Showcases the Work of New York City’s At-Risk Children

Life-sized self-portraits created by New York City public school students from the NYU Steinhardt Art Therapy in Schools programs are on display at the NYU Kimmel Center, November 11-January 2. The exhibit, entitled Standing Tall: Celebrating Resiliency in the NYU Art Therapy in Schools Program, showcases 80 portraits by students ages 6 – 17 who have benefitted from the Art Therapy in Schools Program over the past year.

The aim of exhibit is to raise awareness for the important role art therapy plays in helping students with emotional, behavioral, and learning issues to succeed and thrive in the classroom.

“Research from around the world – including a longitudinal study conducted by the Steinhardt program – clearly indicates that at risk students of all ages who have participated in art therapy show marked reductions in oppositional behavior, increased concentration and impulse control, and enhanced academic performance,” said Marygrace Berberian, director of the NYU Art Therapy in Schools Program at NYU Steinhardt.

“Unfortunately, limited funding has meant that there are far more students out there in need of therapy than there are resources to provide it to them, which ultimately has deleterious effects not only on individual students, but entire classrooms and schools,” Berberian added. “Support from NYU Steinhardt and private donors have made it possible for us to continue our commitment to these schools and these students – and the results have been phenomenal.”

Pioneered in the 1940s, art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses art, media, images, and the creative process to help generate reflections of an individual’s development, abilities, personality, interests, concerns, and conflicts. The NYU Art Therapy in Schools program at Steinhardt, which began in 1997, trains therapists based on knowledge of human development and psychological theories, which are then implemented in the assessment and treatment of children dealing with emotional conflicts and learning disabilities.

In 2002, in response to the 9/11 crises, the NYU model program was adopted by the NYC Board of Education and implemented in eight schools around the city. When these programs came under threat of budget cuts, private donors funded programs at PS 124 in Chinatown, PS 6 on the Upper East Side, and Millennium High School in Lower Manhattan.

“What makes art therapy so effective is that it addresses trauma that can often not be treated through left-brain, language-based therapeutic practices. Art therapy stimulates the right brain, connecting to symbols, images, and perceptions that speak to us from the unconscious, and which can release emotions and offer greater emotional regulation,” said Berberian. “These images serve to instruct students and their family members and educators about the ways art can activate resiliency.”

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Art Therapy – Research Results

Extensive data on the positive impact of art therapy in schools for students with physical, learning, behavioral and emotional difficulties include the following findings:

• NYU longitudinal study (in press) showed elementary school report card data collected pre and post treatment showed improvement in both student effort and academic results.

• Incorporating art therapy into academic intervention for children with learning disabilities showed a decrease in troubling thoughts, psychosomatic symptoms, aggression and delinquency (Freilich & Shechtman, 2010);

• At-risk eighth grade students displayed heightened coping skills and a decrease in disruptive behaviors as a result of art therapy services (Spier, 2010);

• “Problem behaviors,” such as acting out, poor concentration and defiance were reduced “significantly” after art therapy treatment (Saunders and Saunders, 2000).

Photos:  The artwork of NYC public school children enrolled in the NYU Steinhardt Art Therapy in Schools Program on display at NYU’s  Kimmel Center.

This post appears in the following categories: art, events