It's important to know upfront that art therapy is not really about a stranger telling you what your painting means. That's an activity best enjoyed over wine, cheese and turtlenecks.
All of the above are conspicuously absent in the downtown State College practice belonging to Rhonda Stern, a certified art therapist and licensed professional counselor who works with children, adults, and the occasional college student.
Those who are referred to Stern are warned that by staying they run the risk of expressing themselves artistically. If the paint doesn't get you, the pencils or clay might.
“It’s not a field based on words, it’s a field based on images and doing,” Stern said.
Art is in the eye of the beholder, sure, but a trained one like Stern's might notice if someone has painted a rendition of themselves inside or outside, with people or alone. She views art therapy as more language than technique, and if people don't want to get bogged down in actual linguistics, that's OK.
“If somebody doesn’t have words for something, I won’t press them," Stern said. "I might say ‘OK, let’s do another piece of art.'"
Over at Juniper Village, Sue Lembeck-Edens also enjoys a similarly casual relationship with the spoken word. She uses dance/movement therapy to work with seniors whose ability to communicate verbally has been impaired by dementia.
The rules are simple by design: the body parts that people can still move, they move. Sometimes there's Sinatra music. Lembeck-Edens called the ability to express what's going on inside — even if it just a few rhythmic air punches — a human need.
"Expressive movement is important when the other faculties are gone," Lembeck-Edens said.
The Jana Marie Foundation has been using non-verbal forms of communication to spur a hyper-verbal dialogue around mental health since 2012. Marisa Vicere said that arts-centric initiatives like the Stompers Project were originally incorporated as a tribute to her sister Jana, but they've grown to become a hallmark of the organization.
"It's a great way to express yourself. It can be a release to let your emotions out," Vicere said
Last weekend, JMF hosted "Ignite," its first event aimed specifically at middle school boys. The day was spent highlighting different storytelling models, from comic book art to beatboxing, that could serve as platforms for self-expression.
"They're getting to share their story and sharing it in a non-threatening way," Vicere said.
On May 12, the organization will host J.A.M. Fest, a smorgasbord of music and arts activities in downtown State College.