Caldwell, N.J., July 9, 2018 – Art therapy students learned about trauma and art on a study-abroad trip to Germany and Czechia June 11 to 20.
As part of the “Treatment of Trauma” course developed and taught by Dr. Marie Wilson, coordinator of art therapy programs and professor, the group visited sites such as the Prinzhorn Collection at the University of Heidelberg Psychiatric Clinic, which is named after art historian and psychiatrist Hans Prinzhorn, who was educated in medical science during World War I and sought to merge his two disciplines after the war. After joining the staff, Prinzhorn was tasked with expanding the arts program at the University of Heidelberg psychiatric clinic. Under his direction, a collection of artworks by patients who suffered from mental illness grew to over 6,000 pieces by more than 450 patients. The collection is the first of its kind in the world. Art therapy students at Caldwell study this collection in introductory graduate and undergraduate coursework. The visit to the museum, said Annette Vaccaro, coordinator of art therapy programs and assistant professor, “allowed students to experience the true power of art in transcending cultural boundaries.”
In Prague, Czechia, the group visited the Terezin concentration camp. Terezin features a museum that retains the only complete collection of Jewish child and adult artwork created in a concentration camp. As part of what was mostly a clandestine education program for children, the art classes at Terezin offered an avenue of communication and self-expression, reflecting the ideas of Jewish artist and art educator Friedl Dicker-Brandeis.
Cindy Concannon, an art therapy mental health counseling graduate student, said the experiences of witnessing the Prinzhorn Collection and the artwork of the people at Terezin allowed her to “witness the struggles of people more than a half century away in time.”
In addition, the group attended a music jam with students and faculty of the music therapy department at SRH University in Heidelberg and met with members of the Czech art therapy association in Prague.
Wilson said the travel-abroad course took over two years to design and implement and was a “one-of-a-kind” experience for art therapy students. “The travel portion of this course allowed students to visit and experience firsthand the artwork and sites that have historic significance to the art therapy profession.”
Vaccaro said nothing could compare with being immersed in a culture for learning. “Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and feeling gave the students a chance to experience a new view of the world.”
Laura Munoz-Torres, also an art therapy student, savored this once-in-a-lifetime experience, which she said validated her belief in the art therapy field. She also appreciated “creating memories with future colleagues.”
The students bonded and appreciated experiencing the trip with like-minded friends and art therapists. “I developed a professional and personal connection with this wonderful group,” said Concannon. “Heidleberg and Prague offered plenty of opportunities to witness the full spectrum of life–its beauty and pain– as well as the opportunity to grow as a person and a counselor.”
Faculty member Natashia Collins was also a leader of the trip. The other students who attended were Masha Berenshteyn, Cindy Concannon, Genaya Palmer, Eileen Strungis, Brittany Barnstead, Alexis Perillo, Morgan DeGilio, Lydia Fulton and Nikki Drzewinski. Several art therapy professionals from the community also participated.