Caldwell, N.J., March 6, 2018 – – Graduate art therapy students used their academic and creative backgrounds to help empower men and women with vision loss in the art-making process at a day of service. Led by Traci Bitondo, a Caldwell alumna and a counselor and art therapist at the Vision Loss Alliance of New Jersey, graduate and undergraduate students worked with the clients at the VLA’s offices in Denville on Feb. 22. They led the clients in making mandalas using a plethora of craft materials and objects such as scrap textiles, fabrics, ribbons, burlap, cotton wool, pinecones, seashells, playdough and more.
Jennifer Albright and Laura Stypulkoski are interning at the VLA and they facilitated the group project. Stypulkoski said it was an incredible experience to see the art therapy process done “almost solely by feel, by how the clients felt when they grabbed materials” or how the materials were described and communicated.“I was thrilled to see how enthusiastic the students were in engaging the VLA students in art-making,” said Bitondo. “The energy in the room was amazing, and all the conversations and art-making were truly inspiring,” said Albright.
Genaya Palmer said the experience reminded her of the multi-sensory quality of art materials and art making. “Art is not only visual but also involves tactile perception and motor skills.”
Graduate student Samantha Castellano’s partner for the assignment was a 97-year-old Army veteran with total vision loss. “He was friendly, kind and excited to engage in the art-making process…because he relied on his sense of touch alone, I offered materials with interesting textures.” The man was extremely proud of his work and expressed to Castellano how he was excited to show his friends what he had made.
In working with a person with visual impairment, Castellano said she experienced what art therapy pioneer Edith Kramer identified as a “third hand.” “I was a support; I did not create the work for him but instead was an aid for him to carry out his art-making process…it was a truly humbling and rewarding experience.”
Since many of the clients had not participated in artwork for years and doubted their abilities, it was particularly empowering for them to realize what they could do. “The clients put a lot of thought and enthusiasm into the work,” said Albright. The graduate students learned quite a bit too. “As an art therapy student I believe that creation is a personal journey, and by allowing my partner to take control of the process, something truly beautiful was created,” said Castellano.
Natashia Collins, LPC, ATR-BC, ACS, ATCS, a faculty member in the mental health counseling and art therapy specialization program, also coordinated the service day.