Art as Therapy - Columbia Living Article

Posted On July 13, 2014  -

Posted In Columbia Living Magazine July-Aug 2014PeopleCulture

Lyssa Harvey uses art in a safe haven to help children and adults with the healing process.

By Rachel Haynie  Photographs by Jay Browne

Showing up represents 80 percent of success in life, so Woody Allen has said.

Lyssa Harvey begs to differ. Eighty percent is not nearly enough.

Through her work with children and adults, as owner of The Art and Play Therapy Center of South Carolina, this artist believes showing up is only a small part of the success equation. “For me, the entire 100 percent is to be fully engaged.” That keen and intentional focus results in the healing Harvey hopes for on behalf of clients, mostlychildren, and also benefits parents or guardians who turn to her for help with a broad spectrum of issues.

Children are naturally creative, and it’s easier for them to draw a picture or play than to answer questions directly. They may be reluctant or even hostile about discussing certain topics. Creating artwork or playing in the therapeutic playroomis a non-threatening way to tackle tough issues. Allowing the children to talkabout their artwork and observing their play can provide therapists like Harvey with the openings they need to get at the heart of the problems affecting their young clients.

Both art and play have time-tested therapeutic models that can work to alleviate stress associated with illness or disability, or tap into trauma or hurt on levels other efforts cannot reach. Although art therapy and play therapy are different models, the creative nature of each can be manifested in something tangible, something that provides cues foran experienced therapist to see and relate to.

The first case describing the therapeutic use of play was published in 1909 by Sigmund Freud, whose observations supported his theory that the difficulties of a child he was studying were related to emotional factors.

As early as Plato’s lifetime, observation of an individual at play was recognized as revealing. The Greek sage noted: “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

But before discovery, Harvey explained, “They must feel safe. Building trust is my first objective.” As a child and adolescent therapist for more than 25 years, she has learned it is common “for children to respond apprehensively, even negatively, to a typical clinical setting.” Children, who generally have limited vocabularies, are likely to be fearful or have difficulty expressing themselves effectively – in words. Whether the model Harvey is informed by in a given session is art, play, or a combination, the stage is set well before a client arrives for the appointment. The playroom she has created is inviting, with colors and toys that say to a child: “Come in. We are here for you. In this room you are safe.”In particular, Harvey said the playroom’s sandbox is often the feature that draws a young client into revealing hard-to-convey feelings.

What toys a child gravitates to, and how s/he interacts with them elicit clues that guide Harvey’s questions, each designed to open another closed door shielding the young client’s issues. When it comes to art therapy, Harvey generally provides those with whom she is working age-appropriate art supplies, perhaps gives them a prompt, and then sets them free to express themselves. Withtheir pictures as guides, Harvey leads a conversation about aspects of the artwork as a means of understanding what thoughts or feelings they may represent. With the resulting feedback, she begins to develop an effective treatment program aimed at helping the child move forward.

How children benefit from art or play therapy – or a combination – vary as diversely as the individual is unique. Professional therapists trained to recognize what inner feelings a child’s art or play manifests are knowledgeable about the available models, as though they embrace a symbolic language.

Harvey explained that, through a variety of applications, art therapy can provide a creative outlet for children struggling with the circumstances of their lives. “For example, a child may decipher the meaning of a picture and open up to discuss the underlying issues that inspired the artwork.”

Outcomes are not always reached easily, but over time, progress can be made. Here, patience is not only a virtue, but a necessity. One of the reinforcements Harvey experiences through working with children is that “they are innately creative and want balance and normalcy in their lives. By being present, an experienced, client/child centered therapist allows children to lead the way, and that helps to direct where help is needed,’ said Harvey, who earned her Masters of Art Therapy at the University of Hertfordshire, in St. Albans, England. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Art Education from the University of Georgia (UGA) and an Educational Specialist Degree from the University of South Carolina. She is a certified Art and Play Therapist as well as a South Carolina Licensed Professional Counselor.

Harvey longed to be an artist, especially in her studies at UGA and abroad, but was more drawn to the helping profession as a career.Eventually, though, she put herself through the same freedom-finding process she leads clients along. “I had to give myself permission to call myself an artist. It took a number of years before my various paths came together.”

Once the synergy of artist converged with art and play therapist, Harvey’s creativity blossomed quickly. “When I began to paint, I was energized in a spiritual way, and art became a gift to me,” said Harvey, who celebrates her 60th birthday soon.

Within a few years after she ventured onto her own art path, in search of the same balance and beauty she seeks as a therapist, she formed membership affiliations with the South Carolina and the National Watercolor societies, and began exhibiting – locally, and in Charleston. She is represented in a number of galleries.

Often working in series, she recently completed a suite of bold and colorful abstracts she calls “watercolor blessings.” Beyond art, she describes a blessing as being aware of the presence of good in the world and in your own life.

As a way of counting her blessings within her community, Harvey reaches out and gives back in specific and heartfelt ways. As a co-chair of the Columbia Holocaust Memorial Committee, she has used her art – and her knowledge of art’s power to communicate – in her Holocaust Education work with schools. This past year she volunteered to help Mental Illness Recovery Center (MIRC) by suggesting Windows to the Heart as MIRCI’s theme for its annual fund-raising gala. When the board responded so enthusiastically to Harvey’s suggestions, she took that as her cue to suggest art classes for clients. As MIRCI Executive Director Julie Ann Avin remarked, “I have been simply amazed to see the pieces of art created by our clients. Watching the healing people are experiencing as they create has been even more impressive than the art itself.”

If you take a look atHarvey’s art, in particular, hersculptural work in clay, you’ll notice that it portrays the female figure in stressful arrangements. The sculpture symbolizes how women often feel inadequate in some of their roles since the expectations vary so greatly and pull them in many directions. “Helping others to develop a sense of well-being and balance in their lives is my work. When I know that I may have helped to make a different, it is a joy as great as creating art.”

Creativity Killers

Creativity Killers 

Avoid killing the creative instinct in your child!

Creativity is a characteristic that parents hope to nourish in their children. We are all born innately curious and creative. Creativity helps us develop our intelligence,enhance the ability to problem solve, spark new and innovative ideas and bring fulfillment and joy into our lives. Humans, though are also competitive and this trait has been blamed for extinquishing that creative spark in children.

Teresa Annabile, Ph.D., a professor at Brandeis University cites in her book TheCreative Instinct, four ways parents efforts enhancing creativity may backfire.

4 Common Creativity Inhibitors

  1. EvaluationSimply expecting evaluation can deter creativity, even if the outcome is positive. Children should focus on the process, not on how their work is going to be judged. Evaluation is necessary in most areas in our lives,but if presented continual to young children it can restrict creativity.
  2. RewardMost believe that rewarding a behavior will improve that behavior.But this is not always the case in the creative process. For tasks that are straight forward, reward does help children perform faster and better. For problem solving and creative insight offering rewards can stifle the imagination. It has been shown that a lack of stimulation and praise can inhibit creativity, but excessive stimulation and praise can desensitize intrinsic motivation and deaden creativity.
  3. CompetitionCompetition encompasses both reward and evaluation.Unbridled competition is often uncalled for in creative activities.Remember it is the process not the product that rewards children!
  4. Restriction of ChoiceMost artist and scientists agree that to truly learn and be creative one cannot be restricted or forced. This does not mean that parents should not set boundaries with children's behaviors and choices.A framework for choice and behaviors is always the best way to instill positive creative exploration.

So what can parents do to avoid creativity killers. We need to teach children stability and predictability  as well as the ability to fail without discouragement.Often parents push children into areas where their child has little interest. The key is to find out where interest and skills overlap. Not all children's gifts and interestare apparent. Parents that encourage children to experiment with different skills set are correct. Children are wired to be parent pleasers and often stick with an area of interest to please parents rather than what they really want to do. It can befun, but hard work for some to find out that special area of interest your child desires. Here are some ways parents can encourage creativity.

10 Creativity Boosters

  1. Encourage independence. Let them color outside the box.
  2. Do not micromanage play.
  3. Encourage children to discover solutions on their own.
  4. Allow your child to fail. It's okay, they will get over faster than you.
  5. Avoid enrolling preschoolers in competitive activities.
  6. Keep the learning evironment fun.
  7. Engage children to use their 5 senses in learning.
  8. Be a role model, engage in stimulating experiences.
  9. Teach children to respect differences in people.
  10. Respect your child as a unique individual.

As parents learn to appreciate the differences in each of their children, they willbecome more aware of what is special about each child. To foster a child's creativity youmust first understand his uniqueness and allow him to learn the possibilites of how herelates to the world. Encouraging your child to take creative risks, to explore interests,and to engage in the joy of learning will propel the internal spark call CREATIVITY.

Lyssa Harvey, is a teacher, therapist and artist. She owns The Art and PlayTherapy Center of South Carolina. Her private practice at this center includescounseling with children, adolescents, and their parents. She works with children withADHD, abuse issues, behavior problems and issues related to divorce. Mrs. Harvey haspresented trainings at State and National conferences on using Art, Play and Creativity in counseling.

By Lyssa Harvey, Ed.S Licensed Professional Counselor Art and Play Therapist

Children of Hope 2007 Art Exhibit

Children of Hope 2007 Art ExhibitArtwork masterpieces created by children with cancer!

For Immediate ReleaseColumbia, SC: June July 2007: The 2007 “Children of Hope” art exhibit held at The Columbia Museum ofArt, located at 1515 Main Street, during the months of June & July 2007, displays art work created by childrenwith cancer and blood disorders. Children’s Chance will also sponsor a special ceremony to honor theseartists for their outstanding work and extreme courage, to be held on Tuesday, July 17 from 3:00 5:00pm at the Museum’s Community Gallery located on the second floor. This event is not open to the public,but media are welcome!

The exhibit displays paintings done by the children while in treatment for pediatric cancer or blood disorders atPalmetto Richland Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders. The children range in age from 4 to 13years old and come from different parts of the state to be treated at Palmetto Richland’s Children’s Hospital andare there able to participate in the Ryan Crout Art Therapy Program funded by Children’s Chance.

Lyssa Harvey, the Art and Play Therapist for Palmetto Richland and the Coordinator of the “Children ofHope” Art Exhibit explains, “Children approach the arts as children first, not children with cancer or with ablood disorder. Art allows a child to express his feelings about his immediate world in a non-threatening andenjoyable process. Each child’s artwork in this exhibit reinforces his special impact and uniqueness in this life.The artwork in this exhibit portrays the children’s strength and willingness to persevere even during the mostdifficult of times”.

Sponsored by Palmetto Richland’s Center for Children with Cancer and Blood Disorders, Children’s Chance,and a group of special donors, the “Art Angels”, the exhibit will be open to the public at The Columbia Museumof Art during the following hours: Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 10:00 am 5:00 pm, Friday from10:00am 9:00pm, and Sunday from 1:00-5:00 pm. Admission is $5.00 for adults, $2.00 for students, $4.00 forseniors, Children under 5 are free, and free admission on Saturday courtesey of BlueCross Blue Shield.

The exhibit will then be displayed at The Drew Wellness Center, located at 2101 Walker Solomon Way, nearthe intersection of Harden and Calhoun Streets, during August & September 2007, where it will be open to thepublic from Monday Thursday, 5:30 am 10:00 pm, Friday from 5:30 am - 8:00 pm, Saturday from 8:00 am 6:00 pm, and Sunday from 2:00 pm - 6:00pm. Edventure Children’s Museum, located at 211 Gervais Street,will then house the 2007 Children of Hope Exhibit during November & December 2007.The exhibit will beavailable for view there from Tuesday Saturday, 9:00 am 5:00 pm and Sunday from 12:00 5:00 pm.Admission to Edventure is $6.95 per child (children under 1 are free), and $8.95 per adult.

The Ryan Crout Art Therapy Program is part of the Psychosocial-Oncology program at Palmetto Richland’sCenter for Cancer and Blood Disorders and is funded by Children’s Chance, a non-profit organization dedicatedto helping children with cancer and their families throughout the state of South Carolina with non-medicalneeds. The art therapy program is one of the many programs provided to children with cancer and their familiesby Children’s Chance, and provides art interventions that address the emotional impact of serious illness onchildren and families. For more information about Children’s Chance or families facing pediatric cancer, please visit us online at:, or call (803) 254-5996.

Contact:Lyssa Harvey, Art Therapist& Coordinator of Children of Hope803-920-0707 orSamantha Higgins, Public Relations DirectorChildren’s Chance (803) 254-5996