The Healing Power of Art Therapy

Aug 7, 2023

The Guild Community Support Program (CSP) Member Center is a special and safe place for people on their journey toward mental health and personal growth. The Dakota County drop-in center provides individuals living with mental illness with access to a range of supportive services and features recreation, community, and connection with others.

Among the variety of activities and programs available at the CSP Member Center, art classes are some of the most popular. Pursuing art can be a powerful outlet for self-expression and emotional healing, offering individuals a chance to tap into their creativity, foster a sense of accomplishment, and express the feelings and experiences that come with mental health challenges. Art classes are made possible by skilled artisans who bring their talents and their passion for helping others to the CSP Member Center. 

Meet one of those artists, Jennifer Kunin.

I am a visual artist, working in acrylic painting, ceramics, mosaic, papermaking and more. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) and a Bachelor of Sciences and a teaching certification from the University of Minnesota. I was on the Minnesota State Arts Board roster of artists for many years, teaching arts residencies in schools and other facilities across the state, which is how Guild found me nine years ago, and I have been teaching at the CSP ever since.  

While I am not a formally educated art therapist, I have a therapeutic twist to the way I teach. I also have earned certifications from various healing modalities, including Reiki, Resonance Repatterning, and various yoga and meditation methods. I am a mother, a grandma of eight, and I care deeply for humanity, especially people who have challenges of any sort.

“I’ve been there and I understand how important kindness and respect can be. I bring art to people with disabilities, the elderly and anyone who needs an uplift.”

The members at the Guild CSP are inspiring to me because I can see that they are really working on themselves and supporting each other. I see how much they appreciate the art sessions we have, and I enjoy seeing them developing art skills and confidence in these abilities.

A favorite project for CSP Members is mosaic, but we also work with ceramics, acrylic painting, visual journaling, printmaking, papermaking, tie dye, beadwork and more. I come prepared to guide participants on the technical aspects of these art forms, with gentle nudges to try something new and develop their skills. And while we are making art, some wonderful conversations come up. Sometimes it’s just sharing a laugh, and sometimes some very deep subjects come up and a beautiful sharing takes place in the group.

I have had a couple students express that the art classes have kept them out of the hospital. I believe as artists at any level, the process of seeing our creations develop from a conception to a resolved completion is satisfying and inspiring, especially when created in a group of peers that are so supportive of each other. 

“In art, we can take a break from the world of correct and incorrect. This is my number one rule. Accept your own process. We are here to learn and enjoy, not to frustrate ourselves. I believe that every piece of art is a self-portrait in some way, even when it is not a portrait or rendering of self at all.”

Each person has a natural inclination towards a style unique to them. I don’t want to try to make every student a clone of my own style. I want to meet each person as they are, and guide and support them on their own artistic journey. This makes art a venue for sharing and expressing each participant’s authentic self. 

For instance, I have two students, Jane is meticulously intricate and Mike is very free. Both are wonderful artists. Jane spends a lot of time choosing designs and materials and has to miss some projects because she is still working on finishing the last one. Mike works abstract. He goes through a lot of paint and canvas because he works with immediacy. We sometimes laugh, saying if they rubbed off on each other, they might find balance. 

Any Dakota County resident living with a mental illness can visit the CSP. You must schedule your first visit by calling (651) 457-2248. Check out the CSP page and click the CSP Calendar link to view our monthly calendar of activities and groups.

You can support services like the CSP Member Center by making a financial donation or by volunteering