Westchester’s Art(s) Of Healing

Music, clay, and movement are used as therapeutic mediums in local creative arts therapy programs.

Where traditional “talk” therapy uses words, creative arts therapy transcends the spoken word and uses music, various forms of visual arts, the dramatic arts, or dance and movement “to help clients engage their emotions and express themselves in a very direct, spontaneous, and visceral way,” explains Rye Brook psychologist Teri Friedman, PhD. “For clients of limited verbal capabilities,” she adds, “these forms of therapy provide a powerful and enjoyable non-verbal language by which they can explore their own inner depths—as well as communicate to others.” Here, a look at three such outstanding programs.

The Salutary Sounds of Music  

Founded in 1986, the Music Therapy Institute at the Music Conservatory of Westchester in White Plains (216 Central Ave, White Plains 914-761-3900; www.music
) works with more than 2,000 children and adults each year. The largest provider of professional music therapy between New York City and Boston—all its faculty members are board-certified, hold master’s or doctoral degrees in music therapy, and belong to the American Music Therapy Association—the Conservatory offers on-site individual ($1,264 for 30-minute sessions; $1,585 for 45, plus $50 annual registration fee) or small-group therapy ($590, plus $25 annual registration fee). “One of the most important things we do is take what the child or adult brings to us and create music around that,” says Director of Onsite Services Tina Brescia, who holds a Doctorate of Arts in music therapy. “What we see is the ability and not the disability, and the music always touches the ability.” Therapists use piano, guitar, percussion, and voice to engage participants in play, song, and movement to music. Adapted instruction for special needs students is also available in voice, piano, guitar, and percussion ($1,264 for 30-minute sessions; $1,585 for 45). Semesters are 16 weeks; scholarships are available. Also offered: community outreach programs.

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The Music Conservatory of Westchester has music therapy programs for kids.

Hands-On Healing With Clay

With all its mushy and forgiving qualities—it’s easy to squish up and start over, and you can accomplish a lot with few tools and skills—clay is, not surprisingly, the therapeutic medium at the Clay Art Center (CAC) in Port Chester (40 Beech St 914-937-2047; www.clayartcenter.org). “Clay is such a tactile and versatile medium that is very approachable to people of all ages, backgrounds, abilities, and disabilities,” says Leigh Taylor Mickelson, the center’s executive director. In addition to offering on-site classes for all, CAC brings the transformative powers of this medium to the developmentally disabled and those living with cancer, Alzheimer’s, autism, mental illness, etc., through outreach work with area community and health organizations. For Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers, clay acts as a receptacle for memory or creating new memories. For Gilda’s Club members living with cancer, a clay therapy support group blossoms into a community of emerging artists. And for children from the Coachman Family Center homeless shelter in White Plains, producing small, usable, or decorative objects is an opportunity to leave their troubles at the door, relax, and begin to heal. Other programs work with students to create permanent mosaic walls in their schools. 

Melding Therapeutic Mediums 

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On one Sunday afternoon per month, up to a dozen children (ages 8 and older) who have a broad spectrum of developmental disabilities, participate in Project CHILDD (Community Help In Learning About Developmental Disabilities) at the Pelham Art Center in Pelham (155 Fifth Ave, Pelham 914-738-2525; www.pelhamartcenter.org). Guided by trained instructors and shadowed by teen mentors, each week participants work on one visual arts project, such as collage, silk painting, or wire sculptures, and engage in one movement activity, like dance or yoga. “Not only does the program support the children’s therapeutic expression and build self-esteem,” says Center Executive Director Lynn Honeysett, “it gives their families ‘the gift of time.’” Adds art teacher MaryLou Gladstone, “A lot of the children are not very verbal, so this helps draw them out and encourage socialization and communication. They’ll talk a little bit about the color they are using or how a material feels.” Founded in 2006, Project CHILDD is offered at no cost to qualified participants who register through the nonprofit Nurse’s Network of America in Pelham.

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