These days, there’s just as much emphasis on our mental well being as there is on our physical health. Just as we all try to eat sensibly and exercise regularly in order to stave off physical ailments, we are encouraged to look after our minds.
Those with diagnosed mental conditions can see psychiatrists, of course, but where can you turn if you feel you just aren’t getting the most out of life?
One preventative measure is counseling, which has become a large competitive business in Naperville over recent years. But it can be hard to find the right fit and , there are many different kinds of counseling services. If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to improve your mental health, you might want to try your hand at something a little different — art therapy.
Although this kind of support may appeal to those with artistic leanings, it actually has nothing to do with creative talent. Anyone can do it, Naperville art therapist Rachelle Barmann said.
“Sometimes, it’s easier for people to express visually more than speaking. Art alone can provide healing even if you don’t have the words. We learn from dialoguing about the art. Everything we create is about self-healing. Art allows our souls to speak.
”You don’t have to be artistic, in fact, sometimes, artists have the most difficulty with this. It’s not about the art, it’s about the creative process.”
Barmann said she works abstractly so no art expertise is required. One of her former patients was blind.
“She did abstract painting as she told me her life story. It was very powerful for her,” she said. “Afterwards, we created a book for her children.”
Rather than drawing pictures, clients may find themselves exploring their emotions with a color wheel or working on collage projects. Alternatively, they may break a bowl and piece the parts together, covering the cracks in gold paint as a healing process.
Or, Barmann shows me a bowl made out of papier mâché lined with words of importance to the client. An inside outside box is covered with pictures showing the person seen by the outside world, with a totally different version on the inside.
Barmann, who works at Grow Wellness Group in downtown Naperville, believes in a holistic philosophy. While all art therapists work a little differently, most are client-centered, she said.
“Art therapy is just the visual component, but we all tend to tailor-make what we do to the needs of our clients,” she said. “There’s a misconception that therapists interpret the art, but that’s not true. The client interprets what they have done.”
Barmann sees a wide range of people, from young children to the very elderly.
“If someone just wants to talk, that’s OK, too,” she said. “When I worked at Friendship Village Schaumburg, I worked with everything from anxiety issues to hospice care. Art therapy can also help with fine motor skills and memory issues.”
She believes counseling is popular because it offers a positive holistic approach to deal with the stresses of modern life.
“If someone can get counseling early on, it prevents a larger problem down the road,” she said.
Statistically, women are more likely to work in the counseling field and use counselors themselves.
“There are a lot of stereotypes and people feel they have to have something diagnosable to get help, but that’s not the case,” Barmann said. “There are times when people really do need to be hospitalized or given medication, but a lot of times they can be helped with mindfulness instead.
“I encourage meditation as a way of handling stress. We want to make our lives better. As we get older, we realize the complexity of life and sometimes we just need a few tools to help cope.”
Barmann, 58, qualified as a therapist later in life. Prior to that, she worked in graphic design and marketing. She moved to Naperville in 2001, where she began working on freelance design projects for Giving DuPage and Loaves and Fishes, including the design of its logo.
Eventually, she moved to Loaves and Fishes full time. While she loved working there, what she didn’t like was being tied to a computer all day.
In 2017, she applied to Adler University in Chicago, a social justice institution.
“I have always worked with social justice and they pride themselves on having a diverse population,” said the mother of three grown children. “I was in my mid-50s, but my age was not a restriction. Age brings wisdom and can be an asset. It was very inclusive and felt like a good fit for me.”
With her children’s support, she spent two years getting a master of arts in art therapy counseling. She says studies have shown that happier people tend to be lifelong learners because they are always challenging themselves.
“I love it, I love creating,” she said. “I know how healing art has been for me and I want to share it. When you visualize your feelings, you can learn from them. Art therapy is very broad. We really have to listen to our creative sides with our hearts. Part of the wholeness approach is listening to our desires. We put limits on ourselves, we can’t do this or that, but these are just our own limits.”
Barmann is embracing her new life.
“I gained a lot of expertise working at Friendship Village, where I did my clinical hours,” she said. “I felt like this job was the right place for me. I learned a lot about myself. When you study any kind of psychology, you look at your own life experience. I have friends who said I was an inspiration to them. it’s never too late to learn something new. I’ve shown them you can always re-invent your life.”