A Clinician's Nonverbal Approach to Therapy

Clinician Rachel Gustafson, who runs art therapy groups in CHD’s STAR Psychiatric Day Treatment Program in Springfield, said she loves this activity because it helps the individuals we serve process their emotions and deal with such conditions as anxiety and depression. “Instead of talking about what’s going on, they express themselves with their creativity,” she said. “It’s a nonverbal approach to therapy. It’s fun, but it’s also healing.”

Gustafson was an intern at STAR as an Art Therapy major at Springfield College. She recalled becoming intrigued as an undergraduate about the possibility of majoring in a field of study that combines art, psychology, and community engagement. Indeed, Art Therapy fit her interests like a glove, and when she graduated last May, she jumped at the chance to return to our State Street Outpatient Clinic.

Growing up with an incurable and chronic nerve disease, Gustafson has long used art to show how she felt about her medical condition and what she was going through, both physically and psychologically. “My mental health was something that was never really talked about, so I had to deal with it myself,” she said. “I used art as a forum for what I was feeling.” In college, she used watercolor, Indian ink, and oil pastel to make paintings and posters to show how her health affected her.

She is passionate about her job because it’s an opportunity to use her own experiences to connect with individuals and help them overcome their own mental health challenges. “It’s really true that you can’t judge a book by its cover, because everyone has their own unique story,” she said. “It is fulfilling to learn everyone’s story and make that connection.”

What would she say to anyone interested in Art Therapy and considering the possibility of working in an outpatient mental health clinic? “You definitely need patience,” she said. “It’s not for everyone—not for the weak of heart, for sure. You have to be ready for the unexpected. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun.”

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