The state of Kansas doesn’t offer a license to art therapists, and as a result there are not many, especially in the south-central part of the state. Here is a profile of Ian Gingrich-Gaylord, one of the few art therapists in the area.
The storm shelter below the main offices on the Prairie View campus in Newton is cold and dark but brightly decorated.
It serves a dual purpose – storm shelter and art-making workshop.
It’s kind of a nice metaphor; the storm shelter says Ian Gingrich-Gaylord, Prairie View’s art therapist as he pushes open the heavy door.
Gingrich-Gaylord works with kids and adults who are in one of Prairie View’s psychiatric treatment programs.
To put it simply he says, Art Threapy is just a way of dealing with problems.
“Art therapists really work through the creative process, work with art images in a way that helps people relate to their problems in new ways.”
And his venue is most often this cool, windowless room.
It looks reminiscent of an elementary school art room – gray slab floors with a cluster of perfectly spaced beige veneer tabletops.
There is a coat rack of paint-splattered aprons, and a Pyrex measuring cup full of paintbrushes next to a slightly leaky sink.
“This is my space, like I said we do clay, painting, sculpture, so lots of things happen in this pretty small space. And most of what I do down here is groups, and I think I do about 18 groups a week down here, so a lot of people come in.
Gingrich-Gaylord says they work in all kinds of mediums – from clay to markers to oil pastel.
“I am trained to recognize different properties of materials, right, and so even, kind of, what a person gravitates to is kind of important,” he says. “For instance if a person is gravitating towards paint – maybe acrylic painting, but is just making a mess that’s kind of important.”
If he were to dictate materials, says Gingrich-Gaylord, he would never see that.
“That person would never get into that mess and be able to work with the mess.”
Gingrich-Gaylord works with people of all ages, but he says there is a distinct difference between the two groups.
“If you are an adult inpatient you come here for this crisis intervention or some basic stabilization, you know,” says Gingrich-Gaylord. “Art therapy is just part of the program.”
And, he says, sometimes adults are apprehensive about making art.
“It is like, well I am not an artist, I can’t do this, right. It goes away,” he says. “I mean people leave the group saying, I didn’t think I could do this, but they create amazing work.”
The kids are easier he says. Most recently his youth groups have been into making fountains – This one is a large Styrofoam block decorated with small clay figurines.
“These things take months to do,” he says, “and it is interesting because the kids come in and out, I mean kids come and leave and so they come in kind of in the middle of this process and then they leave before its done.”
Gingrich-Gaylord says the work he does adds variation to Prairie View’s program, and he is glad the organization sees the value of creative expression.
“Especially when it comes to people with mental illness,” says Gingrich-Gaylord. “It’s a fair thing that you can say about people who are struggling with mental illness, it’s a sense of being stuck and there is a sense of kind of repeating the same old things and not know how to get out of what you are dealing with.”
Art therapy, he says, is a way of dealing with that sensation and a way of reimagining your story in a more poetic fashion.
“And that is really the aim,” he says.