Building Bridges: New Program Links Art, Healing

By Ric Burrous

Juliet King

Juliet King, director of the IU Herron School of Art and Design’s fledgling art therapy program

Sir William Osler, one of the founders of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 19th century, once said, “The practice of medicine is an art.” Juliet King, director of the IU Herron School of Art & Design’s fledgling art therapy program, believes that sentiment is true in reverse—the art-making process has its own therapeutic benefits to offer.

The program, in its first full year of operation, is the only one of its kind in the state. And it’s already building relationships and connections across the IUPUI campus and throughout central Indiana. Using artistic skills like painting, sculpture, and drawing, people with deep-seated needs can find their way back to sound mental health.

The field isn’t widely understood, King says. “So many people don’t know what art therapy is, so it is important for pioneers who are expanding it to explain it clearly,” she says. “We all relate to the world around us nonverbally, through symbolic expression. It’s the way we are made. At its heart, art therapy is a bridge between art and science.”

Though Herron’s program is new, the field has been in existence for years, and King herself is a veteran, dating back to her education and early professional years in her native Pennsylvania. She is a natural for the field, with roots in both art and psychology.

“I understand firsthand the importance of the creative process. But I also have an interest in psychology, in understanding why people work the way they do,” says King. The Herron program offers current and future students who follow in her footsteps a wide range of career paths to choose from—and that’s what excites her. “The coolest thing about art therapy is it’s so flexible. Our grads can be clinicians and work at children’s hospitals, in corrections facilities, in public and private schools, and even in the nonprofit sector.”

The art therapy program has hit the ground running and is taking full advantage of the resources available at IUPUI, thanks to the planning and preparation by leaders like Herron Dean Valerie Eickmeier—and key figures in the IU School of Medicine and throughout the IU Health system.

“This campus has so much to offer a program like ours, and I believe we have a lot to offer, too,” King says. “Art therapy is a valuable tool to help people cope with the problems they face, from depression to physical and emotional trauma. So much of what people have to face is locked inside parts of the brain and body that we can’t easily access. But that part of the brain that can be reached by artistic thoughts and expressions becomes a way for people to express the things that are bothering them. Then, they can begin to deal with those problems.”

The campus offers plenty of potential partnerships, which include IUPUI’s programs on behalf of U.S. military veterans who are patients in the Riley Hospital for Children and other IU Health facilities. Off-campus collaborations in community-based programs like mental health facilities, public schools, and Wishard/Eskenazi Health provide practical experience and training, blended with real-world assistance, for the next generation of art therapists.

The beauty of art therapy, King insists, is that it “transcends all kinds of barriers—social, economic, language, and psychological defenses,” she says. “Through creating art, whether it’s drawing, painting, sculpting— anything, really—people learn to relax, channel what they’re feeling, and learn that they are not alone. All around them, they see others who have similar experiences. They can relate to each other, feel less helpless, and more empowered!”