Recovering through art

Art therapy promotes pathways to wellbeing

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

Acknowledging mental-health struggles is often the first step toward treatment. The second is finding ways to cope with these challenges. For creative types, art therapy is a valuable outlet to express thoughts and nurture a balanced lifestyle.

According to art therapist Adriana Leinberger, art therapy involves creating art whenever needed (like during therapy sessions), instead of drawing, painting or otherwise crafting on one’s own.

In addition to being a counsellor at St. Amant, Leinberger has been involved with Sprucewood Art Therapy Services for more than 12 years. Throughout this time, she has seen art therapy significantly impact youth.

“I have worked with a lot of teenagers, and what I have observed is that they have to use art as a container for their thoughts and feelings. It can often be easier for them to express themselves creatively (as opposed to) having to find the right words when communicating,” she says.

Artbeat Studio, another art program in Winnipeg, helps people struggling with their mental health through an artist-residency program. This course happens twice a year, with up to eight artists involved at a time. The small class sizes enable participants to work collaboratively when transferring their ideas to visual concepts.

“Students stay with us for six months, and at the end of this period, there is a group show where they can display all of the art that they have worked on. It is a great opportunity for them to meet other artists who are also struggling with their mental health,” Uyen Pham, Artbeat Studio’s executive director, says.

After the art show, program participants also have the chance to sell their projects at the Artbeat Studio shop in Portage Place called Upbeat Artworks.

“They volunteer for a shift at the store once a week to sell their art and tell their story. It’s a great way for them to gain employability skills and overcome anxiety when talking to customers,” Pham says.

The executive director has seen firsthand how these opportunities are to help people move past their fears. She recalls a particular student who was initially reluctant to participate because the bus ride seemed dangerous.

“There was one artist who didn’t want to come to our centre, because they had to take the bus there. This person ended up connecting with the group and volunteers with us twice a week,” Pham says.

Apart from the residency, the studio has installed another creative space in Portage Place. Studio Central offers free workshops for anyone over 18.

“We have an average of 14 people coming daily to our workshops. People have really made this part of their routine. There is a participant who joined us for one of the workshops and enjoyed it so much that now it has become a daily activity after work,” Pham says.

A catalyzer for in-depth conversations and coping with stressors, art therapy isn’t a cure, but it’s a valuable resource for maintenance.

For more information about hours, services and upcoming workshops at the Artbeat Studio, visit

Published in Volume 76, Number 17 of The Uniter (February 10, 2022)

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