Rebecka Ibarra ’22 put into practice her double major in Art and Art History and Psychology last summer by working remotely as an administrative intern at the Institute of Arts Therapy (ITA).
The ITA, located just outside of Chicago in Evanston, Illinois, practices Creative Arts Therapy, a form of mental health counseling designed to promote physical and emotional health through art, dance, music and theater. These four different creative programs provide patients with a plethora of options, but each serves the same goal: a holistic approach to therapy through the integration of mind and body.
Overall, art therapy attempts to tap into internal feelings and emotions by expressing them externally and tactilely, whether that is dragging a brush across a canvas or dancing to a specific rhythm. Art offers the freedom to make mistakes and start over. The ITA doesn’t focus so much on the end product, but rather on the process of creation and the catharsis of turning the intangible into something that can either be touched or performed.
Ibarra, who is currently studying abroad in Granada, Spain, has worked primarily with major ITA donors by creating an exclusive newsletter detailing updates focused on community partnership. She included plenty of data on the growth of the organization: Since the start of the pandemic, the ITA has increased by more than 50%, a result mainly due to the spiraling mental health crisis.
“I would say [the ITAâs goal is] to provide art therapy accessible to a diverse audience, âIbarra said. “They really focused on quality art therapy and evidence-based art therapy.”
Indeed, despite the emphasis on fine art, the techniques used by the ITA are based on extensive scientific research, both empirical and qualitative. They offer one-on-one sessions, aimed at relieving anxiety, in addition to group or family therapy designed to stimulate relationships and communication.
Ibarra has also worked on two major organizational research projects. The first focused on artistic initiatives focused on healing in the classroom, and the second focused more on equity and diversity through examining the mental health crisis in different demographics. Because patients range from the young to the elderly, ITA is involved in many community organizations, from hospitals and assisted living centers to child welfare services.
“[The research] gave me a good idea that the writing experience I had at Mac will actually translate outside of an academic setting, âIbarra said.
Ibarra was not only able to put her experience into practice in the classroom, but the ITA in turn also gave Ibarra a new perspective to bring back to the classroom.
âI gained first-hand experience of the skills you need to build a real relationship with a donor,â Ibarra said. “[Like] dealing with power imbalances or differences in viewpoints or backgrounds because the liberal arts campus is kind of a bubble. ”
Relationship building played an important role in what she did while working closely with the organization’s director of philanthropy. She sees her internship more as a philanthropy-based experience than an art therapy-based experience, in part because being far away, she was unable to attend art therapy meetings. However, she always followed the subsequent clinical meetings between the therapists and listened as they discussed their sessions.
âI really appreciated the one-on-one connection that art therapists have with their clients,â Ibarra said.
Ibarra learned a lot from her internship, but she plans to travel in the future and therefore doesn’t think she will pursue a career in psychology or therapy after graduation.
She plans to stay in Spain until December, although she plans to extend her stay until January to continue her synthetic research, in which she explores how religious art relates to the âahâ experience that people feel. She is also working to improve her Spanish, which is her third language.
Despite her intention to possibly move away from art therapy, she believes that she will take with her the morals and values ââof her experience at the Institute for Art Therapy in the future.
âI guess it’s about my own confidence and the skills I will bring to every internship and opportunity,â Ibarra said.
To learn more about the Institute for Arts Therapy or to get involved, visit itachicago.org/.