Mary Knapp Cash believes everyone has a voice. Years ago in college, this board-certified art therapist found hers. Now with a brand new practice in Woodstock, she’s ready to help others find theirs.
Cash is passionate that art therapy, an emerging field among mental health professionals, has a unique power to heal. Her office is the first of its kind in Shenandoah County and she’s ready to demonstrate how the innovative approach can change lives.
“I’ll never forget my first extreme emotional reaction to art,” Cash said. “In college I had a classmate take a single archway and multiply it for a 2D design assignment. She grouped them together into this beautiful collage. As I looked at her artwork, I started to cry. I felt confusion and the unknown of being in my twenties with no direction. I had been depressed during this time but unable to put it into words. The artwork my friend created suddenly illustrated everything I was feeling. So I started to create collages and photographs to express myself, to process, to put a voice to my insecurities, emotions and trauma.”
That voice is what drove Cash to launch her practice. She believes art therapy helps clients of all ages realize they own real power. “With my help, they create something that can help them understand their individual pain.”
Armed with a master’s degree in mental health counseling and a specialization in art therapy from the University of Louisville, Cash has helped clients with anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, trauma, autism, low self-esteem and grief.
“There’s a myth,” Cash said, “that art therapists just have you draw and then interpret it for you. Not at all! In a typical session, we prompt you to create something and then assist you with interpreting what it might mean. Clients are the experts on their own art.”
For those who doubt they can benefit from art therapy because they’re not artistic, Cash offers a simple retort. “Baloney!” Cash believes everyone can create and is therefore an artist. She maintains that benefiting from this groundbreaking type of therapy requires no natural artistic ability.
“Simply put, art is a way to help you communicate thoughts and feelings that can be difficult to express verbally,” Cash explained. “This form of psychotherapy can help you relax and give insight into your struggles. Sessions help you express and process issues through art that might be difficult in traditional talk therapy.”
Cash added that a typical session begins much like more traditional therapy. Cash and her clients identify goals or something stressful they’d like to work on together. Then she invites them to create a piece of art related to that issue. “All my clients need is a willingness to give the process a try. It can be as simple as drawing stick figures, to collage images, symbols, or to make something out of clay or other art forms.”
After they complete their art intervention, clients reflect on their creations and identify insights they had while working. Using years of training, Cash knows to ask the right questions to help process effectively and to facilitate healthy dialogue. “As we conclude, we often summarize the session and assign them to focus on something over the next week. But sometimes a client will simply say they wanted to create and not necessarily reflect on it. And that’s OK, too.”
More than anything, Cash hopes Shenandoah County will embrace this innovative approach to exploring and improving mental health. While new to the valley, Cash said art therapy has been proven to be extremely effective in many other parts of the country.
“Now it’s your turn to find your own voice,” Cash concluded.
Just as she found hers.
For more information, visit www.creativehealingva.com or call 540-217-3115.