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Alyssa Rose Crenshaw is the Assistant Clinical Program Manager of the Psychiatric Day Treatment Program at Trillium Family Services, Oregon’s largest mental and behavioral health provider for children and their families. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Registered Art Therapist (LPC, ATR) with a master’s degree from Marylhurst University’s top-ranked art therapy counseling graduate program.

The influence of children’s mental health on society

Tragically, nearly 33 million children nationwide (339 thousand children in the state of Oregon alone) have experienced some type of trauma according to the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health. Research led by the Center for Disease Control and Prevision also reports that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which include physical, emotional or sexual abuse, neglect, mental illness, violence and more; perpetuate violence, victimization and leave a lasting impression on the health and advancement of society. These staggering statistics are perceived as a public health threat by a growing number of organizations across Portland who are resolved to use creative art therapies to engage community, reverse the negative effects of trauma and build a generation of responsible citizens with confident communication, social and self-management skills.

“Children who experience trauma require help managing their mental health symptoms and behavioral needs. We help both our clients and their families learn skills, improve safety, increase their support systems and experience stability in different areas of their lives” says Alyssa Rose Crenshaw, Assistant Clinical Program Manager of the Psychiatric Day Treatment Program at Trillium Family Services. Trillium Family Services is Oregon’s largest mental and behavioral health provider for children and their families. Crenshaw is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Registered Art Therapist (LPC, ATR) with a master’s degree from Marylhurst University’s top-ranked art therapy counseling graduate program.

“I have witnessed clients who have previously never been successful or felt safe in school environments, become excited to learn, make friends, show others what they can do, and challenge themselves to grow. Clients who once struggled to understand their own emotions enough to safely manage them, have built the skills necessary to identify, manage, and communicate their emotions to others, and then advocate for themselves in order to tell others what they need to maintain emotional safety.”

Art therapy plays a vital role in helping children understand the trauma they have experienced, their own mental health, and provides them with the tools, confidence and support systems to become contributing, engaged citizens.

Numerous studies on the efficacy of art therapy have been published in the Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, which conclude art therapy is an effective method of treatment for a wide variety of symptoms, age groups and disorders including trauma, sexual violence, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and more.

“Art therapy is a distinct mental health profession that offers benefits beyond any specific diagnosis, problem or presentation” says Dr. Mary Andrus, Art Therapy Program Director and Assistant Professor at Marylhurst University. As a practicing, board-certified registered art therapist and clinical professional counselor, Dr. Andrus is also the founder of Art Therapy Studio Chicago Ltd.

“Making art is healing. For some, making art helps extract a feeling, experience or pain out of the body, and through seeing it, the creator is able to make meaning. As art therapists we have the privilege to help people overcome difficulties in a non-traditional method that stimulates growth, self-awareness and capacity for connection through making and viewing art.”

5 organizations using art therapy to support Portland-area youth

1. Trillium Family Services

As Oregon’s largest mental and behavioral health provider for children and families, Trillium Family Services supports the most vulnerable populations in Oregon. In the Portland metro area alone, Trillium Family Services serves thousands of children and their families, providing art therapy counseling, among other support services, in various levels of care from outpatient to residential treatment settings. Art therapists engage a variety of art based approaches and mediums in response to each client’s needs. “I take pride in offering a variety of art based approaches to meet clients where they are at and allow them to guide the direction of treatment. Sewing and fabric based arts have a particularly healing quality and offer clients the opportunity to feel a sense of control and mastery which they may have rarely experienced before,” says Alyssa Rose Crenshaw.

Trillium Family Services is a leader in the Mental Health Matters Movement, a nation-wide effort to fight mental health stigma, reduce barriers to treatment and improve the community’s overall mental health. Through a comprehensive Keep Oregon Well campaign Trillium activates its mission through local schools, street teams, podcasts and community events.

2. Free Arts NW

Underserved youth, many who live in foster care or in oppressed communities, have the opportunity to express themselves and build meaningful relationships through Free Arts NW. As a non-profit organization, Free Arts NW unites mentors, volunteers and partner organizations to deliver arts education and collaborative projects in a safe environment for artistic exploration, community connections and mentorship. One of Free Arts NW hallmark programs is its Spring Break Young Filmmakers Camp. "By creating an inclusive environment, teens from diverse backgrounds, including immigrant and foster care homes, learn, grow, and heal through the filmmaking process. Whether they’re drawn to acting, directing, or editing, theybegin to imagine education and careers they previously never thought possible” says Kris Bella, co-founder and the Executive Director of Free Arts NW. Kris received her Master’s in Art Therapy Counseling from Marylhurst University, where she is now an assistant professor.

3. Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel

The Art Therapy Program at Randall Children’s Hospital engages patients and their siblings in drawing, painting and sculpture. Each session, led by nationally registered and board-certified art therapists, gives patients and their families the tools to recognize, process and communicate their feelings in response to illness, injury or difficult life situations through both verbal and non-verbal means.
For hospitalized children, art therapy can shift their attention away from pain, stress, physical or emotional loss, and provide a sense of normalcy.

4. Kinship House

For more than two decades, Kinship House has delivered outpatient mental health services to children and families in the foster care and adoption systems. Art therapists, along with mental health counselors and medical providers support children and families as they navigate the sensitive transitions between foster care, reunification and adoption. At Kinship House, the unique experiences, fears and expectations of each child and parent are recognized and addressed through individual and group therapy sessions that build trust and security as a foundation for lasting permanent relationships.

5. Caldera

Each year, more than 430 youth from Oregon’s urban and rural communities engage in self-exploration through art and environmental programs hosted by Caldera. At Caldera, youth with little educational and economic resources receive mentorship and develop skills that enable them to apply creativity to solve life problems, altering the way they contribute to family and community. Following high school graduation, Caldera students receive education and career guidance as they consider professions and a quality of life they previously would have never thought possible. Students are eligible to apply for the Caldera Scholarship at Marylhurst University and the National Resource Assistants Internship program with the U.S. Forest Service. Caldera has been named one of the nation’s top youth art programs and was honored with a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from First Lady Michelle Obama in 2015.

Learn more about the influence of art therapy within the youth community and discover opportunities to inspire change through the art therapy counseling program at Marylhurst University. The nationally top-ranked, Portland-based-program is built on a foundation of experiential learning that allows students to engage community and integrate creative process within therapeutic and clinical settings. The Marylhurst art therapy program is a community resource for those who wish to study or simply participate in the therapeutic powers of art.