The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday April 13th

N.C. Art Therapy Institute shifts to provide creativity online

<p>N.C. Art Therapy Institute in Carrboro utilizes the power creativity and expression to help people heal and manage internal imbalances.&nbsp;Photo courtesy of Bridget Pember-Smith.</p>
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N.C. Art Therapy Institute in Carrboro utilizes the power creativity and expression to help people heal and manage internal imbalances. Photo courtesy of Bridget Pember-Smith.

People are increasingly seeking mental health support, but when people aren't able to see each other, organizations that provide this kind of support are becoming more important. N.C. Art Therapy Institute, located in Carrboro, has developed therapy even more to focus on providing the tools that different communities need.

Art therapy focuses on utilizing creativity to express oneself with intentions of healing and managing internal imbalances. 

Hillary Rubesin, clinical director of the N.C. Art Therapy Institute, placed a strong emphasis on the importance of working with the community in the organization’s overall mission. 

“We definitely are a community-based therapy organization, so we collaborate a lot with other nonprofits," Rubesin said. "Really, our goal is to make mental health services available to our really diverse community in the Triangle, and beyond with COVID.”

The N.C. Art Therapy Institute is partnered with a variety of nonprofits across the Triangle. The institute works hard to serve others where they are, allowing the experiences from organization to organization to vary depending on what will best suit their audience. 

“One of the tenets of community-based therapy is to go where the clients are to make therapy more accessible,” Rubesin said. “A lot of our work is generally going into school systems, going into nursing homes, after school programs and hospitals – just going where the clients are to provide services that way."

Since March, the institute has worked by using online resources. Whether through Zoom or Google Meet, FaceTime or over the phone, the organization has worked with its clients to find what best suits them. 

Bridget Pemberton-Smith, the executive director of the N.C. Art Therapy Institute, said even though the experience is not the same as before the pandemic, resources can be used to make it feel pretty close. 

“There’s actually a lot of great art apps so you can do art directly on the apps, but we have also been sending supplies to our clients so they can do artwork along with us, while we are online,” Pemberton-Smith said.

Families Moving Forward, a nonprofit homeless shelter in Durham, worked in a community partnership with N.C. Art Therapy Institute beginning in 2016. The hope of the collaboration was to provide more mental health support to the families in the shelter. 

Tasha Melvin, the director of partnership and programs, discussed the institute's lasting impact on Families Moving Forward. Melvin said although the two discontinued their direct partnership due to complications with grants, Families Moving Forward has continued to implement art therapy consistently in their transitioning. 

“The therapists use a variety of mediums to help families or parents to center themselves in order to identify any stressors or triggers,” Melvin said. “This can help them find a way of releasing them artistically.”

With such an emphasis on community, volunteers have been an essential part of functioning for the N.C. Art Therapy Institute. Due to the current climate with COVID-19, volunteers do not fit as easily into the picture with everything being hosted online. The institute has continued to stay engaged in the community by hosting a variety of workshops. 

“We are trying to ramp up efforts on how we are going to be doing virtual things this year instead of community-based in-person events, and I’m sure volunteers will play a big role in that,” Pemberton-Smith said. 

In such a crucial time to support the community, the N.C. Art Therapy Institute has shifted its methods in a way that continues to benefit so many. 

“It was a little daunting trying to figure out how to do art therapy online, but it can be done,” Pemberton-Smith said.


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