Saturday, June 22, 2024

Healing through art

By: Ryanne McIsaac

As a certified art therapist, art educator and artist, Lori Deeley knows first-hand how important the healing properties of art can be.

“Art can be a wonderful vehicle to express and deal with difficult emotions,” she said.  “It can help us to process and express our feelings, handle emotional conflicts, increase self-awareness and reduce stress.”

Originally from Musquodoboit Harbour, Nova Scotia, Deeley moved to Stephenville in 2001. She started her career as an art educator at Stephenville High School, moving to College of the North Atlantic (CNA) in 2011 to teach in the Visual Arts program.

After completing a post-graduate certificate in Art Therapy, she worked as a Program Developer for Wellness at CNA Headquarters in Stephenville using Art Therapy to teach employees about its health benefits as a coping mechanism. 

“In my role as a Wellness Program Developer, I planned and implemented art and wellness workshops, lunch and learn sessions, in-class projects utilizing art therapy, and online mini-courses for stress reduction, relaxation and anxiety for all staff and students across the province.”

Deeley currently teaches the Art & Design Essentials Program at CNA and is developing an Art & Wellness elective. After hours, she works on her art therapy practice. 

“Sometimes thoughts can be difficult to express verbally, no matter a person’s age, especially for those who have experienced trauma – mental or physical,” she said. “For those people, drawin

Lori Deeley Art & Design Essentials Instructor at the Bay St. George Campus in Stephenville, NL.

g, dancing, singing, sewing, collaging, creating digital art or sculpting can be extremely therapeutic.”

Deeley explains that art can be part of the healing process for many people.   

“Art therapy combines images, colour and shapes to help individuals express thoughts and feelings as a part of a creative therapeutic process,” she said. “This can help people connect and better understand their feelings and behaviour so they can resolve stress, improve self-esteem, symptoms of anxiety and depression and cope with a physical illness or trauma.”

Deeley brings her passion for art therapy to the many Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy (MBAT) initiatives she heads as a part of CNA’s provincial Wellness Committee.

“Part of my Wellness Program Development work was to create a suite of five self-directed mindfulness-based stress reduction courses which was made available for employees to complete at their own pace,” she said.

“When COVID-19 struck and shutdowns forced many of us to work from home, these courses were offered to the general public and the uptake was incredible as more than 1,000 people registered to partake in these courses which were offered free of charge.”

Deeley says she has spent many hours volunteering within her community through youth and adult programs, with organizations such as the Bay St. George Long Term Care Centre, Western Health’s Mental Health & Addictions grief group, YMCA Summer Day Camp program, the Kindale Public Library and Stephenville High School.

During the pandemic, Deeley noticed that seniors were hit hard by the lockdowns. This observation led her to create a project which paired up seniors living in long-term care with volunteers across Canada to become pen pals. Deeley gave a watercolour workshop to a group of seniors who then mailed their works of art to their newfound pen pals. In return, the volunteers replied to these artworks with handmade cards which they sent to their senior pen pals. Some of the pen pal relationships continued long after the program finished.

“We as humans yearn for, and thrive on, connection with each other. Seniors especially felt this isolation with the necessary visitor restrictions in long-term care homes,” she said.  “What better way to connect with seniors than through art and the mail? There is something precious and exciting about receiving a note, letter, or package in the mail.”

Tree of Life Project  

Another project Deeley started with her fellow employees at CNA was the Tree of Life project. This activity came out of her research into collective narrative therapy, which enables people to speak about their lives in ways that make them stronger.

“It encouraged people to draw their own tree of life in which they get to speak of their roots (where they come from), their skills and knowledges, their hopes and dreams, as well as the special people in their lives,” she said.  “As an extension of the Tree of Life project, participants wrote a hope, wish or dream about CNA – these quotes were written anonymously on ribbons and attached to a graduation robe which is hung in the college’s Human Resources Department.”  

Ribbons with hopes for CNA are pinned to a graduation robe that hangs in the Human Resources Department as part of the Tree of Life project.

One of her favourite projects to date has been her work with Western Health’s Mental Health & Addictions Grief Group, where she conducted sessions for two women’s group to help them cope with grief.

“Using an ancient Japanese art form Kintsugi (a way of celebrating broken ceramics), participants fused broken ceramic bowls together with glue, to reflect a powerful metaphor in life: Nothing is ever truly broken and although it will never be the same, it can be repaired and valued by wearing its scars with pride.”

When she is not working or volunteering, Deeley enjoys outdoors activities, such as swimming, kayaking, and cross-country skiing as well as painting. This year she is just finishing up a personal challenge to swim in 100 different swimming spots in Newfoundland. She is creating paintings of these 100 spots to put in a solo art exhibition at the Tina Dolter Gallery, Corner Brook in May, 2022.

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Ryanne McIsaac
Ryanne McIsaac
Ryanne is Editor of CNA Currents. Born and raised in Stephenville, NL, Ryanne moved back to Newfoundland after spending 16 years in Calgary, Alberta. Ryanne has a Journalism Diploma from College of the North Atlantic and a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Cape Breton University. She worked for many years as a reporter and freelance writer. She is happy to be back in her hometown and working for CNA.


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