As students return to the classroom at a local middle school, struck by tragedy, IU Health art therapists share their role in helping students cope.
As Noblesville students head back to class following a May 25 school shooting, five IU Health art therapists are humbled, knowing they had a hand in the healing process.
Many students at Noblesville West Middle School experienced emotional trauma following the tragedy. For two days, Riley Hospital art therapists Cassie Dobbs and Emily Allbery, IU Health Simon Cancer Center CompleteLife art therapists Heidi Moffatt and Lisa Rainey and IU Health Methodist Hospital art therapist Jim Beitman volunteered their time working with sixth, seventh, and eighth graders.
“We opened up a classroom and provided an open art studio approach so students could come and go as they needed,” said Dobbs, who serves as president of the Indiana art therapy association (IndiATA). The therapists were part of a larger group of mental health specialists providing crisis intervention support as students returned to their classrooms following the shooting.
Students worked in groups and on their own creating posters and other self-expressions – many showing support for the shooting victims.
“We focused on making the space feel safe and comfortable where they could express themselves through art, through words, or just to get a break when they found it challenging to be back in the classroom,” said Dobbs, adding that at times every seat was filled and many students overflowed onto the floor. In response to their efforts, Second Lady of the United States Karen Pence wrote all the therapists letters of gratitude saying “art therapy is powerful in times like these and I appreciate your willingness to make a difference in this meaningful way.”
Throughout the country, art therapy has been used to help victims readjust to life after tragedy. Most recently, 20 art therapists were on hand to provide support following the Valentine’s Day shooting at Florida’s Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. At IU Health, therapists are specially trained to help both children and adults use art making as a form of therapy to treat anxiety, depression, and psychosocial and emotional difficulties related to illness, trauma and loss.
“While working with the students, one of the biggest things we noticed was their ability to support one another and how important it was for them to be connected and supported by each other,” said Dobbs. “We drew, painted, and glittered many hash tags. There was a lot of school pride in that room.”
— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Banes via email at T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbane