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Creative Counseling: Drawing Alum Uses Art to Help Kids Communicate

Posted December 16, 2015 in AlumniDrawing

After graduating from Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD), Claire Holman (’11, Drawing) put her degree to creative use when she moved to Korea to teach English. By drawing pictures to help explain certain concepts to the students and encouraging them to draw to solidify the learning, Holman used art as a language of its own.

KCAD alumna Claire HolmanClaire Holman (image courtesy of Claire Holman)

“I used art to teach English because children learn differently, and some are visual learners. Using art helped the children understand and make connections to things better,” she says. “Art is universal, it's not one language or expression through speaking, but it gives freedom for people, especially kids, to express themselves beyond words, to identify different feelings, and to learn.”

Holman returned from Korea with a heightened sense of purpose and a new goal: to become an art therapist, enabling patients to use their creativity to explore their feelings, address internal conflicts, heighten self-awareness, strengthen social skills, lessen anxiety, and increase self-esteem.

KCAD alumna Claire Holman in KoreaHolman (2nd from right) in Korea during her time teaching English there (image courtesy of Claire Holman)

Though a relatively young mental health profession – British artist Adrian Hill first coined the term ‘art therapy’ in 1942 – art therapy is flourishing in the 21st century. Guided by art therapists, patients of all ages have discovered new ways of improving their mental health by doing everything from painting and drawing to sculpting and building.

Holman now works with kids in grades K-6 as the primary therapist at a school in Montana. She says her time at KCAD helped her develop a broad understanding of art and art making that enables her to meet each of her clients’ individual needs.

“There’s a huge advantage for creative professionals within the field of art therapy, not only because we have such a great education in our own artistic discipline, but also because we have a good education in all of the arts … having the art background, we’re taught to see the world differently.”

artwork by KCAD alumna Claire Holman(above and below) some of Holman’s own artwork (images courtesy of Claire Holman)

artwork by KCAD alumna Claire Holman

To become an art therapist, Holman earned a Master of Science in Art Therapy degree from Mount Mary University. While the psychology component of her graduate studies was relatively new territory, Holman was able to pick it up quickly. More importantly, she found that her experience at KCAD learning a variety of methods and materials really bolstered her confidence.

Many people who study art therapy at the graduate level come from undergraduate programs in psychology, and Holman says some of those in her Masters program with a psychology background struggled with learning how to use art as a means of engagement.

“When it came to the art, which to me is what this profession is, I felt very confident in my knowledge and abilities,” she says.

Sometimes an art therapist may be the first person to show a student how to work with art materials to express and communicate, and Holman believes communication is what art therapy is all about. “I see it as a way to express emotion when verbal communication may not be possible,” she says. “It’s hard sometimes to answer that question ‘How do you feel?’ - especially if you’re a young kid.”

For instance, if Holman is working with a student who has anger issues, she may not have them sit quietly and paint. Instead, Holman says she would give them something more active. “I think we would build something using nails and wood or cardboard. Actually physically making something helps them get some of that frustration out in a healthy way.”

Holman says the most rewarding part of her job is using her own creative talents to activate others’, and seeing the outcome when they’ve made a breakthrough is something she finds especially fulfilling.

“I’m a believer that the reason we work the way we do is to help other people. That’s just my own philosophy, whether that’s through making art or doing art therapy,” she says. “For me it’s sharing my knowledge of the beautiful thing we do called art, and using it in a profession that offers guidance to support people. Art is a really powerful thing.”

Click for more information on KCAD’s undergraduate programs.


  • Ian January 7, 2016

    I have a degree in fine art and also taught in Korea, Taiwan and China. You can definitely use your creativity to help teach English.

    Images are key in teaching especially at the lower levels and chances are you’ll have a whiteboard and markers.

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