Yet following the lecture, the therapist, Nancy Nierman-Baker
, shared with me her
personal story: Why she
returned to school in midlife for a master's degree in art therapy.Why she
now works with psychiatric patients.And how she
more fully came to understand the fundamental need we all have to express ourselves -- whatever the means, and especially when we're in trouble.In her work at Akron General Medical Center, Nierman-Baker leads patients in daylong art sessions, where they do activities such as making face masks to portray themselves.
For many patients, the classes are the last alternative to hospitalization.Nierman-Baker
has always been an artist.But it wasn't until she
got sick with cancer, and feared imminent death, that art became such a profound means of expression that it altered the course of her
Fourteen years ago, when she
was diagnosed with third-stage ovarian cancer, her
odds weren't good.Painting became a way to relieve some of the anxiety.
Do you know what she
painted?Herself, in various stages of illness.What she
looked like with a bald head.Or wearing a scarf.Or how she
appeared in the chemotherapy room, with all the equipment around her
talks about her
brush with death as casually as if it were a missed date.The way she
looks at it now, the experience gave her
a new purpose in life.
"Art therapy releases whatever needs to emerge," she
said."The art is the metaphor.Being witness to that can be very humbling."Nierman-Baker
introduced me to a couple of her
associates, who also had stories to tell -- although more along the lines of people turning to art in everyday circumstances.
...Gail Rule-Hoffman, Nierman-Baker's former professor at Ursuline College near Cleveland, said that people sometimes find their lives changed by taking a simple art class.
lecture at the community health fair that day, Nierman-Baker
said that people "learn about themselves through the subconscious."What's important, she
said, is the process "of putting innermost thoughts in tangible form."