Your Gifts at Work: The Healing Power of Art

January 22, 2015
Topics: Riley Staff Profiles, Child Life

Cassie Dobbs Real Blog Image
Riley Art Therapist Cassie Dobbs

Today’s guest on the Riley Blog is living proof of the life-changing impact donations through Riley Children’s Foundation have on children at Riley Hospital.

Riley Art Therapist Cassie Dobbs is a University of Cincinnati graduate, and she completed her Master of Arts in Art Therapy at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Before joining Riley Hospital for Children in 2014, Cassie worked at another children’s hospital where she began a bereavement program. Cassie has a professional counseling license, and has worked previously at a domestic violence shelters and psychiatric inpatient facilities.

We asked Cassie some questions about her personal passions, and the significance of art therapy at Riley, which is 100% funded by donations.

Q: Tell us a little about your background, and what drew you to the field of art therapy?

A: I have always been an artist, as long as I can remember. Even though my mom is a doctor, she always encouraged me to follow my creativity. When I finished high school I only had one interest and that was to be an artist. I started my undergraduate education at the University of Cincinnati as a fine arts painting major. During my first year in college, a personal tragedy hit my family. Struck with feelings of grief and loss, I turned to my art as a way to process my trauma. I was spending five days a week making art in school, and I know that art is what got me through. It was at this point I got my first touch of the healing power of art making. I knew there was something to this so I began to do some research, which is when I discovered art therapy.

Q: What is the purpose of art therapy, and how does it benefit patients?

A: Art therapy’s main objective is to promote healing. It is a career based in mental health. Art therapists must obtain master’s degrees in order to practice. These degrees are dually concentrated in mental health and using art making within a therapeutic relationship. The art therapist’s main job is making sure a patient is not only coping well in a hospital environment, but that they have an outlet for emotional expression. What is extra special about art therapy is that words are not always needed. Sometimes, when words are not enough or a child simply does not have the language to express how they are feeling, we can use non-verbal communication through art making and visual elements.

Q: What do you love most about your work?

A: I love so many things about being an art therapist including getting to share my passion of art with others. But, the most rewarding thing about it is when you encounter what I like to call a “magical moment.” This is a moment when you are in a session with a patient and they have this incredible connection with you and the materials. It is when just making art transforms into a profound moment in their journey. It is when you are suddenly reminded why you chose to do this work. It is a moment when you know in your heart that you have made a real difference. It’s what gives you the strength to come back tomorrow. 

Q: What is the most challenging part?

A: Everything that is challenging about this job also comes with a reward. One of the hardest things to do as a therapist is to hold your client’s stories. We hear stories of heartache, trauma, and loss on a regular basis. It is our job to hear these stories, hold them, and keep them safe for our clients. This is a big responsibility. However, we also get to hear stories of healing, happiness, and success. Art is a narrative; it is a chance to tell our stories. No matter what the story, I feel honored to hear and see it.

Q: What is your message for Riley Children's Foundation donors who support Riley Hospital and the art therapy program?

A: We are so fortunate to be completely funded by generous donations from the community. What this means to me is that our community here in Indianapolis really believes in what art therapy and creativity can do for the children at Riley. It is such a special service that we can provide for the families. We are very fortunate that these donors see the impact art therapy has on the patients. However, our program and many others need continued support from the community to keep offering these amazing services. My main message to donors is to say THANK YOU for your continuing support.

Riley Blogger

The Riley Blog is written and/or edited by members of the Riley Children's Foundation Communications Staff.

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