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Program gives young patients creative outlet

Jun. 20, 2013, 9:03 AM

Tarri Driver, M.Ed., works with patient Caleb Clark through the Art Therapy program at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Caleb Clark is a soft-spoken, polite 10-year-old boy who’s not overly talkative. But what emotions and feelings he doesn’t express with words come pouring out with a splash of water colors on paper — joy, sadness, anger, happiness and peace.

Caleb has sickle cell disease, a group of inherited blood disorders, and has suffered several strokes, a common symptom that can accompany the disease. Recovering from a bone marrow transplant aimed to reduce the strokes, he has been a patient at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt for the past month.

To manage the many feelings a long hospital stay can evoke in a child, Caleb has been participating in Children’s Hospital’s Art Therapy program, made possible by a $150,000 grant from the Home Board of the Junior League of Nashville.

“I think the art therapy takes him away from what he is going through, and it allows him to express how he’s feeling; it’s a great outlet,” said Caleb’s mother, Silvia Clark.

Art therapy, and the creative process that goes along with it, can help improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of people of all ages. The benefits include reduced stress, increased self-esteem and self-awareness, empowerment, relaxation and more. Goals are set based on the individual needs of the patient and family.

Tarri Driver, M.Ed., was hired nearly a year ago to establish and develop the program for patients at Children’s Hospital. Previously she had worked as a school-based therapist in the Metro Nashville Public School system.

“Art therapy can be a great way for children to communicate nonverbally,” said Driver. “It helps them to get some of those emotions out that may not come out through talking. I really let the kids lead the session. I want them to have the autonomy to express themselves as much as they feel comfortable doing.”

Driver provides an eclectic buffet of creative materials — popsicle sticks, oil pastels, watercolors, markers, clay, pipe cleaners, glitter, etc. — and helps the child decide which works best for them. She may offer a theme or suggestions to help them get started.

For Caleb, she recommended he use weather to show how he was feeling. He created a four-page, watercolor story of a happy sun that loved a rainbow and was sad and mad when it was hidden behind a large house.

“I asked him to represent his mood using the weather and this great story just evolved,” said Driver.

Art Therapy at Children’s Hospital is a component of a larger Theraputic Arts Program that the grant funds, which includes music therapy as well as education and training in creative arts for Child Life staff.

With the help of Junior League volunteers, Driver has also created a therapeutic art program in the Pediatric Emergency Department waiting rooms for patients, siblings and families to feel more at ease.

The Home Board’s donation expands on a 90-year history of helping children, which began with the “Crippled Home” focus on children physically affected by polio. The goal today has grown to help children with all aspects of their physical, mental, emotional, environmental and economic needs.

“The Home Board of the Junior League is thrilled to have been able to gift the Children’s Hospital with more than $151,000 dollars to establish the Art Therapy program; continuing our long history of partnering with Vanderbilt to care for our children,” said Kerry Dunn, chair of the Home Board.

“Whatever the reason that brings a child to Children’s Hospital, it can be scary and overwhelming. Children are naturally artistic and creative, so allowing them to express their fears, thoughts and emotions through drawing or coloring can help comfort them.”

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