Art Therapy Graduate Students Launch Telehealth Therapy Services During Pandemic

When the coronavirus pandemic started, LMU’s Marital and Family/Art Therapy Department immediately saw the need for their services increase, as so many different populations were suddenly plunged into instability, job loss, social and emotional issues, and health concerns, with little safety net. The department immediately leapt into action, expanding their services to provide free or low-cost virtual therapy to some of the most marginalized communities of Los Angeles through the Helen B. Landgarten Art Therapy Clinic.

One important requirement of completing the MFT program is for our graduate students to provide direct service in the field, putting into practice the theories and skills they’ve learned over the course of their graduate education. In selecting agencies to work with, they deliberately choose those that serve the most marginalized communities in the city, which are often funded by the Department of Mental Health.

In total, ten of the MFT graduate students have been providing art therapy services through the HBL Clinic to ten different schools in the Catholic Schools Collaborative. Catholic Schools Collaborative is a non-profit that works in collaboration with the Diocese and the fifteen highest need schools in LA. During a time of great uncertainty and a public health crisis, receiving these art therapy services from LMU graduate students was transformative for the students and families of these marginalized communities.

Kathleen Fogel-Richmond, the MFT Practicum Coordinator, organizes all the clinical training for the students. “In March, we ended up quickly shifting to telehealth and expanding our services to the entire community serving the Catholic Schools Collaborative in addition to our usual partners,” Kathleen told us. “The graduate students were not only providing services to the students from the schools, but also the families of those students, the teachers, the principals, and others. We are able to offer these services for free to anyone who wanted to come, and we provided hundreds of hours of service to these communities.”

Jessica Blanchi, the Clinical Director of the Helen B. Landgarten Clinic spoke to some the challenges the graduate students faced while providing art therapy services through online video calls. “Our clinicians had to be very savvy in terms of finding art materials. Part of the group was going around your house and finding traditional and non-traditional materials,” Jessica explained. “The metaphor for this is that many different things can act as a resource. It becomes a question of ‘what in your space can assist you?’, changing the mindset from being at a deficit to finding the resources and materials that can help you. There’s a really beautiful cohesion and support that was brought out as clients discovered various materials that could work.”

In addition to working with the Catholic Schools Collaborative, the graduate students also continued to work with the LMU Family of Schools. “We reached out to the LMU Family of Schools, who were eager to partner with us. And as a result, we had family groups coming from all different parts of Los Angeles,” Jessica said. “We did a workshop for three weeks that was structured as a drop-in group where middle school students would work with our graduate students to receive art therapy services.”

The graduate students also provided service to Thomas Riley High School in Watts, a school for parenting and pregnant young women, and the program is looking to further expand their telehealth services to that community. “We’re in the process of offering virtual groups to the youth at Thomas Riley High School, which we weren’t able to do in the spring,” said Jessica. “We’re also using this opportunity to expand to not only work with the youth but also provide family therapy to the youth and their children, which would have been more difficult to accomplish before.”

The MFT Art Therapy Program has been thrilled with the number of services they were able to provide with Catholic School Collaborative’s schools, families, and communities, and are now doubling their services thanks to a $25,000 grant to increase art therapy services with the schools.

“Our graduate students are getting way experience than they ever could have anticipated because they are learning both traditional therapy in-person, as well as virtual therapy,” Kathleen told us. “They’re going to come out at graduation ready for the field of telehealth. I think our students are going to be well positioned for the new reality of providing mental health services in the future.”