Alumni Profile

Portrait of the Artist as a Therapist

Art Therapist Jennifer DeLucia '06G

by Sofia Tokar

The beneficial and cathartic powers of art have long intrigued Jennifer DeLucia ’06G. “In high school and college, art-making in general—and oil painting in particular—allowed me to explore and sort through my experiences.” While earning her B.F.A., a friend told DeLucia about art therapy as a potential career, one that combines art-making with helping others. She decided to learn more about the field.

Art therapy is a mental health profession that uses creativity and art-making to improve and enhance the well-being of individuals. Artistic self-expression can help people resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight. Art therapists use a variety of methods with clients, including painting, drawing, ceramics, sculpture, and photography.

After earning her master’s degree in creative arts therapy from Nazareth, DeLucia worked with children for several years. Then in October 2010, her attention focused on a new population— area veterans—when she was hired as the first art therapist at the Veterans Outreach Center, a non-profit organization in Rochester, N.Y., that provides supportive services to veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families.

“I arrived at the VOC and figured out how I could arrange my small office to make art therapy work. My desk drawer became the storage for art materials. The center had never invested in a long-term art therapy program in-house before. So I presented on art therapy to the staff—what it is, how it works, what kind of resources we would need for a successful clinical program. It was a different approach than anything they had done before, and the management learned how art therapy could benefit the veteran population.”

As a result, DeLucia’s drawer of art materials expanded into an office with dedicated spaces (including an art studio) for individual and group art therapy sessions, along with additional staff and interns to assist the veterans’ increased interest in these services. DeLucia now coordinates these resources for more than 140 clients as the director of wellness and supportive services at the center.

“We work with a segment of the population that may not be eligible for VA benefits, so we become their primary clinicians for therapy, counseling, and other services. The art therapy is important because it empowers these veterans to express themselves, to help process and transform the emotions and recollections of their combat experiences.”

In February 2012, the VOC opened its own exhibition space, Our House Gallery. The gallery holds monthly exhibitions in which the veterans themselves help arrange the artwork displays and lighting, create the descriptions accompanying the submissions, organize the opening receptions, and promote the events to the media.

In March 2013, the gallery featured Faces of Veterans: A Group Exhibit of Veteran Masks, in which 23 veterans, including VOC staff, came together and created plaster masks of one another’s faces that they then decorated and displayed. “Sharing their stories, having them witnessed and validated by family, friends, and the community has therapeutic benefits that reach beyond the benefits of the art therapy session,” DeLucia explains.

Although DeLucia’s commitment to art therapy extends beyond her work at the VOC (she is enrolled in an art therapy doctorate program and also serves as president of the newly formed Western New York Art Therapy Association), her favorite part of the job is being in the studio with the veterans.

“Each session and person is different. We can help them with materials, techniques, ideas, but the studio ultimately becomes their space, and the artwork promotes opportunities for self- expression and healing. It’s amazing how much a person can discover about themselves and the world when they open up to the art therapy process.”

Sofia Tokar is the assistant editor in Nazareth’s marketing department.

Jennifer DeLucia

Jennifer DeLucia '06G, director of wellness and supportive services at Rochester’s Veterans Outreach Center, in the VOC's Our House Gallery.

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