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The Art of Therapy

From Our Neighborhood News, Fall 2022

Evanston’s Institute for Therapy through the Arts (ITA) helps people, families, and communities via its music, art, drama, and dance therapy programs.

According to former director Jenni Rook, creative arts therapy can be more effective for certain people than traditional approaches.

“Everybody needs to approach therapy the way that will work best for them,” she says. Some people have autism, aphasia, or severe trauma or mental health issues that don’t allow them to put their thoughts and feelings into words. “The arts are important because they allow patients to express themselves in a nonverbal way, communicating with a therapist who’s trained to make sense of what they’re creating.”

Rather than speak about an experience, for example, art or music therapy patients might draw a picture or write a song about what happened. Dance-movement therapy connects the mind and body, helping a therapist understand psychological symptoms present in the body and use movement and breath techniques to address them.

Therapists who work with children can help them express themselves through play in a way that will help them cope with anxiety. Says Rook, “The arts allow us to get creative to safely explore things that we don’t feel comfortable putting into words.”

The institute partners with Northwestern in many ways. Some include providing direct services, such as the Parkinson’s disease support group at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and serving people with aphasia at the Center for Audiology, Speech, Language, and Learning.

Additionally, with Northwestern Medicine’s Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease, ITA researchers are studying the effects of a music program on people with dementia and their families. The Musical Bridges to Memory study recently received an National Endowment for the Arts grant to do more of that work.

In another collaboration, Rook was featured during Northwestern faculty member Nina Kraus’s keynote presentation for the American Music Therapy Association’s conference.

“It’s been really great being able to work with the Northwestern patient population and to collaborate, for instance, with speech therapists or doctors in the Alzheimer’s center,” Rook says.

Northwestern students have served as interns in ITA programs, and Kellogg School of Management MBA students have provided ITA with business expertise.

TO LEARN MORE about ITA programs, visit