At a time when talking about mental health is more important than ever, Ashley Stielow, MS, LPCC, ATR, offers a different approach to treatment through her practice of providing art therapy. With her colorful office currently located in downtown Fargo, Stielow has over 16 years of professional art therapy experience under her belt.
Stielow, a clinical counselor and art therapist, studied art and psychology at North Dakota State University before getting her master’s degree in art therapy from Eastern Virginia Medical School. She has worked in a variety of health settings–schools, clinics, hospitals, shelters, churches–before opening her own practice right in the heart of Fargo.
“I knew Fargo-Moorhead could really use this service, so I had always really wanted to bring it back to this area too. I’ve been providing mental health services in this community since 2003, but I worked out on the east coast before that,” she said. “I worked at a few community mental health places – I did that for a long time and loved it, but I was really looking forward to being able to do the work the way I wanted to do the work. Then I started Inner Canvas Counseling in 2018.”
So what is art therapy, exactly? Although the term somewhat speaks for itself, there are more important details involved that separate this type of therapy from verbal articulation alone. And if you’re far from an artist, that’s more than okay. You don’t have to have any sort of creative skill or background to engage or benefit from art therapy.
According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy is an “integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families and communities through active art-making, creative processes, applied psychological theory and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.” Art therapists are master-level, certified clinicians who work across a variety of practices to help people of all ages who are challenged with medical and mental health problems, as well as individuals seeking emotional, creative and spiritual growth.
“We have a strong response to visual imagery. There’s something so good about that too, because if you think about traditional talk therapy – think about how you go to work or school and people ask you how you’re doing and you say what? We always say the same thing: good.” said Stielow. “If people come here and say things are ‘good’, I can often get them into an art process and say, ‘Here’s what I’m noticing,’ and it really allows for some deeper work to happen.”
Stielow runs all individual appointments, as well as couple or family sessions on a case-by-case basis. Everything is specific to the client based on what comes out in their drawings, which look different for everyone based on what they’re struggling with. She’s trained to work with start-of-school-aged children and on through late adulthood, but she really isn’t limited to who she can treat. When someone comes in for the first time, Stielow will conduct what she calls an art assessment to find what she needs to pay attention to in treatment. Things such as anxiety or depression can emerge in one’s drawings, and Stielow then takes the next necessary steps to outline an art-based treatment plan that works best for the individual. Stielow herself also sets time aside for her own personal artistic growth and therapy in her home studio, so that she can remain competent in all types of art for her clients.
“I really love how we can do some really great identity-building work that maybe they’ve missed along the way–teaching them how to look at what their art is telling them,” said Stielow. “When you think about it, when you go to sleep at night and have a dream and you wake up and you’re like, ‘I wonder what that’s about’ – the same thing can happen when we draw. We go to a place where it allows our subconscious to speak. So things come out that we aren’t always aware of, day to day. Art allows us to get in touch with our true emotions and express them.”
It’s important to know that you don’t have to have any artistic ability to participate in art therapy, and that sessions are highly individualized so that you can get the proper help you need. Per, Stielow’s website, “With active participation, most clients report increased success with incorporation of healthier lifestyle choices and increased relaxation into daily life.” Always remember the importance of mental health, and that help is always out there. You don’t have to go about anything alone, and Inner Canvas Counseling is only one click, email or phone call away.
To request an appointment with Ashley, click here.