General Health

Art Therapy Program at CHNOLA provides outlet for expression for Behavioral Health Patients…One brush stroke at a time

Dayna Haynie, PLPC, ATR and Rachel Hammond, LPC, ATR
Art Therapy Program at CHNOLA provides outlet for expression for Behavioral Health Patients…One brush stroke at a time

A blank canvas can be anything a child can imagine it to be. It can be abstract, like having paint dancing into a blend of bright colors and shapes. It can be grounded in reality, like birds perched on a tree in your backyard, a favorite beach along on the Louisiana coast, the face of someone you love, or the room you reside in while undergoing treatment.

With each stroke of a paint brush, glide of a pen, or shape of a sculpture – young patients at the Child Life and Creative Art Therapy Department of Children’s Hospital New Orleans can express their anger, sadness, joy, and all feelings in-between through clinical art therapy.

What are the advantages of Art Therapy?

Art allows for creative exploration of feelings, thoughts, and interpersonal dynamics. It exposes children to new mediums, mindfulness practices, and concepts. It allows for creativity, mental flexibility, fostering inspiration, and sublimation of difficult feeling states. Often, just taking quiet time offers reprieve from loud sounds and activity, promoting self-reflection.

Patients can explore their feelings and identity individually or in groups. When patients work with a partner, they explore themes of communication, boundaries, and individuality. Often, we are helping children deal with the grief of losing a loved one or a trauma that has happened at home and art allows them to express themselves. Very often, art therapy allows for children to see commonalities with others.

What are the benefits of Art Therapy?

  • Improves cognitive and sensory-motor functions
  • Fosters self-esteem and self-awareness
  • Cultivates emotional resilience
  • Promotes insight
  • Encourages socialization and enhances interpersonal effectiveness skills
  • Supports the reduction and resolution of conflicts and distress
  • Promotes identity formation and cultural expression

What is Art Therapy?

The Creative Arts Therapy Department consists of two registered art therapists and two board certified music therapists who facilitate art and music therapy group therapy sessions, serving hundreds of children ages 7-17 struggling with mental health issues.

Every day, these patients have an opportunity to engage with a variety of art options and learn new ways to express themselves, including:

  • Watercolor Painting -The fluidity of this style provides children the space to respond to change in a creative manner, promoting mental flexibility through the flow of the medium.
  • Drawing Materials - Graphite, colored pencils, markers, rulers, and other highly controllable materials allow for mastery and control throughout artistic process. Individuals presenting with sensory sensitivity may benefit from engagement with highly controllable materials.
  • Sculpting Materials - Clay or model magic engage a child with imaginative creation and sensory play. Young patients can pull, bend, rip, roll, and sculpt this material, serving as a sensory tool to aid in regulating emotions.
  • Collage-Making - Images from magazines, text, textural fabric, felt, and tissue paper allow for individuals to explore a holistic perspective, integrating “parts” into a new “whole.” Collage-making can be a wonderful modality to explore identity formation in a goal-oriented manner, acknowledging the past, present, and future.
  • Acrylic Painting - This quick-drying painting method is often used on various sized canvases, masks, or small boxes and can create a vast array of colors through the blending process. These items provide the opportunity to explore narratives of identity and containment, and the objects serve to support a child’s transition from the hospital.

How does Art Therapy impact patients?

It’s important that there are healthy outlets, behaviors, and activities in the community to assure children continue their growth. The hope of the program is to set some small but impactful healthy habits in place, such as creative outlets of coping with life issues and feelings of identity and acceptance. The program is designed to set a positive experience engaging with professional social supports so the children feel more open to seeing therapists and health professional upon discharge.

As our New Orleans community grows, our goal is to continue to expand our program as well. In the past two years, the Creative Arts Therapy Department has doubled the clinicians on staff and moved into a new building with a beautiful art therapy studio, donated by real estate developer and philanthropist Roger H. Ogden.

While delighted with how our program has expanded thus far, the department still has much room to grow, including adding a mindfulness-focused clinician and partnering with community organizations to increase access to programming – all of which we plan to add in the next three years.

To learn more about the Child Life and Creative Art Therapy at CHNOLA, visit our website at