McLean Art Therapy Intern Helps Elders Rediscover Talents and Passions

McLean Art TherapyBess got so excited when the group began to weave. Although she has a hard time using her hands, the sight of the old fashioned metal loom many of us used to make pot holders stirred long lost happy memories. Bess related to Kim Starr, an Art Therapy intern at McLean, that at thirteen she sewed a dress that was so nice; her mother let her wear it to school. That sharing was a very special moment in Kim’s year.

Kim has worked for more than thirty years at Goodrich Aerospace, currently in technical publications. But the art major always loved to help others find their passions and special gifts. Kim volunteered for thirteen years with The Cove helping grieving children. So she undertook the rigorous process of studying for a Masters in Art Therapy at Albertus Magnus College while working full time. Her first internship was with veterans with PTSD. At the McLean Health Center, it was a new learning experience as she has worked all year with elderly female residents. Dianne Thurston, Social Worker, noted that Kim has brought so much to the lives of residents and that Kim has learned so much about dementia. Kim has a very soft voice and gentle manner which inspires and supports the residents.

First Kim worked in small groups on many creative projects of her design including the very successful gingerbread house project for Simsbury Celebrates that depicted Senator McLean’s cabin at the Game Refuge. Kim beamed as she shared colorful paper Mache boxes decorated with tissue paper collage. “I praise each resident because each box is a one-of-a-kind. McLean Art Therapy

It often is the process of creating not the product that is important in art therapy.”  For these residents, this is particularly true. They may work very, very slowly so it is the enjoyment in the process that is key. In the weaving projects, it can actually be assisted weaving where Kim threads the rod through the yarn and the resident pulls it. But the joy on their faces when they see their square is just the same. Each resident chooses colors that have meaning for them. Bess loves Maine and chose the colors of the evergreen trees, the sea and the sky. Sometimes a resident participates just by observing and even this seems to bring joy to a few. They may be resistant at first or be too tired to join in, but often the conversation, music and group presence is enough to bring them pleasure, Kim explains. Then sometimes I can work one-on-one with them with the same process. Or for someone like Bess, even after the group finishes the weaving quilt, she and Kim continue to weave since it brings such joy to her days.

“Often, I need to adapt projects and techniques to deal with memory challenges, macular degeneration, limited eye-hand coordination, and arthritis. But by being really present and spending time with the residents, I seem to find ways to bring joy to each one of my new friends,” Starr notes with pride. And they truly have become Kim’s friends. When she arrived in the Day Room, you could see Bess’ eyes twinkle. And once Bess was touching her very soft and fuzzy yarn in the colors she loved, her evening was memorable and special.

Starr smiled as she told about Melanie. “She has some physical limitations and difficulty with verbalization, but through our activities, I discovered that Melanie loves deep colors. We create collages featuring photos in vivid colors which Melanie selects from images cut out of magazines, and I help arrange.” Mostly the two communicate through Melanie’s eyes. Together they have created a scrapbook of images and collages that seem to have great meaning for Melanie and which gives her joy each time she looks through it.

McLean Art ThearpyMcLean is very grateful to Kim for the year she has spent with the residents of the Health Center. She will be doing a culminating workshop for the Therapeutic Recreation Department on what she has learned and what could be continued by them as she goes on to complete her studies. Starr expects to return to McLean as a volunteer as art therapy has become her passion and hobby.

If you wish to do an internship at McLean or volunteer to share your talents, contact Kathy Cookson at 860-658-3725.