This past Thursday, April 30th, we had the pleasure of talking to Gaby Gamez, a board-certified art therapist and founder of Annie Creative Studio for Wellness based in San Antonio, Texas. As part of our Unfiltered SA Instagram Live “Stay Home Art Club,” we invited Gaby to discuss the healing powers of art and unpack what art therapy entails.
Art Therapy as a Preventative Practice
We live in a society that doesn’t practice preventative measures enough, but what if we could change that? Gaby explained the importance of learning the ability to use natural resources to navigate our behavior more gently during harsh times. As we have seen through this pandemic, we never know when life will throw us a curveball. She reassures us that we can find some “holding” within art and help alleviate pressures and anxieties.
Art being Therapeutic vs. Art Therapy
For all you creative minds, making art does not mean you are doing art therapy. Artists sometimes find themselves describing their artistic practice as meditative and relaxing. Why? Gaby explains as we doodle, draw, or paint, after a while, we feel relaxed because art has therapeutic components. She continues, “despite it having many healing benefits, it is not therapy.” How so? There isn’t someone walking you through it. The distinction in art therapy is that it has a practitioner to help you or guide you through a therapeutic experience.
Art therapy is a process that consists of a safe and trusting dynamic between the participant and a professional. Art therapists might have suggestions in activities and materials used to facilitate a breakthrough. Gaby clarifies that there are no set rules or standardized handbook on how to lead each art therapy session. “It’s all in the therapist creating a safe environment and having a customized session to meet the needs of the participant,” continued Gaby.
Unpacking Art Therapy
In her practice, Gaby creates a safe space to create anything you want. She described the freedom her clients have upon entering the studio: they choose to paint inside or outside, hang art supplies from the ceiling, or draw in the center of the room. With so many liberties, what is the role of the art therapist? Gaby explained that the professional should allow space to create while guiding the participant to reflect on artistic approaches taken during the session.
Wait, so they interpret the artwork? Gaby quickly responded yes and no to that question. Art therapists should not give meaning to the participant’s world. “My job as an art therapist is not to interpret your work but to help you get to the point where you feel comfortable talking about your work,” explained Gaby. She continued, “my job is to help you verbalize and process. Yes, we are trained to see patterns within your work and reason what materials you best react to. However, it is not our job to outwardly interpret your work, but use it as a tool.” A lot of therapists will save art and review it over a period of time and review your process, development, and growth.
It is also important to remember that by creating art in the presence of a mental health professional, there is a validating component. Gaby explained how it is empowering to validate your inner world and creativity. And, of course, you aren’t being judged, so you are allowed to explore and grow to your own pace and style.
Heal Through the Arts
Contained chaos: Add or throw random things or materials you have at home to a blank canvas or board. At this moment of stress, allow yourself to create a mess on a board or container (a safe place where things can land.) This safe landing space will ensure all the unconventional art materials will remain within the composition.
When creating, definitely use your hands! If you utilize both hands, you will activate both sides of the brain. Gaby shared that when experiencing trauma or intense feelings, it is best to create with no pressure of a product. If you aren’t conformed with your artwork, it’s okay to rip it and start again. For this activity, feel free to ask yourself, guiding questions: How did this make me feel? Did this relax me? Did it feel right? Can I put a title to this?
If you can use your body, give your body permission to get the blood flowing and get that energy out. Whether you decide to partake in this unfiltered composition or not, don’t hesitate to utilize your hands during these times of isolation. You can either grab stuff, cook with dough, or splash water to activate all your senses.
While this activity is meant to be done at your own pace and approach, Gaby did disclose that “it is hard to recommend a blanket suggestion and techniques for art therapy because that can be harmful. Every person is unique —what works for one person might not work for another.” Another piece of advice she shared was not to overanalyze the final artwork. Art-making during a pandemic is not the time to be an art critic to your work! It won’t do us any good to try and explain it or interpret it. Just let the creativity flow out of you.
Based in San Antonio, Texas, Gaby founded her studio practice Annie Creative Studio for Wellness to provide direct enrichment services to clients and invest in the health care community, the education community, and the spiritual community. Named after the street it is located on, Annie Creative Studio for Wellness is a safe space to heal and develop through expressive art therapy. Gaby aims to provide one-on-one attention as soon as a person walks into her studio. During this time of social distancing, Gaby reassures all (potential) clients that she is just a phone call away.
About Gaby Gamez
Gaby Gamez is a board-certified art therapist with ten years of experience using expressive modalities to assess and treat psychosocial, cognitive, and physical development, providing support to people of all ages facing transitions and life challenges. She is the founder of Annie Creative Studio for Wellness, where the focus of her work is to help foster and promote the Growth and Development of people of all ages and all abilities through the expressive arts.
Gaby grew up in Reynosa, a border city located in the northeast of Mexico as a bilingual professional, culture is an integral part of her practice. She gained a BA in Graphic Design from Universidad de Monterrey in 2004, receiving a Cum Laude award and thesis accredited with honors. She received her Masters in Art Therapy from the School of Visual Arts in 2009 in New York City.
She has worked with children, teens, and young adults with acute, chronic, and terminal illnesses at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City and Methodist Children’s Hospital in San Antonio.
As part of the Bereavement Committee at NYU Langone, she also worked with families, building legacy experiences through the art-making process. She became a volunteer at the Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas in San Antonio, where she helped facilitate adult and children groups for four years.
She has presented at the Arts and Healthcare conference, at the Child Life of Greater New York and has provided multiple workshops on the arts, wellness, child development, and the arts. She takes a keen interest in child development and how the arts, our body, and our brain are connected, providing evidenced-based healing and restoration. She is a critical thinker and driven professional who is committed to helping improve the quality of life of those facing life challenges.
She recently began providing animal-assisted therapy at two locations in our city with her German Shepherd Buddy.