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Mercyhurst expands scope of Therapeutic Arts Initiative

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Therapeutic Arts Initiative, a year-old partnership between Mercyhurst University and Harborcreek Youth Services, is on the cusp of a growth spurt, thanks to a successful fundraising campaign that has enabled HYS to construct an addition to its property at 5712 Iroquois Ave.

Groundbreaking for the new Father Jim Fahey Therapeutic Arts Center took place Oct. 26. When completed in the spring, the 6,750-square-foot facility will house programs in expressive therapies like music, art and movement to aid in the recovery of victims of abuse, neglect and childhood trauma.

For the past year, the Therapeutic Arts Initiative has operated a music therapy program at HYS under the direction of Craig Stevens, Mercyhurst music therapy program director, and Sam Krahe, Mercyhurst music therapy graduate. In all, they have worked with 83 youth at the center, recording highly positive outcomes.

According to a recent client survey, 85 percent of clients reported looking forward to their music therapy sessions, 77 percent reported they like music therapy, 92 percent said they feel safe in music therapy and 66 percent said they feel better about themselves as a result of music therapy.

“Trauma has been called ‘the great thief,’’’ Stevens said. “Most of these young people have extreme difficulty trusting and connecting with another person, most have never experienced unconditional love and, because of their experiences, live in a world that does not feel safe. We are now looking at how early childhood traumas can affect not only psychological health, but also physical health, neurodevelopment, and virtually every other aspect of a functional life. Through music therapy techniques combined with counseling, we are able to address goal areas such as self-esteem, self-worth, emotional expression and social skills development."

The initiative is now looking to expand more into the areas of art and movement therapy, said Mercyhurst criminal justice faculty Dr. Maria Garase, who is also vice chair of the HYS board and chair of the steering committee for Mercyhurst-HYS programming.

Garase said HYS now employs a certified art therapist with whom Mercyhurst art therapy students will have the opportunity to do internships. Like music therapy, art therapy helps young trauma victims express themselves and find a safe outlet to regulate their behaviors and impulses.

Mercyhurst associate professor of dance Solveig Santillano is looking forward to incorporating dance and movement therapy into the Therapeutic Arts Initiative. Earlier this year, Santillano said the National Honor Society for Dance Arts collaborated with HYS by choreographing one of their dances for the National Water Dance to music created by two of the center’s young clients.

“There are many aspects that make dance such an appealing and productive healing and learning modality,” Santillano said. “It can build personal and spatial awareness, facilitate a feeling of well being, and create a sense of self-acceptance, regulation, creation and empowerment.”

PHOTO: (L-R) Dr. Peter Benekos, Mercyhurst professor emeritus/criminal justice and HYS board member; John Petulla, HYS chief executive officer; and Dr. Maria Garase.