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New art therapy degree at WVU could put human service workers on the front lines of tackling the state’s opioid and mental health crises


Letters are carved into linoleum in WVU printmaking studio. (WVU Photo)

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Blending art with psychology and counseling skills, a new degree in West Virginia University’s School of Art and Design could add much-needed healthcare and human services workers to tackle the state’s opioid and mental health crises. Art therapy has shown to be beneficial in a variety of therapeutic settings and it’s becoming more and more popular as a treatment modality for anxiety reduction, substance use disorders and trauma recovery, according to Annie McFarland, assistant professor of art education.


“A lot of this work has to do with self-expression within a safe and supportive environment. In the case of trauma, the linguistic part of the brain can become disconnected from visual memories and experiences, often causing difficulties in verbal discussion. Art can act as a placeholder for communication until an individual is ready to start verbally processing their experiences.”

“Art therapy can be a really helpful resource for people who are struggling with substance use disorders. In addition to individuals, families and children affected by familial substance use can participate in art therapy, too, allowing healing for larger groups and communities. 

“Another issue we see in West Virginia is exponentially higher numbers of Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs. Whether those experiences include physical or emotional abuse, neglect, caregiver mental illness or violence within the household, art therapy can potentially provide creative outlets to help mitigate the effects of toxic stress from exposure to ACEs.”  —Annie McFarland, assistant professor of Art Education


Link to original story: WVU adds art therapy degree

Target Audiences

  • Prospective students
  • Educators
  • Health professionals



CONTACT: Bernadette Dombrowski
Communications Specialist
WVU College of Creative Arts

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