An article in a student newspaper helped prompt the creation of Art + Talk, a group geared toward helping students talk to a counselor while they focus on creative activities.
Golden Valley resident Nietzsche Deuel, a 2019 graduate of St. Louis Park High School, wrote an article for her school newspaper, The Echo, about the importance of talking about problems when access to school counselors is limited or unavailable during breaks.
The topic helped give her the idea for a group that could meet during the summer break. With the help of the SLP Nest – a teen hangout space in St. Louis Park – Art + Talk formed as a way to allow teenagers ages 15-19 to meet weekly with a facilitator from MoveFwd, a Hopkins-based organization that helps provide therapy to youth and families.
After initial sessions at the SLP Nest, 3416 Library Lane, the group is moving to the St. Louis Park Library, 3240 Library Lane, for gatherings 1-3 p.m. most Mondays July 15 to Aug. 19. There is no cost to attend.
Through covering the counseling department for The Echo, Deuel said she learned, “There are a lot of students that really depend on the counseling department at the high school, and when those students aren’t able to reach those services, they feel kind of stuck.”
Because students may not have access to professional services after the school year ends, Deuel said, “We wanted to provide something for over the summer when students wanted to seek some sort of a counseling option but didn’t have other ways to do that.”
SLP Nest Youth Coordinator Ellen Pajor consulted with MoveFwd on the idea since the nonprofit provides free counseling.
“One of the reasons why I wanted to go with them is not only do they have licensed therapists but also if a student chooses to go to individual therapy after they do our program, they can do so and cost isn’t a barrier,” Pajor said.
Noemí López, a therapist with MoveFwd, said she agreed that many students lack support over the summer when school counselors and social workers are not available.
“We’ve definitely seen the same problem with youth who come to MoveFwd,” López said. “ For many, summer isn’t the time of fun and relaxation that it is purported to be due to conflict at home, family financial issues, and transportation limitations that get in the way of seeing friends or other supports.”
Group therapy can help young people connect with each other, she said.
“I think using the creative arts as a therapeutic modality really deepens the experience,” López said. “Youth have the chance to use a different part of their brains to explore and express themselves; they are able to put into art what may be difficult to articulate with words. They are encouraged not to judge their artwork and approach the process with an attitude of curiosity and acceptance.”
The MoveFwd therapists facilitating the group are not certified as art therapists specifically, but they all have creative interests, according to López.
“We collaborate with group members to determine topics of focus as well as types of art to try,” she said. “In the first session, we used visual journaling to explore issues creating stress for participants. In future sessions, we plan on doing creative writing, visual poetry, mask-making, and painting.”
Rachel Mattson, a St. Louis Park resident who also graduated last month from St. Louis Park High School, said that students used a prompt in a session she attended to guide them as they browsed through magazines and each made a collage. Discussions ranged from talking about “Keeping Up with the Kadashians” to what had been happening in their lives. After making collages, students explained what they had made and why.
While Pajor said students used pictures and words in magazines to describe how they were feeling, students can attend without talking, too.
“It’s really super open,” Pajor said.
As the sessions continue, students may discuss particular topics, such as trauma, depression, anxiety or about how people view mental health in general, Mattson said.
“I really hope for this project to be successful in terms of helping people realize that they do have an outlet,” Deuel said.
She noted that she and Mattson have struggled with mental health themselves.
“We have gotten to a place where we feel like we can talk about it openly, and we can kind of accept the things that have happened at certain points,” said Deuel, who plans to study psychology at the University of Minnesota. “So for us, it was about providing a space where students could feel welcomed and understand that there are different ways to realize things about themselves through, like, art.”
Mattson, who plans to study psychology at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, said she is someone who has benefited from the school counseling office but could not access it during the summer.
“I am lucky enough to have, you know, the financial ability and the parents who will allow me to go seek professional help, so I was able to have an outlet,” she said. “But when I heard about this, I related it back to my story so much.”
Students can attend Art + Talk without parental consent since some parents may not feel their children need therapy, Deuel noted.
“And sometimes students feel like maybe they do need help, even if it’s not like consistent, regular therapy,” she said. “Maybe they are struggling with something. And so that was one of the things that we really talked about and debated about because it was important to us that students could come with or without parent permission.”
Pajor added that parents can always email her with questions regardless. Outside Art + Talk, students can attend one individual session with a MoveFwd therapist without parental consent, but parents would have to provide permission for them to attend additional individual sessions.
Pajor said she hoped Art + Talk provides participants with a window into how therapists can help them talk through issues.
“I definitely think it’s an easier access point because you’re not sitting in a room on a couch by yourself, and you’re doing a structured activity,” Pajor said. “But you still kind of get a glimpse into therapy.”
Deuel noted that organizers stayed away from the word therapy in the title of the group intentionally.
“Art + Talk is a little bit more calming and soothing, I think,” she said.
Students interested in Art + Talk can make reservations by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, although they are not required. Teens do not need to live in St. Louis Park or attend St. Louis Park High School to participate.
The Cultural Care Kids First Foundation provided a grant to support the initiative.