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Retreat patient artwork goes on public display

September 21, 2016
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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A Retreat patient artwork on public display

When the Retreat at Lancaster County was invited to furnish patient artwork for a library exhibit during Recovery Month, the treatment center learned that library staff members were open to all representations, from the hopeful to the darker.

“They said, 'We want to show the community what addiction is,'” says Scarlett LeVan-Bunyon, the Retreat registered art therapist and clinical supervisor who started the art therapy program at the Pennsylvania treatment center three years ago. The library staff, which had toured Retreat in the past, seemed to have a keen understanding of the disease concept, LeVan-Bunyon indicates.

“The Art of Recovery” has been on display in the Ephrata Public Library's hallway since Sept. 6, featuring more than 100 works from Retreat patients. LeVan-Bunyon says patients knew ahead of time that the works they were completing were scheduled for the exhibit, and she says the entire show took a few months to pull together.

She explains that beyond the usual consent form that she has patients sign in order to allow Retreat staff to display their work at the facility, a separate form was created to authorize these works to be displayed publicly.

“We told the patients that their confidentiality would be protected, and we deterred them from using last names when signing their artwork,” LeVan-Bunyon says.

Powerful media

Art therapy at Retreat encompasses both organized group time and elective time in which patients can choose to participate further. “You don't have to be off detox to be in here,” says LeVan-Bunyon.

The largest number of the works on display at the library this month are acryclic paintings. “It's such an expressive form. It's empowering,” says LeVan-Bunyon. There are also numerous drawings, mixed media, and even jewelry in the exhibit.

LeVan-Bunyon says that while all recreational therapies in the Retreat program have significant value, she has heard many patients speak to art's power in healing and in offering an alternate form of expression. “With any emotion you feel, you can start the healing process through creating,” she says.

Sometimes it is simply that process of creating that will resonate most with patients. “They get to see instant results,” says LeVan-Bunyon. “It builds their self-esteem.”

The display at the library conveys an overall sense of optimism, says LeVan-Bunyon. Retreat staff emphasize that many of the patients who have created works for the exhibit had never done artwork prior to being exposed to art therapy at the center.

The exhibit at the Ephrata Public Library runs through Sept. 30. LeVan-Bunyon says that about half of the participating patients have asked to retain their artworks after the exhibit closes, and the other works will be available to Retreat for its own display spaces.