Above: A watercolor by Amanda Nahodil. "The painting... just represents the feeling of staying at home for me at least."
Amanda Nahodil’s twice weekly online art therapy sessions have not only brought together two different communities, but they’ve also been a balm for her during this time of self-quarantine.
“It’s helped me keep my routine and keep my morale up, seeing other people’s faces, having people gather at the same time weekly. It’s been a saving grace for me to not feel so isolated and separated from everyone,” says Nahodil ’20, an undergraduate art therapy major.
Before the quarantine, the New Hampshire native planned to facilitate in-person art therapy sessions at the Cambridge Women’s Center as part of her independent study, continuing a program she ran for a year. When the coronavirus made meeting in person impossible, Nahodil decided to offer the sessions, named Art As Healing, through Zoom instead. She opened it up to friends from high school and college in addition to the center.
“It’s nice to see these different communities I’m a part of come together for a common goal – to heal,” she says.
In middle school, Nahodil took a career aptitude test that listed art therapy as a potential option for her future job, and she knew immediately that it was the career path for her.
“I’ve always been drawn to helping people,” she says.
During an internship at the Cambridge Women’s Center, she was “bright, organized and exceptional,” says Judy Norris, chair of the board and a volunteer at the nonprofit since it opened in 1971. Beyond the Art as Healing group, Nahodil staffed the drop-in and helpline, providing emotional support, technology support, cleaning, mediation and more.
Norris says continuing the Art as Healing sessions online is a benefit to many women because many services are closed during the pandemic.
“Many women came to the center daily for a safe space, to feel less isolated, to be part of a caring community and to attend our groups. Access to these sessions during this time gives a free option for self-expression, connection and healing that is especially important when isolation and insecurity are heightened, as they are now,” Norris says.
Nahodil conducts two groups a week with guidance from her advisor, Associate Professor Jane Richardson.
“I have helped Amanda to go more deeply into considering the dynamics of the group, planning the group... and observing the group, particularly in the context of art therapy,” Richardson explains.
She first taught Nahodil in a class that focused on materials used in art therapy and noted the undergraduate’s work ethic.
“She was like an art factory,” Richardson said. “She’s very focused. She’s very serious about her art-making, which I happen to think is a very important quality in art therapy.”
For each online session, Nahodil has averaged seven or eight people and included time to create art. She provides prompts that focus on artistic responses to issues everyone can relate to during self-isolation, such as anxiety, loneliness and isolation. Some people choose to draw, others to write poetry. After creating, participants can discuss their art and thoughts, though sharing is optional.
“It’s been a learning experience. It’s helped me grow in an administrative sense,” she says. Instead of relying on art materials, she’s been able to focus more on the activities and responding to participants.
For her independent study, Nahodil is documenting her processes and creating art in response to each session.
Richardson is impressed with Nahodil’s work, and her ability to pivot to an online format.
“I think that her response was very creative. The way that she got mobilized so quickly was really outstanding,” she said. “Because of the change in circumstances, she probably has learned more.”
In the fall, Richardson plans to invite Nahodil, who graduates this spring, to present her independent study to one of her undergraduate classes.
“Here’s an example of work in the community using art in a supportive way to build community and for self-expression,” said Richardson.
That’s a takeaway that Nahodil wants other undergraduate art therapy students to take from her work, that “even though you’re at home you can do something like this and help in any way you can.”
The sessions are open to more participants. For more information, email email@example.com.