Healing arts project will give clients the opportunity to use creative expression

Emily Farley News & Notes

John Sebelius believes in the healing power of art.

He’s seen it happen.

Sebelius, a Lawrence artist, has worked with veterans as part of the Stress Disorder Treatment Program at the Colmery-O’Neil VA Center in Topeka, teaching art to veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, substance use and other challenges. He currently serves as Artist-In-Residence at Cofrin-Logan Center for Addiction Research and Treatment at the University of Kansas.

“Art is a helpful tool for healing,” Sebelius said. “Someone who has experienced trauma may struggle to verbalize how they are feeling. I can give them a lump of clay, paint brush, or chunk of charcoal, and they can physically explore their thoughts and feelings through creative non-verbal expression. It’s a very freeing experience. Art can be a really gratifying and enlightening experience for the creator. It’s kind of an awakening.”

Sebelius will bring a similar-type program to the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, thanks to a grant from the Community Grants program of the Douglas County Community Foundation. The program, Artistic Expressions: Healing Arts for Mental Health Initiatives, will include 12 sessions, with 15-20 Bert Nash adult clients in each session, so more than 100 people could benefit from the program. The weekly sessions will start in January.

“We are grateful to the Douglas County Community Foundation and we are excited to partner with one of Lawrence’s finest artists on this project,” said Bert Nash CEO Patrick Schmitz. “This will give clients the opportunity to work with their hands and explore their creativity and connect with each other through healing arts and wellness activities.”

Most of the veterans who have participated in Sebelius’ arts classes had no previous art experience, but he has seen how art can make a positive difference in someone’s mental health. This art project will be open to all Bert Nash clients, not just veterans and first responders.

“I’ve found there can be a lot of hesitation creating art with veterans or first responders, because in the past some have viewed vulnerability as a weakness,” Sebelius said. “But giving people the tools to creatively express themselves doesn’t make someone weak; it actually makes them a fully rounded person. I’m really excited about this partnership with Bert Nash and to be involved with this project. The Douglas County Community Foundation grant will allow this collaboration to begin and hopefully it will be the start of more collaborative projects that use creative expression as a way to heal trauma. The goal is to give people the tools where they can continue their creative journey, far beyond this class.”