UC Brings Art Therapy to Students with New Certificate Program

Jenny Ustick has always been artistic. Coming from a family of engineers, carpenters and do-it-yourselfers, she was encouraged by her parents at an early age to cultivate her skills.

Jul 2, 2014 at 8:32 am
Jenny Ustick
Jenny Ustick

Jenny Ustick has always been artistic. Coming from a family of engineers, carpenters and do-it-yourselfers, she was encouraged by her parents at an early age to cultivate her skills. She learned how valuable the arts could be in her life through her schooling and personal experience.

Ustick grew up on the East Side in Anderson Township. She received her bachelor’s degree in Fine Art from the Art Academy of Cincinnati in 2000 and her MFA from the University of Cincinnati in 2005 and is currently teaching art at both of her alma maters. While a sophomore at the Art Academy, she was diagnosed with

leukemia and took a year off to receive treatment, cope and sketch.

“Art helped me journal my experience,” Ustick says. “I had a series of sketchbooks with me all the time, in the bed, in the hospital.”

She wonders if she would have the same experience with her sketchpad if was diagnosed today. “In 1997, the presence of devices wasn’t a thing,” Ustick says. “But having that space to draw [my feelings] out was tremendously effective. It had long-lasting effects in my work, well after I was in remission. Those sketches, those early records of what was going on, were really important to me.”

Ustick’s own form of art therapy helped her through one of the toughest times of her life, which led to her passion and interest in the field.

Over the past two years, UC Forward, a new interdisciplinary initiative at UC, recognized the importance and high need for an art therapy program within the university and granted a test-run on UC’s main campus. One of the requirements of being granted this “test-run” class was that it needed to be taught by a team and open to all students.

Introduction to Art Therapy, developed by UC professors Meera Rastogi and Kim Taylor, explores the therapeutic uses of art in a broad way. Not only does the course explore the field of art therapy, but the course also explores ways artists and community members use art for healing and self-exploration. The course is grounded in psychology, fine arts and art history, along with art therapy. Ustick developed a second course in the therapeutic arts by working with local cancer patients and survivors, students and fellow professors.

“There are plenty of [art therapy] offerings in our region, but there’s a huge gap in Cincinnati,” Ustick says. “Art therapy is all around us, but one would have to travel to Louisville, Lexington, Chicago, Indiana and elsewhere. Cincinnati wants to compete.”

The new pre-art therapy certificate will be geared towards UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning and psychology students but open to all students who see the benefits of art therapy in their field of study.

The courses offered for the certificate will not allow students to practice or obtain licensure in art therapy, but it will prepare undergraduate students to apply for graduate programs in art therapy with an excellent portfolio and set of prerequisites.

Ustick says perhaps this could transform into a full-blown degree at UC — and this certificate is the way to start.

“It’s to gauge interest and evaluate the success of the program, to really see what the demand is — which seems really large,” she says. “This is our way of easing into it. It could eventually lead to a major.”

The program will focus on all lenses of art therapy — Ustick and her class focused on cancer survivors as a trial run — but the certificate will cover the wide range of therapeutic benefits.

“The course I just finished teaching would be an upper-level elective counting towards the certificate,” she says. “My population was pretty specific: adult cancer patients. But it will be a whole different set of concerns if you’re working with trauma, family dynamics, developmental disabilities and such.”

There’s no doubt that UC’s reputation and presence in medicine is very important — UC’s college of medicine is ranked one of the top 50 in the nation and the UC Medical Center is continually recognized as one of the best hospitals in the country.

“There are conversations being had all over the place,” Ustick says, “and this is an effort to bring all of those people to the table and to say, ‘Let’s make something of this, let’s do something about it.’ ”

Ustick’s love for art also extends beyond the classroom.

“We need people who deliver creative products,” she says. “I think a lot of people don’t realize how much art touches their lives every single day, how extensive the definition or reach of art is in their daily lives."

She paraphrases Dead Poets Society: "Medicine, law and finance are all noble pursuits and necessary to human existence but poetry, art and music — these are the things we stay alive for.”

Students can explore and sign up for the UNIVERSITY OF CINCINNATI’S PRE-ART THERAPY CURRICULUM and courses for fall at uc.edu or by contacting Rastogi at [email protected].

Update: This story has been edited to include information about professors Meera Rastogi and Kim Taylor

and other corrections.