Art Therapy for Art Teachers (Ep. 195)

Today’s episode takes a look at one of AOEU’s newest and most popular graduate courses, Art Therapy for Art Teachers. Shannon Lauffer returns to the show to discuss the new course with Tim. Listen as they cover a variety of topics, including increased awareness of the benefits of art therapy, ideas on how we can help our students, and the importance of social and emotional well-being. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

As promised, everyone’s favorite guest, Shannon Lauffer is here today. She is able to talk about a plethora of topics, as you have heard over the past a couple of years in all of her appearances, but today, we’re going to specifically dive into one of AOEU’s newest graduate courses, and maybe all of a sudden, the most popular graduate course, which is called Art Therapy for Art Teachers.

Now, art therapy has been a huge topic of interest for a long time, for a variety of reasons. You know, we pay so much more attention to mental health than we used to, and that increasing awareness leads us to look for new and better ideas of how we can help our students. And why not art therapy? If there’s something that we can do in the art room that helps our students’ social and emotional wellbeing, why wouldn’t we embrace it?

Well, it’s because we aren’t art therapists, and art therapy is a very specialized field. You know, it’s not something that you can teach or implement properly without the right course of study, which includes a master’s degree in the topic and extensive internship hours. And so this course that we’re talking about, it’s not going to help you become an art therapist. You know, it’s not going to allow you to do art therapy in your classroom after only eight weeks of learning, but similar to social and emotional learning, there are certain ideas that can transfer into what you teach your students, and that is what this course is about, exploring ideas involved in the world of art therapy and discovering what can work for you. And Shannon can tell you a lot more about that. So let me bring her on and we can discuss.

All right, Shannon Lauffer is back on the show, joining me now. Shannon, how are you?

Shannon: I’m good. I’m back. I’m super excited to be here.

Tim: Good. And we have a lot of really cool things to talk about in regard to our Art Therapy for Art Teachers course. I know it’s been incredibly popular…

Shannon: It has.

Tim: But before we dive into that, can you just tell us about the impetus for creating the Art Therapy for Art Teachers course? How did that come about? What were the requests like? How did we get into creating all of that?

Shannon: Yeah, so what we do when we look at new courses that we’re going to create is we tap into all the requests that come into us through a variety of ways. So that’s either through surveys that we might send out… People send us emails or chats through the website. So it’s really important to us that we’re releasing new courses that people are excited about, that they’ve been asking for, that they’re looking for, and art therapy has been at the top of the list. It’s been the number one request from art teachers and really, I think this directs us to that art teachers want to be able to support all of their students. We know that mental health is a really big part of what we face in the classroom, and in schools, and just in life in general. And no matter where you’re teaching, you probably have students who will benefit from a therapeutic environment, from therapeutic artmaking opportunities and all that.

Tim: Yeah, for sure. And I think that’s, yeah, something that we do really well is being responsive to all of those things. Okay. So I know there was a lot of excitement about the launch of the course, and people signing up right away, but can you just tell me a little bit about what people’s reaction has been to that announcement? You know, how has it been received? Have we had a lot of people signing up to actually take the course?

Shannon: Yes, absolutely. So we announced the course in September, and we ran it for the first time in October. We had a big course in October, 15 students, and 10 more in November, and we have another section coming in December and January too. So the response overall has been super positive. Students are loving the course, and it’s one of those courses that what I love most about it is there’s a combination of learning about the field strategies that can go directly into your art room, to make it a more therapeutic environment. But you’re also going to go on your own therapeutic artmaking journey as well. So I love that it also brings in those classroom strategies and learning, but also that artmaking part that, as art teachers, we love. We love an opportunity to be super creative and dig into our own artmaking.

Tim: Oh, absolutely, and that has always been my favorite thing about grad courses when I’ve worked through them, when I was teaching them back in the day. I love that balance between the theories of what’s happening out there and ideas that you can take for yourself, ideas you can take for your classroom. So I’m glad that we can still strike that balance with everything that we’re trying to do.

But I kind of want to hone in on one thing you said there, just talking about learning about the field of art therapy. Now, I know that there’s a lot that we need to be careful with in regard to art therapy. It’s a specialized field of studies, specialized training, licensing, and obviously, we can’t offer that. You can’t be an art therapist after one online course, and I remember when we were doing Art Ed Now presentations about art therapy. There was a lot of concern from people about the qualifications of art therapists, and I want to make sure that we’re clear on all of that. So I guess my question for you is: how do you make that clear to students, the difference between strategies you can use in your classroom and what art therapists are actually doing in their own practice?

Shannon: Yep. So this was a huge piece of the course development. So as we look at the field of art education and the field of art therapy, there is so much that is similar, and there is also so much that is incredibly, incredibly different. So what we wanted to do is… and the course really kicks off with this idea of investigating the difference between art education and art therapy, and then determining what can translate to the classroom, but also what you are not qualified to do as a result of taking this course. So that was really important to us to drive home.

We actually collaborated with an art therapist, Caroline Thai. She’s from Chicago, is an art teacher and an art therapist, and so you can check out her website and her blog, which is Dandelion Lion Art Studio, like the little flower, whatever a dandelion is. But it was really important for us to bring in somebody who was a licensed art therapist, so they could help us really understand the field. A lot of people that we talk to, either through the website or people who are interested in courses, are wondering what it takes to become an art therapist. And like you said, you can’t just take one course to be an art therapist. There’s a whole lot more that goes into that. It’s actually more of a psychology field than it is an art field.

However, what I’m hoping is that people will be able to take these therapeutic strategies into their classroom, and then if art therapy is something that they’re really interested in, then you could look into different opportunities to become a licensed art therapist outside of the art of education.

Tim: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, but I’m going to guess that most people are not going to do all of that. So I want to just-

Shannon: It’s true.

Tim: Yeah, I just want to talk a little bit more about ideas that we can incorporate into the classroom. So can you share, maybe, a couple strategies that people can take from this course and actually apply them in your classroom?

Shannon: Yep, absolutely. So there’s going to be a slew of information in this course that applies directly to the classroom, but specifically, one of my passion areas is behavior. I know we’ve talked about this before, Tim, understanding, decoding, responding, responding, and managing behavior. That’s one component of this course where we’re kind of addressing what that looks like in a therapeutic environment, which I think is great for art teachers.

We’re also looking at simultaneously building relationships and setting boundaries. I think we talk a lot about these independently of one another, but it is really interesting to reflect on how these two exist side by side, and especially as we’re working towards a therapeutic art environment, what that means to manage behavior, manage your classroom, build relationships with students, and also set boundaries for what’s okay and what’s not okay.

And then third… I guess the third one that I would point out is some actionable art activities and prompts that you can bring directly into your classroom. So of course, we want it to be super relevant, really actionable, so there’s a series of, in particular, some creative directive ideas, which I think we shared on social media. But I really love this handout. It has really simple prompts like lifeline or behind the door, and these are really exciting because they can be a quick sketchbook prompt, or this could really translate to any medium and allow for open-ended reflection and engaging with that prompt for your students.

Tim: Yeah, for sure, and those sound like themes that you could definitely use for bigger ideas as well, so I think there’s a lot that can be taken there. And then I guess I want to dive a little bit deeper into that if we can.

Shannon: Sure. You’re going to give away the whole course, Tim.

Tim: Well, I was literally just going to say that. I know you don’t want to give away too much, but… Could you maybe though, without giving too much away, talk about a couple of the weekly assignments that you really like, and maybe share what types of work people are doing within those assignments?

Shannon: Yep, absolutely. So one of my favorite aspects that we try to incorporate into courses is choice. So in a single discussion board, we’re looking for opportunities for each art teacher to investigate either what interests them or what’s most relevant to their teaching situation. So one of the discussion boards is looking at three big topics that would come up in a therapeutic art environment. So those are coping with death, healing and trauma, and looking at community and peacebuilding. What I love about this is that it’s relatable, and it’s adaptable, and it’s real life, but it’s also allowing art teachers to pick one that they’re most interested in. Of course, if you wanted to dig into all three, you could, but it allows you to dig really deep into something that is going to be directly related to something that you’re interested in.

Shannon: With that, I know I keep going back to it, but the individual artmaking experience where you, as the teacher, get to understand the vulnerability that students are going to feel when you start introducing some therapeutic artmaking. I think it’s really important for us to understand what it feels like to be the student, and the artmaking in this course is really going to allow you to get there. So again, we’re looking at several different choices of how you express yourself in that part of the course. And like I said, I just love any assignment that allows us to dig into our own artmaking. It’s something that I know I really missed when I was working in the classroom. I mean, I miss it now still. But it’s so important to honor that side of you, as a professional, to create that art. So I would say those are two of the weekly assignments that I’m really, really jazzed about.

Tim: Yeah, those both sound incredibly interesting and, like you said, incredibly valuable, things that are worth doing that we don’t necessarily, as teachers, usually spend enough time doing. So I guess to wrap it up, I’m going to ask for your best words of advice.

Shannon: Oh, I have plenty. What would you like advice on?

Tim: Well we know you know a lot, but… Just thinking about this course in general, what you learn, what you can take from it, why should people sign up to take the art therapy for teachers course?

Shannon: Yeah. So this is a course that’s kind of near and dear to me because I started my career in a therapeutic placement. I started on a district therapeutic placement. But what I know is that more and more, we’re seeing that mental health and trauma, and even just our own emotional stability, this affects all of our students. It’s increasingly more important, and every art teacher needs strategies to support students struggling with a variety of different things. In any school, any demographic, any age group, you’re going to be serving students who are dealing with stress, with anxiety, with perfectionism, and it’s also unfortunately increasingly more likely that you’ll be working with students with trauma, depression, or more profound needs. And the art room is always a safe space, but I think that this course gives some really exciting strategies that you can put into place, that are going to support these students as they’re looking for an opportunity to express themselves through the arts.

And I just really believe that it’s so important that all teachers have a few strategies that they can use to help these students. So I’m really, really excited that we finally have this course to offer to all of our art teachers.

Tim: Yeah, I think it is filling a really valuable need, and like you said, those are the tools that are becoming more and more essential for us, as teachers. So I think yeah, just that alone is reason enough to look into this a little bit more.

So Shannon, thank you so much for coming on . . .it’s always good to talk to you.

Shannon: Same.

Tim: Hopefully, we can bring you back on again fairly soon.

Shannon: Yeah. Thanks so much, Tim. I appreciate you having me.

Tim: One thing that captured my attention, one thing that I wrote down from what Shannon had to say was that the assignments are looking at both the big picture ideas and the small scale strategies to implement them. Dealing with topics such as healing, and peace building, and community, but also on the flip side, taking the time to realize that small things such as artmaking can be part of the therapeutic experience. So if you’re interested in the art therapy for art teachers course, you can sign up for the next section, which begins December 1. You can do that anytime over the next week or so, and as we discussed today, in the course, you will gain an understanding of the field of art therapy and the role of the art therapist compared to the role of the art educator. You will learn strategies designed for your art room and maybe most importantly, you can learn how you can foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, and promote creative insight in yourself and in your students. The deadline for signing up is November 27, but you can learn more about the course and sign up for the course at

And finally, I will close with something similar to what Shannon had to say at the end of the interview. Our kids are increasingly affected by a plethora of issues, and we need to have strategies available to us in order to support them. And everything we talked about today, everything you find in this course can help give you the tools you need to help students with what they need. The learning is interesting. It is valuable, and if you are thinking about the course, I can tell you it will be well worth your time.

Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Next week, Elizabeth Peterson will be back on the show, and we will have a great conversation that I’m really looking forward to about self care for the art teacher. We will talk to you then.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.