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Local Art Therapist Uses Art to Heal

Catherine Wheeler
Dareth Goettemoeller in her studio at Orr Street Studios.

As Dareth Goettemoeller cleaned up her art space at Orr Street Studios, she hugged a doll.

It was a giant, Raggedy-Anne-like doll, with a message over the heart that read, “Hug me.”

She said she made them for patients that just needed a hug.

Goettemoeller is an art therapist in Columbia, Missouri. For the past several years, she has been working with patients with eating disorders at the McCallum Center in Columbia, which closed down permanently last March.

“So, I’m a little bummed,” she said.

Goettemoeller said her job as an art therapist is basically that of a psychologist, but she uses art to evoke emotion from her patients.

‘It’s not hard once you have those colors in front of you to just start working,” she said. “It’s very expressive. You can’t help revealing yourself.”

Goettemoeller said she mostly worked with teens and young adults in her work at the McCallum Center. She said she prefers to work sessions in small groups with about three to eight people, but will also do solo sessions.

“I found out I love working with teenagers.” she said.

She likes the teenagers because they’re more flexible than adults are.

“There’s something that happens in the early 20s to the brain where we just kind of get stuck in our ways, and we have a hard time seeing the bigger picture,” Goettemoeller said.

When Goettmoeller takes a patient through a session, she said she starts by laying out all her supplies on a big table.

She uses paper, oil and dry pastels, and markers. Then, she gives a directive.

“Then I let them go, let them do it. Then, we’ll have time to talk and I’ll tell them what I see and ask them what they see. And ask them how they want to change it or how it applies to their lives,” Goettemoeller said.

In working with patients with eating disorders, Goettemoeller said, the mess of art can be overwhelming to those patients.

“There’s a tendency to not like messes and not like getting messy,” she said. “So for people with sensory issues, I’d have to like get them gloves, or work slowly up from markers to dry pastels, to maybe even glue, to maybe even glitter. That glitter gets everywhere.”

She said that she enjoys it when the patients get comfortable with getting messy. She also likes it when they get angry.

“Especially with the eating disorder clients, they come in not expressing their anger, and as their bodies get healthier. The anger starts coming up, and it’s scary for them, but I know it’s a really powerful part of their healing,” Goettemoeller said.

She said she uses fun to help patients work through issues.

“In that fun we are doing so much work about learning to accept ourselves,” she said.

This week's episode was produced by Erin McKinstry. Music for this weeks episode comes from Blue Dot Sessions (Tuck and Point, available under CC BY-NC 4.0).

Catherine Wheeler is a graduate student at the University of Missouri with a focus on radio production. She received a B.A. in English Writing from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. She has previously reported for the Columbia Missourian and reported on education, arts and culture, and health at KBIA.