Marilyn Holmes (Class of 2017) of Louisville has always had a passion for art. While in high school, she took an advanced placement psychology class, and that’s where she first learned about using art as a form of therapy and decided she wanted to become an art therapist.
Art therapy combines psychotherapeutic techniques with arts-based creative processes to improve mental, emotional and physical wellness. Holmes earned bachelor’s degrees in art and psychology at MSU and said members of the art and psychology faculty helped her shape her education in a way that would help her be successful after graduation.
“I had my feet in two very different departments, but when I explained my goals to my professors, they helped me find opportunities (research positions, art shows, self-guided studies, etc.) that made me a top candidate for grad school admissions,” she said. “Every grad school I applied to, I got into.”
After leaving MSU, Holmes earned a master’s degree in art therapy from Southern Illinois University in 2020. She now works as a counselor at Call for Help in East St. Louis, Illinois. Call for Help is a nonprofit social service agency that helps people with homelessness, poverty and mental health issues.
“I just wanted to help people using art,” she said. “I spend most of my time making art with clients, working with clients struggling with trauma who may not be able to verbalize their experiences. This could be due to memory damage or because it’s just too painful.”
Holmes has found art therapy useful in her own life by using crafting to cope with stress. She learned to crochet in 2019 while she was in graduate school when she felt anxiety about racial issues while in practicum and class.
“I knew I needed to do something with that stress, or it would eat me up, so I began crocheting small animals as containers to hold my recollections of that stress. They served as holding spaces for my stress so I could function. I now have a collection of these little guys,” she said.
Pulling from her personal experience, Holmes answered a call for publication submissions, and her essay, “Emptying the Jar: Crochet to Unpack Toxic Racial Stress,” was recently published in the book “Art Therapy: Diverse Approaches to the Transformative Power of Craft Materials and Methods.” While she is honored to have her work published, she said the best part of having her work published is the opportunity it’s given her to network with others in her field.
“There are so many great authors in that book and getting the chance to meet them, give talks with them, and really just share creative space has been a blast,” Holmes said.