Therapy Through Art

Local artist Souheir Rawlings helps people with development disabilities through expressive arts therapy

By Justin Franz

On a cool, rainy afternoon in Kalispell, Souheir Rawlings gathered with a small group of artists to decorate pumpkins for an art show opening. Over the next hour or so, glitter, glue and construction paper would be spread across the table all in an effort to create the perfect decorative gourd.

The artists are all people with developmental disabilities who meet with Rawlings once a month at the Center for Restorative Youth Justice in Kalispell for a class called “Art and Soul.” Rawlings, who has lived in the Flathead Valley for nearly three decades and spent years teaching art at area schools, is an expressive art educator and consultant who works with people of all ages. Rawlings said art is a fantastic way to express inner thoughts and feelings.

“It gives them a chance to focus on their abilities and not their disabilities,” Rawlings said, as she prepared the CRYJ space for the monthly class. “This isn’t about painting a pretty picture, but is instead about having an expressive experience.”

Besides the monthly class at CRYJ, Rawlings also meets with clients one on one, either at their home or her studio. Rawlings said that creating art with her students can help them find new ways to communicate and work with others.

Rawlings studied art in Italy and California prior to teaching. A few years ago, she began to study expressive arts therapy and is currently getting her certification as a registered consultant. She said one of the biggest challenges in moving to expressive art therapy is learning to not teach the client about what’s good art but instead what’s good for them.

Lynette Jarvis’ 23-year-old daughter Claire struggles with communication and has been working with Rawlings for three months. Jarvis said being able to give her daughter new and interesting experiences is important.

“Our goal is to just expand her world and see what puts a smile on her face,” Jarvis said.

Like Rawlings, Jarvis said the final product isn’t important, but rather that her daughter had a memorable experience. That’s what has kept Grace Stedman, 20, coming back to as many classes as she can.

“This helps me do things in different ways,” the student said. “And I just like spending time with Souheir.”

Work by Rawlings’ students is now on display at CRYJ in the KM Building in Kalispell at a show called “Special Art by Special Artists.” The public can view the show at CRYJ during its regular hours Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For more information, visit www.expressiveartandsoul.com.