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Fighting COVID-19 isolation through Art Therapy, virtually and in-person

Posted at 3:00 PM, Dec 22, 2021

CLEVELAND — COVID-19 has made all of us find new ways to cope with our daily struggles, especially for people who were already seeking help before the pandemic.

Art Therapy was helping thousands of people around Northeast Ohio before COVID-19 shutdown orders and social distancing kept those people from the activities that help them navigate anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions.

If art is something we give the world, then Sarah Bullington is finding out what art can give us back.

“No everybody understands what it feels like to be a person with a disability,” said Bullington.

Sarah works on Art Therapy pieces while separated from her therapist because of COVID.

But we do all know what it was like to lose the ability to do what we wanted and travel where we wanted to go when COVID-19 kept us mostly at home. The isolation might have hit us all differently, but for Bullington, “a lot of anxiety just hit like a storm.”

Before the pandemic, she would have worked through that anxiety by working with beads or painting, creating pieces of art with an Art Therapist by her side, feeling her way through hard emotions.

“That’s when I start the anxiety and depression and continue to fight,” said Bullington. “Even though I don’t have that energy to do so.”

The thing is: while all of us are starting to see a slow return to what makes us happy, Bullington doesn’t see at all.

“I couldn’t find anybody who was willing to work with somebody with no vision,” said Bullington.

Sarah relies on her sense of touch and the help of an Art Therapist to do her work. That became much harder when they weren't in the same room because of the pandemic.

“This is her sight,” said Art Therapist Matt Koshar, holding up his hands.

Koshar helps people like Bullington find calm and confidence.

“The studio is my happy place,” said Bullington. “If I’m at home, I just think of being in the studio.”

That’s why COVID-19’s impact was so devastating for people like Bullington, who were already seeking help and suddenly had it pulled away while we stayed socially distanced.

“It’s hard to maintain our mental health, maintain our physical health,” said Koshar.

That’s why Art Therapy Studio Executive Director Michelle Epps scrambled while so many people struggled through COVID-19.

“It’s really important for people to realize what’s happening to themselves right now in this moment in time, take time to reflect,” said Epps.

Online meetings or sessions over the phone helped a little bit, but the isolation often overpowered the digital connection.

“It wasn’t the same, it’s not the same,” said Bullington.

After months apart, Sarah and Matt can be back in the same room again, with protective gear.

Now, masks and face shields brought Matt and Sarah back together again, breaking down the isolation, and breaking through hard emotions.

“It’s been a year and a half now,” said Kosher, before diving into Bullington’s art therapy session. “Ok, you can place your bee anywhere you want on your paper.”

At a moment when it seems fewer things feel familiar and it’s easy to feel alone, maybe the best treatment is just going back to how things were.

“Couldn’t get here fast enough,” said Bullington, laughing. “It was like coming back home.”

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