October 2, 2019 | By Karianne Spens-Hanna, M.Ed

Tell us about yourself

As a Detroit based artist, singer/songwriter, and Art Therapist, my art practice is driven by my interest in entropy and humanity’s interconnections to the environment. My art and music exist within a liminal space using judiciously restricted sounds, palettes, and intuitive process that result in alluringly evocative imagery and songs. My interest in psychology, various healing modalities, anatomy, and physiology also inform my practice. I received my BFA from College for Creative Studies, specializing in painting, drawing, and sculpture, and my M.Ed in Art Therapy from Wayne State University. I currently work as an Art Therapist at Common Ground Crisis Residential Unit, Mariners Inn with men in treatment for substance abuse and homelessness, and with youth at the Macomb County Juvenile Justice Center.

What excites (or inspires) you most about your job right now?

As a new Art Therapist, I’m excited about applying what I’ve learned in school into my own healing practice. While working with people in treatment, I love the moments when we are able to get into flow – they can feel the benefits of art making, and externalize what they have going on inside of them. I definitely feel like I have found my passion career, where I can provide an interdisciplinary approach, weaving together my interest in healing, my studies around body awareness and meditation, my music and art making to help foster connection. I am also excited right now about co-founding the Solstice Healing Arts Collective with four other Art Therapists, where we can share our passion for the healing arts with people who may not otherwise have access, or who have not been in treatment facilities. I am also interested in helping artists by establishing safe spaces for them to create. My family and I have started The Lewis Farm Retreat, our family farm Airbnb where people can experience being in nature and tapping into their creativity. We rent this space out to individuals and also facilitators to run workshops. I’ve also helped start Greater Impact House in Detroit, which will be an artist residency that is structured to help artists continue nurturing their craft without the use of drugs, alcohol or tobacco.

Has working with a particular client group shaped your professional focus or specialty? What have you learned from working with these clients?

Working with people in recovery from substance use disorder in the midst of this opioid epidemic has deepened the drive in me to bring art therapy to this underserved population. There is such a stigma around mental illness, trauma and addiction so I want to understand, serve, heal, and educate through art making. I have learned that support needs to also exist outside of treatment facilities, which is why I am helping create Greater Impact House, which will be live/work space for artists to create without the use of drugs, alcohol or tobacco. Working and living in Detroit, where you can see the juxtaposition of a thriving art scene but an overwhelming struggle with addiction, makes me want to do something about it the best way I know how, which is through art. My art therapy practice and what I have learned from my clients has fulfilled and propelled me in ways I was not expecting, and I am looking forward to continuing to be a support for people in their recovery and healing process.

What advice would you give someone interested in pursuing a career in art therapy?

I would tell someone who is interested in pursuing a career in art therapy to shadow Art Therapists, research the various places they could work, be prepared to pave your own path and possibly create a position for yourself, continue to make your own art, find ways to have quiet in your life through meditation if possible, and self-care as much as possible. Being an Art Therapist has broadened my awareness in all aspects of my life, including my own personal art practice and song writing, so if you love working with people, have an open heart and want to use your creativity to help, go for it! It’s a wonderful, fulfilling career you can spend a lifetime exploring a healing modality that constantly teaches you about humanity and your place within it.

What are your hopes for the future of the art therapy profession?

I hope that every state can offer licensure and we continue to raise awareness regarding the impactful services we provide. I would also like to see more neurobiological quantitative studies done regarding the benefits of art therapy, in particular with addiction.

“Life Lines” by Karianne Spens-Hanna. Graphite on board. 2014.

Artist’s statement: “Moving fluidly between abstraction and realism, my work examines the intricacies of connection, the human body, memory, and our relationship with the environment. Using found objects, organic material, paint, wax, and drawing mediums, I explore the idea of entropy and the transience of our being. By expounding on patterns that are mirrored between nature and our own anatomy, my intention is to show that everything is a degradation of matter and energy and we are part of a deeper quantum network. The core of what keeps me creating is my curiosity around connection; how we connect to one another, with our environment, and to our own existence. Working as an art therapist deepens this curiosity and has instilled a purpose to provide people with the opportunities to experience the transformative, restorative and healing qualities of art. I am a visual artist, art therapist, and singer/songwriter and all these facets intricately weave together to form an interdisciplinary practice that revolves around healing.”