By Weam Namou
Always having been drawn to service and art, Cassidy Kassab found a way to naturally combine her two passions into the career of art therapy. The 25-year-old Michigan native received her BA in Studio Art from Oakland University and is currently working on her MA in Art Therapy at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
“You can use art in the healing profession,” Kassab said.
Art therapy is a method of psychotherapy, involving the encouragement of free self-expression, through painting and other artistic ways. Clients, facilitated by the art therapist, use the creative process and the resulting artwork to explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem. A goal in art therapy is to improve or restore a client’s functioning and his or her sense of well-being.
“People don’t go into this field to make money,” she said. “They go into it because it’s truly who they are, it’s a calling. You have to want to serve people.”
Although contemporary art therapy is a fairly new practice, art has been used since the beginning of human history as a medium for communicating thoughts and ideas. The oldest cave painting was found in El Castillo cave in Cantabria, Spain and dates back 40,000 years to the Aurignacian period. Though researches are uncertain as the exact purpose of the cave drawings, it has been theorized that they were likely used as part of religious ceremonies or to reach out to others in the area.
The youngest of four children, Kassab was born in Rochester to Sam and Faye. Being open-minded and having a healthcare business themselves, her parents were very supportive of her career choice, although they didn’t fully understand it.
“Eventually, they understood that it’s a counseling profession,” she said. “It’s important to acknowledge that our Chaldean Assyrian Babylonian ancestors have an extensive history of an art practice. It’s unfortunate that art is not as respected or as valued in our culture, and in a lot of cultures, not just in the Middle East. That’s because art is a luxury.”
She explained that when people come from Iraq to the United States, for instance, their life’s circumstances cause them to focus on ways they could feed and support their family, raise their children and put them through college. Those who finally have the opportunity to go to college, will often choose careers that will help support their family.
But Kassab points out that, regardless of the vocation one chooses, creativity is an important skill than can increase one’s IQ, helps calm the brain, and has many other beneficial factors.
According to Hennessey & Amabile (2010), creativity is a concept of individual differences, which is intended to explain why some people have higher potential to provide new solutions to old problems than others. It leads people to change the way they think about things and is conceived as the driving force that moves civilization forward.
Kassab’s main passion is digital media and graphic illustration, but she also works with mixed media including ink, watercolor, oil, and acrylic paint. She works heavily with religious and spiritual concepts, as well as political and human rights activism. Her most recent body of work is entitled Building Relationship where she created a survey and submitted it to all the therapists and clients at DePaul Family and Community Services, asking them, “What is it that helps you feel connected to your client or therapist?”
The therapists and clients responded similarly. Their main interests in having a strong relationship included comfort, humor, understanding and empathy, strength and perseverance together, and affirmation and validation.
Kassab said the most challenging part of art therapy is burnout, which happens with a lot of mental health professionals.
“You’re not only using your mind and skills, but all of your senses to deliver a service,” she said. “It can at times be emotionally draining, so I learned to take care of myself in a very intense way in order to constantly be available, with compassion, toward those I work with.”
Kassab plans to return to her community in Michigan, after she graduates this May, and start a type of arts ministry.
“I’m interested in creating a program for refugees and doing trauma-based work for children and adolescence,” she said. “When you are dealing with trauma, it’s very difficult to assimilate to a new country based on what you experienced.”
To serve this community best, she wants to learn Arabic and Sureth so she can better communicate with the refugees.
“They say that if you can understand poetry in another language, you can provide therapy,” she said. “That’s because if you can understand the nuances of the poem, then you can understand the nuances of another culture.”