Integration Healing deals with mental health through the arts
This article is among a number of emerging creatives Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) exploring the many art forms in the Milwaukee area.
Known as the creative heart of Milwaukee, the Historic Third Ward is home to a number of art galleries and studios, performing arts centers, the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, sculpture and installations, interior design and architecture offices, and art and music events.
Integration Healing, a local art therapy practice, also hosts countless art exhibitions such as “The Nature of Me,” which shows the identities of several artists who use art to process their life experiences and manage their mental health.
Integration Healing, alternatively known by the Spanish name Alivio Integral, was founded in 2017 by art therapist and licensed professional consultant Ernesto Atkinson.
Atkinson was born in Antigua, Guatemala. He attended North Dakota State University, where he first studied architecture, hoping to design an architectural structure that could help individuals and families affected by the war in his home country. At school he fell in love with painting and received his Bachelor of Arts with a major in painting. Still, the influence of Guatemala is evident in his works, as Maya-inspired human profiles fill the compositions.
In Guatemala he immersed himself in social work and was involved in the prevention of human trafficking. Atkinson returned to the United States and studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he received his Masters in Art Therapy.
“My real goal is to bring a brighter smile to society,” says Atkinson. He describes his art therapeutic approach as “elastic”.
The clinic’s main gallery space is filled with various pieces for The Nature of Me exhibit, where attendees express their life experiences across a wide variety of media.
“Most of the materials come from the customer. We all have an innate language within us … Some people use found objects like sticks, pieces of clay, jewelry, fossils; everything that the customer likes, that is innate to him – that activates his creativity – that is what we use as materials. ”
Psychotherapy and art therapy are applied simultaneously as artists explore their own mental state and problems, which can range from ADHD, anxiety and depression to trauma and PTSD, family conflict, grief and much more.
An important part of the art therapeutic process is the reaction art created by the therapist. Atkinson is currently working on a series of 48 pieces that will represent and respond to the experiences of its participants.
“Reaction art is how the session affected you … it’s a way of possibly understanding what the customer is going through. You can present the work of art to the customer and have a better understanding of what is happening. ”
Traditional art is not the only treatment that Integration Healing offers. They also have an on-site yoga studio where yoga teacher Jenny Urbanek leads Kundalini yoga sessions. Atkinson praises his partner’s practice and states that it serves as a complement to his work.
“Jenny is amazing at knowing how to do what I’m missing – the meditation part, the physical part. She uses yoga which is modified for all clients. There are some customers who have difficulty moving, so they use chair yoga. ”
Something else that sets Integration Healing apart from other art therapy clinics is that it is a bilingual practice where both English and Spanish are spoken, which includes them in Milwaukee’s Spanish-speaking community. However, Atkinson describes that it is more than that.
“The approach here is multilingual. It’s not just bilingual. I speak English and Spanish, but I have different types of languages. Art is one of the greatest languages and art speaks to everyone in a variety of ways. It’s a very customer-centric approach. When the client comes, the client becomes my teacher. That’s why I learn from them, about them, with them. ”
In Integration Healing, equality is an integral part. The human experience is unique to everyone, and Atkinson recognizes this when working with his participants. But Integration Healing explores the core of our humanity.
“What is special about Integration Healing? There is no hierarchy here. I am an artist. You are an artist. Sometimes, yes, there is – the hierarchy of knowledge of the therapist – but at the end of the day, when I’m sitting with that person in front of me … they’re all the same. I think we experience things differently, but we do Experience. And that is the core of the things that we experience. ”