Community, Art Therapy & Collaboration at Boulder Art Therapy Collective

Photo by Karen Wills

Sue Wallingford, MA, LPC, ATR is director of Boulder Art Therapy Collective, Chair of the Mindfulness Based Transpersonal Counseling program in the Graduate School of Counseling at Naropa University, and a Naropa Alumni.

She also spearheads the project Naropa International: Partnership for Social Justice, formerly known as Naropa Community Art Studio – International (NCAS- I). This piece is part of series spotlighting her work as a Naropa alumni and Art Therapist in Boulder, CO, with excerpts from an interview with Amanda Hart, a graduate student studying Transpersonal Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Art Therapy at Naropa University.

The Boulder Art Therapy Collective opened three years ago this past August, providing services to families, couples, and individuals.The therapeutic work within BATC takes place in private sessions, open studios, and workshops. Built around fostering relationship and identity as an artist, participants in the open studios and workshops understand they are not in a therapy session however, what takes place is deeply informed by Sue’s experience and knowledge of art therapy.

Photo by Karen Wills

“There is a release form that participants sign sort of to say, “I’m a therapist, but this is not art therapy.” There are certain things they need to know ahead of time, but then once we are working together… I get really close with my group members… I also don’t deny what I know. I don’t think that’s a good thing to do. If I have some knowledge to impart that I think is useful, I’m not going to hold back… and if I see that they need more care, then I might say, “Ya know, maybe you might need to do some one on one with one of our externs.”

It’s interesting to see how these groups have really become groups. Like someone else comes in and the dynamic that happens… they are not always welcoming, so it’s really like working with a group… and that group dynamics piece- I can’t ignore that piece. I can’t ignore that I know group dynamics.”

Nestled off of Lee Hill Road in North Boulder, the collective seeks to make these services available to a wide range of people, regardless of socio-economics or diagnosis. With a scholarship fund built from sales of handmade goods, the collective works with participants to assess need, and accommodate to provide services.

Some participants benefiting from this scholarship fund are community members however; Sue and the members of the Boulder Art Therapy Collective also take strides to work with agencies in the Boulder area by accepting participant referrals on a scholarship basis, while also providing on site trainings for therapists and teachers interested in developing art therapy skills. This collaborative treatment which seems to permeates Sue’s work has not been easy to establish, but it is beginning to speak for itself within the healthcare community.

Photo by Karen Wills

“There’s a culture change that I think needs to happen. I think it’s hard to collaborate sometimes because people are busy and sometimes, it’s just hard. But it’s starting to happen now, and people are starting to call us. I think trust, along with agencies and people knowing you’re a good organization to work with, helps. I also think it helps that I’m with Naropa, because I did internship for a long time with the art therapy program – it’s networking… also, I’ve been here, and I like to teamwork… I really like teamwork… I don’t like to work in isolation – the people here like that.”

Sue is currently working to further her collaboration into communities abroad, working with Cambodian caregivers serving women and children affected by sex trafficking. This work will be featured in the upcoming piece Naropa International: Partners in Social Justice – A New Iteration.


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