Expressive Arts Therapist Sheri Gaynor on Uncovering the Curative Power of Our Creative Selves
“But I’m not an artist.” Sheri Gaynor hears this all the time. In more than three decades working as an expressive arts therapist and licensed clinical social worker, she has seen innumerable clients who don’t believe they possess any creative talent—certainly none that could aid their own healing and growth.
Gaynor’s passion is showing them otherwise.
“Somebody long ago told them they’re not an artist,” she says. “Maybe it was a teacher or parent, when they were just a child—and that kind of thing sticks with a person over a lifetime. But the mantra of my work is: I don’t care what you’ve been labeled by yourself or someone else. Let’s get you where you want to be.”
Gaynor’s first job is to facilitate a paradigm shift in how clients perceive the fundamental role of art and creativity in their lives. She teaches them that creative output needn’t hang in a gallery to be considered “art”—not by a long shot. Healing through creativity is about process, not product.
“What they create can be very private; maybe no one sees it but them,” she notes. “When they start thinking about creativity in a different way, after it has been suppressed for so long, it kind of explodes out of them.”
And that, Gaynor says, is where the healing begins.
“I want people to experience themselves in a way they’ve never seen themselves before,” she adds.
A long-time Roaring Fork Valley resident, Gaynor grew up in New York and finished graduate school in Florida before two old friends invited her to visit Aspen in the late 1980s.
“They said, you’ll love it here, you should move here because there’s only one stoplight,” she recalls with a laugh. Gaynor agreed to visit, got off the plane, and scanned the phone book for potential places of employment.
“There were really limited resources for mental health at that time,” she remembers. “It was much different than what we have in the valley today. I called the one center I found, Aspen Mental Health, and asked if they had any openings.”
They did. As fate would have it, the center had an immediate opening and Gaynor was hired. She’s lived in the valley ever since, and her work has evolved and taken new directions over the years. In addition to offering private counseling she has partnered with schools and nonprofits, and has been involved with many impactful projects including an ongoing expressive art therapy class for cancer patients, survivors, and anyone who identifies as being in need of mental health support at The Art Base in Basalt. Gaynor’s book “Creative Awakenings: Envisioning the Life of Your Dreams Through Art” was published in 2009 by North Light Books. She has also become a certified equine psychotherapist, weaving her passion for the healing power of horses into her practice with her American Paint Horse, DreamWeaver Sunday. This year, Gaynor will mentor and guide others to her field through local expressive arts facilitator trainings.
“It’s so amazing to be able to offer people different modalities that help them access different parts of themselves,” she says. “It gets us out of the verbal circles we’re all familiar with—to express and find meaning in ways we hadn’t thought possible.”
If you, too, have never thought of yourself as creative, Gaynor would invite you to reconsider. Here is a simple exercise to kickstart the creative process in your own life this year, through one of her favorite and most accessible modes of expression: collage.
The 15-Minute Energy in Motion Intuitive Collage
Supplies: Magazines, a glue stick, 8×10 copy paper or sketchbook, scissors (optional)
Step One: “Carve out some quiet time for yourself and/or your family. Light a candle and create a sacred container. Have your supplies laid out and ready to go.”
Step Two: “Take a minute or two and connect with your body through your breath. Scan your body. What are you feeling? What do you notice? You will take these feelings into the next step.”
Step Three: “Set a timer for three minutes. Find images that reflect the feelings you identified in your body scan. These images can be positive, negative, or both. Don’t censor or judge what comes.”
Step Four: “Now set your timer for seven minutes. Take your images and add them to the page with your glue stick. I prefer ripping my imagery over using scissors, as it keeps me out of a perfection mindset and it’s actually somewhat meditative.”
Step Five: “Finally, take three minutes and quickly write about what came forward during this activity. Date your collage, and give it a title, and place it somewhere you will be able to interact with it for the next week.”