Handmade: Art therapists started business together

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News

Two years ago, three local art therapists combined their efforts to start a business that would help individuals use the creative process to reduce stress and anxiety, manage their behavior, increase self-esteem and stimulate cognitive development.

Erin Shahly and Tessa Bird, both of Royal Oak, and Lisa Crystal, of West Bloomfield met while attending Wayne State University where they each received a degree in art therapy. They’ve since opened the doors to ArtSoul Therapy, “a healing arts practice,” at 1316 Campbell in Royal Oak.

“Wayne State is the only school in Michigan where you can get a degree in art therapy, and we all went to Wayne State, and we’ve all, over the years, worked together in various workshops. We worked individually and collaboratively, so we thought it would be more powerful if the three of us joined forces and started our own business,” explained Shahly.

“We are dedicated to helping individuals of all ages and abilities explore their thoughts, feelings and emotions through the arts. We utilize a variety of multisensory art materials and techniques, including drawing, paint and clay. Our mission is to provide therapeutic opportunities that empower individuals to heal, grow and discover,” continued Shahly.

ArtSoul Therapy treats its clients for anxiety and depression, grief and loss, trauma, infertility, eating disorders, addiction; developmental, learning and physical disabilities, behavioral and emotional disorders, and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Shahly said, “We each see clients privately at our office, and we do a lot of contract work, mostly in Wayne and Oakland Counties. (There are) so many people with disabilities. One woman had a stroke and she can’t drive, so I go to her home.”

Crystal said, “One of the major differences between art therapy and other therapies is that most other therapies rely on verbal communication. However, some issues may be just too difficult or traumatic for an individual to talk about. By using specific techniques and materials, an art therapist can provide a safe environment for an individual to explore these often overwhelming feelings.”

Bird, who’s often worked with TBI clients with physical discomforts, said, “What I love about art therapy is how it helps people address underlying issues, (such as hand-eye coordination, fine motor control and problem solving skills) while at the same time increasing their self-esteem by completing a finished piece of art.”

So far, their youngest client was a 3-year-old. “Sometimes a child is referred through their caseworker, or through different social service organizations,” said Shahly, adding that the No. 1 reason people – even children – come to them is because “they’re anxious about something.” And because everyone is different, each therapist works to meet her client at his/her level. “We set goals and objectives, review that, look at their progress and where they can go from there.”

In terms of future goals, ArtSoul Therapy hopes to make their services affordable for more would-be clients. “Currently, for most individuals, art therapy is not a covered benefit in Michigan. “We make every effort to keep costs low to make it affordable for those seeking treatment,” said Shahly. “We are always looking for partnership opportunities and funding resources to provide scholarship opportunities to low-income families.” However, she noted, it is covered for children with autism as part of the Michigan Children’s Waiver Program, and for any child or adult with traumatic brain injury.

Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, or

Contact ArtSoul Therapy (1316 Campbell, Royal Oak) at (248) 382-8551, or visit