Artist In the Art Therapist: Sanford Excursions



Over the weekend, Sanford residents attended the local art show Artist in the Art Therapist. The show features artwork by Sanford Art Therapist Leara Glinzak. And examines Leara’s varied roles as artist, Art Therapist, and business woman.


I noticed a difference in my personal art and the art I made in my role as an Art Therapist. For a while, I kept the identities of artist and Art Therapist separate. The show explores how those two identities interact and inform one another. After compiling the artwork for the show, I realized how closely they align and the implications of integrating them: How does sharing personal art help my clients relate to me? When do I feel judged? How does the content differ, and why? Leara Glinzak


In treatment, clients often make the distinction between “my addict self” and “my sober self.


An important part of the recovery process is to address shame tied to a client’s using behaviors. The disease of addiction changes our behavior in dramatic ways. At Sanford House, folks rediscover their innate strengths, passions, and values.




Art Therapy at Sanford House at John Street

Leara facilitates Art Therapy group sessions at our men’s facility, Sanford House at John Street. Art Therapy is an unexpected part of the curriculum, and often met with skepticism by new clients.


But, in Art Therapy, we chat about the importance of identifying our strengths and trying new activities in early recovery. It takes courage to show up and participate. And eventually, clients realize they aren’t able to filter their art like they can filter their words. And they make the connection that they’re engaging in clinical work.


I’ve noticed a sense of camaraderie develop in the Art Therapy group. Residents remember that feeling… the feeling of being understood and accepted. This is coupled with learning a new way to cope with discomfort. Clients are developing skills that will continue to benefit them beyond their treatment stay. We accomplish this through community art-making. Leara Glinzak


The Sanford clinical staff have found Art Therapy group to be a beneficial addition to the program. Art Therapists Leara Glinzak and Jess Kimmel help residential and outpatient clients process in a different way.


Many residents identify grief and trauma in their life story….


And it can be difficult to put words to those experiences without inducing panic or deep sadness. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t address them. It means we need to find a way to broach those topics in a safe way. Art therapy helps people to ‘get unstuck…instead of halting the process. Art Therapy bolsters a client’s treatment progress, when it’s in tandem with all of the other services provided in residential treatment.


As part of her Art Therapy groups, Leara takes her clients to art museums, art shows, and coffee shops that feature local art, utilizing the environment in session. People in early recovery are learning to manage triggering people, places, and things. Part of the residential treatment experience is to help individuals re-integrate into their normal routine, without relying on their drug of choice. By traveling to a new place, Sanford clients practice looking at things differently.


Lighting the way with art

Leara practices Art Therapy from a humanistic, person-centered approach. She is in private practice at I Light LLC in Grand Rapids, which she opened in July 2017. She says, “I have been called a light by clients… lighting the way for them on their path toward recovery. And I wanted to incorporate that idea into the name of the practice. I Light feels empowering to me.”


In addition to running her private art therapy practice, Leara partners with other community members including Heartside Ministries, St. Ann’s Retirement Community, Ganton Senior Communities, Dominican Center, Families Against Narcotics, Alano Club of Kent County, and WMCAT.


I’ve grown the practice by asking the question, Where are the needs in my community? I Light started before the studio even opened… it started with an idea: to make an impact. My goal is to advocate and educate Grand Rapids about Art Therapy. Because the more people who are educated in this field, the wider our reach as Art Therapists. I can’t be everywhere. I need to teach others how to do what I do. Leara Glinzak


Grounded in Strength

When asked about current projects, Leara smiles. “I Light offers an Open Studio twice a month, an art and yoga collaboration, individual art therapy sessions, a grief group for family members and loved ones who have been affected by the opiate epidemic, and various workshops.” 


She also said, “I work with Jess Kimmel, the Art Therapist at Sanford House at Cherry Street. Together, we released The Visual Journal Workbook last week. Our purpose is to introduce non-artists to the concept of creatively processing their ideas. I recently spoke at the Mount Mary Art Therapy Symposium, where I shared my insights as a female entrepreneur.”




As Leara describes the process of assembling Artist in the Art Therapist, I am reminded of the harrowing journey of getting sober. And the way Leara assists her clients through this process….


The work spans from 2008-2019. When I look at the collection of work as an Art Therapist, I notice several themes… mostly, the importance of grounding oneself. When I was opening I Light, there were so many ups and downs. I felt incredible freedom, but still needed to strengthen my resilience. That comes through in all of the mountain imagery.


Artist in the Art Therapist is open to the public at Dominican Center, Marywood Campus, Grand Rapids, Michigan through April 30, 2019.





Author Jess Kimmel has always had a passion for art and when she discovered art therapy it just made sense. Jess is an Art Therapist who serves as Clinical Manager, Sanford House at Cherry Street for Women. Jess has a B.S in Psychology and an M.S. in Art Therapy. Art therapy allows her creativity to shine through her work and she thrives on seeing the confidence grow in the individuals she works with at Sanford Behavioral Health. Jess is from Hartland, Michigan and currently lives in Grand Rapids.