Westchester Art Therapist Mika McLane fosters women’s healing journeys


Mika McLane, private practice Art Therapist in Cross River. (Benjamin Allen / HudValley Photo)

What do you think of when you hear the term “Art Therapy?” Mika McLane, private practice Art Therapist at Westchester Creative Arts Therapy, will tell you that the two most common questions people ask her about Art Therapy are; what is it, and did you attend art school?

Art Therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses art as a tool for expression. It encourages people to understand emotions through [the] artistic and creative process,” McLane explains. Traumatic life events, uncomfortable feelings, or losses often become suppressed and we push them down, where they become stored within the body. While traditional psychotherapy is about analyzing, “art therapy allows you to have that verbal process, but through using art materials you are staying present with your body and connecting with what is stored in your body as well.”

McLane, a Registered Art Therapist (ATR), Licensed Creative Art Therapist (LCAT), and Certified Child Life Therapist (CCLS), earned degrees at Endicott College and Pratt Institute. “People don’t really understand the level of both education and years of supervised work beyond that education that Art Therapy entails,” McLane explains. While creating art is therapeutic and art is a wonderful self-care tool, “when you are in therapy creating art, you are processing on a deeper level. [It’s] the difference between ‘I’m making art,’ versus ‘I am creating within a therapeutic process with an art therapist,’” McLane delineates.

She explains that art therapy is “not product-based, it’s about the process of creating. You do not need to be an artist or be considered ‘good’ at creating. It’s really just allowing yourself the opportunity to play, connect and experiment.” While the practice can attract creatives, it “can be challenging for artists in particular because artists are product-based,” McLane says. “Instead of [focusing on] what is it going to look like, [the focus is] what is coming up for me as I’m making or creating this?

Artwork hanging in McLane's Cross River space. (Benjamin Allen / HudValley Photo)

McLane’s practice began with a focus on Women’s Circles. As a young mother, this was both a way of launching her business and a means for her to connect with other young mothers within her community. In 2018, McLane, a South Salem mother of two young children, decided to move her private practice into Cross River’s collection of mostly female entrepreneurs in the Yellow Monkey Village. “Seeing other women following their passions and doing what they love” greatly inspired McLane. Her focus began to specialize in women's self-care and identity in motherhood.

While Westchester Creative Arts Therapy is set up like an art studio, materials for an art therapy session or Women’s Circle are not assigned. McLane’s hope is that when people enter the space, any and every type of medium they wish to work with is available to them. She invites clients to walk around the room and touch the tools and materials. The process of selecting materials is about intuition and involves patients truly listening to themselves about what type of medium they desire to work with during any given session. Clay can be molded on a day when a client desires to “really be in their body,” while colored pencils or markers offer a client more control, and watercolor is looser and free-flowing. Deciding on a medium that works for someone at the moment “can be challenging and take practice,” McLane explains.

Supplies on hand at Westchester Creative Arts Therapy. (Benjamin Allen / HudValley Photo)

Navigating a hands-on practice throughout the pandemic posed challenges, but McLane found creative ways to work with her clients. She sent boxes of art supplies to her clients, encouraging them to set up a space in their homes where they could focus and maintain privacy during Telehealth sessions.

“Covid was a wild experience because here I am, actively processing this trauma, this unknowing and collective fear we have as a society, and supporting others,” McLane says. “It was very interesting for me in my own self-work in navigating what is mine and what is theirs.” And while the pandemic posed challenges, McLane says, “there’s a lot of insight that comes with virtual calls.” She noticed the opportunity to learn so much more about a client by observing them in their homes, and how they handled sessions around their partners, children, and even pets.

Without hesitation, McLane divulges that the most rewarding aspect of being an Art Therapist is “being witness to others' healing” during the quiet moments. “It is this beautiful ever-evolving process of understanding yourself on a deeper level and so when those moments happen, when something really connects for someone, those are the moments that are so impactful, but they are not loud.” Her ongoing facilitation of women’s healing, she explains, does not mean that people are in therapy forever. Instead, she hopes to foster lifelong self-reflection, questioning, and growth.

When asked about what the future holds for Westchester Creative Arts Therapy, McLane says with a soft smile; “I really like where I am. It feels really good. I don’t want to be too over-scheduled or overly busy. [My] future plans are settling into where I am.”

Signage outside of McLane's private practice. (Benjamin Allen / HudValley Photo)
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