Feeding Mind, Body, and Soul
Alexandra Chukabarah, MS, arts specialist at Shepherd Center, explains how art therapy helps patients reach their goals.
Q: How long have you worked at Shepherd Center?
I have been an arts specialist at Shepherd for seven years in the Recreation Therapy Department. I work with my colleagues to tailor treatment interventions for each patient I see to meet their needs and goals.
Q: How did you know you wanted to do this as a career?
I initially got into art during high school. I took a darkroom photography class and noticed how it helped me with my own anxieties. While volunteering at a VA medical center, I saw someone with quadriplegia paint using a brush in his mouth for the first time. Helping him do that really opened my mind – it was amazing to see how creating art pieces gave the veterans such a sense of accomplishment. That experience inspired me to pursue my master’s in art therapy and work at Shepherd Center!
Q: What types of patients do you see?
I see patients across Shepherd Center’s programs including spinal cord injury, brain injury, the Comprehensive Rehabilitation Unit, SHARE Military Initiative, and outpatient programs. I’ve also had the opportunity to lead art clinics in the community.
Q: Why is art therapy beneficial to patients?
It’s beneficial in a lot of different ways.
- Patients work toward their physical and functional goals. For example, for a patient with quadriplegia, we work on strengthening the upper body and improving fine motor skills through activities like painting, photography, and working with clay. For patients with cognitive goals, we can work on sequencing where we think through what steps are required to complete a task, like painting a ceramic mug. These activities give the person an opportunity to apply what they are learning in therapy to something concrete.
- It helps patients find something meaningful to do. The process of creating something from nothing in art can be really empowering. Often, a patient will come to me thinking they can’t do something, like painting a picture. After I show them a couple of tips, they surprise themselves with what they can accomplish and then feel encouraged to try other things, whether that’s art or something totally different.
- It provides a moment of relaxation in my patients’ days. After a busy therapy day, many people tell me that coming down to a creative and quiet space is a chance for them to re-center themselves.
Q: What do you love most about your job?
I love spending time with my patients and getting to know them as people. As much as I give to them, they give back to me. Being able to introduce them to this creative process and watch that unfold in each of their unique, beautiful ways is so rewarding. It feeds my soul.
INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT ALEX
- Georgia State University
- Bachelor’s degree in Art and Art History
- Queen Margaret University Master’s degree in Art Psychotherapy
- Alex attended a two-year master’s program in Scotland.
- She has a dog named Alfie who she says is the sweetest Pitbull you’ll ever meet.
- Alex started playing the ukulele last year.
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neurological conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.