Kelly DiBenedetto '08 believes Emmanuel College's art therapy program laid the groundwork for her career. From faculty and peer support to engaging experiences, DiBenedetto said she was fully immersed in an environment that inspired her to become an art therapist.
"My experience at Emmanuel truly prepared me for my professional career," DiBenedetto said. "The education I received went beyond the classroom and helped me feel confident not only in myself but also in my decision to work in art therapy."
After Emmanuel, DiBenedetto received a master's degree in Art Therapy from Lesley University in 2011. She currently is an art therapist and mental health counselor at Boston Post Adoption Resources (BPAR), a non-profit therapeutic organization that was founded to support individuals and families who are touched by adoption.
At BPAR, DiBenedetto works with families to help them build stronger relationships, and helps children and teenagers build coping and emotion-regulation skills so they can express their feelings - many surrounding grief or loss - in healthier ways. When working with clients, she uses an array of creative supplies and media including paints, clay, found objects, shaving cream and more. With the children, she creates "lifebooks," which include photos of the child's most important and favorite memories surrounding their adoption. For teens, she works with them to create self-portrait collages using pre-cut words/phrases in an effort to let her know and understand who they are as people.
"As an art therapist, you can provide more direct experientials [such as the lifebooks or the self-portraits] or leave it up to the client to bring in their ideas," she said. "I try my best to be in the moment and figure out what my client might need, while keeping in mind their developmental age in order to gauge what activity or material might be most appropriate."
While at Emmanuel, DiBenedetto interned at a vocational art program for adults with developmental disabilities, who then had the opportunity to showcase their artwork in the facility's gallery. Though the site didn't offer art therapy, it helped guide her in determining the environment in which she wanted to work in the future and provided a basis for her thesis.
"It was clear to me how therapeutic the art was for the individuals creating it," she said. "I think it's important as an art therapist, and therapist in general, to be flexible and recognize the value in the creative process. So although I was not able to process verbally with the client's about their art, I was able to the witness the skills they developed through the process."
DiBenedetto keeps in contact with her Emmanuel advisor and art therapy professor Emily Parsons Gould, who she even had the opportunity to fill in for while Gould was on leave. Each year, DiBenedetto is also a guest speaker in Gould's classes to talk to the students about art therapy and Emmanuel.
"It means the world to me to be able to give back and potentially influence others to get into this career," DiBenedetto said. "I love what I do."