- About Us
Pioneering Community-based Creative Arts Therapies
Expression LaSalle was created in 1990 by the Quebec government in response to its decision to deinstitutionalize certain mental health services and to refer people to their communities for follow-up, treatment and support. The Centre opened its doors in the fall of 1990 and became fully incorporated on May 22nd 1991.
Expression LaSalle was initially founded as a self-help centre with an alternative, non-medical approach to helping people help themselves. Guided by the Centre’s founding director and art therapist, Colleen Gold, several volunteers offered a variety of self-help, educational and support groups to adults who were living in the community with mental health problems. In an environment of openness, the Centre made it possible for individuals to share their emotional difficulties, seek respite and receive on-going support. When a considerable number of people participating in the services were women who were sexually abused (especially survivors of incest), it became clear that while self-help groups were beneficial, what was really needed were psychotherapeutically oriented individual and group therapies.
In the spring of 1994, Julia L. Olivier, art therapist, became the new director and was given a clinical mandate by the Board of Director’s (comprised of a majority of users) to develop psychotherapeutic programs and therapies at the Centre. To be sure, other art therapy graduates from Concordia University and Vermont College of Norwich University were also breaking-ground in other community-based settings at the time. Nonetheless, the practice of therapy in community mental health settings, especially art therapy, was relatively uncommon. Moreover, even today there are at best a dozen community organizations that offer creative arts therapy programs in the Montreal city area.
The first goal of the new mandate was to continue the art therapy program that was offered by the first director; however the new director was also eager to expand our services to include other alternative and innovative methods of therapy. With increased provincial government funding in 1998 and 1999, we were able to expand our office space, hire a full-time secretary and another part-time art therapist to lead additional art therapy groups and develop services specifically on the theme of sexual abuse. Other mental health professionals (psychologists and social workers) joined the team on a part-time basis to offer discussion groups, relaxation & meditation and writing workshops. However, the director had a deep desire to transform Expression LaSalle into a community centre that privileges and specializes in the Creative Arts Therapies.
In the last two decades, we have been fortunate to gradually expand our therapy programs to include the fields of drama therapy, dance/movement therapy and music therapy. We are very grateful to be able to count on recurrent funding from the Quebec Government and several foundations and generous donors. We currently have three art therapists (including the director), one music therapist and one drama therapist on staff. Regrettably, we have not been able to offer dance/movement therapy on a regular basis due to financial restrictions and the unavailability of trained dance/movement therapists. Currently, there are no graduate dance/movement therapy training programs offered in Canada.
In addition, Expression LaSalle welcomes qualified volunteer clinicians to join our team to lead selected programs. However and most importantly, the Centre is a lively training ground for graduate-level students from disciplines of the creative arts therapies, social work, psycho education and counseling psychology. Over the years we have been able to offer a wide variety of therapeutic programs due to the volunteer participation of many students their practical training at the Centre: Sand Tray Therapy, Art and Movement, Creative writing, Mask-making, Stress management, Tribal Dance, Zen Art Therapy and Yoga and Discussion for Women, etc. Each year the Center welcomes 5 to 6 students and provides a rich opportunity to train with a wide variety of clients and a knowledgeable and dynamic team of therapists – much of who are creative art therapists!
Since our founding, Expression LaSalle has helped thousands of people reach a greater well being. The Centre is now synonymous to a safe haven for individuals as they manage their psychological and emotional difficulties through the use of different artistic processes. Today the majority of our programs use creative processes as a primary mode of communication with the goal to help people reach a greater well being and better equip themselves to live in the community with their mental health problems. We have found that self-exploration through the creative arts processes enables people to develop a greater sense of mastery, speak in an authentic voice, heal from traumatic experiences and discover new solutions to their problems. We have witnessed that with increased self-esteem and a greater sense of autonomy; our members take more responsibility for their lives, reduce their need for hospitalizations, and return to former activities, such contributing to family life, volunteering, studying, and even returning to work.
Portions of this article appeared in the spring 2010 Newsletter of the American Art Therapy Association (AATA).