Art Therapist, Lauren Wozniak, Helps Grieving Children & Families
Updated: Nov 5, 2020
Art Therapist, Lauren Wozniak, LCPC, ATR, is Program Director at Willow House in Bannockburn, IL. Scroll down to end of article to see her own artwork.
Often words fail when grief is too much to bear. That’s when Art Therapy can come to the rescue. The not-for-profit Willow House in Bannockburn, IL, is a social service organization whose sole mission is to support children, families, schools, and communities coping with grief and the death of a loved one.
Lauren, who is its Program Director, has helped individuals ages 3 to adult pick up the pieces of life again -- not so much with words, but through art. And for those whom she’s helping, it’s also especially useful for them to know she is no stranger to grief herself.
When Lauren was a senior in college, her mother, who suffered from bipolar disorder, died by suicide. It was during this painful time that Lauren discovered how much engaging in art helped channel her own grief. This expressive outlet later determined her future career path. She now holds a Master’s degree in counseling and Art Therapy along with an undergraduate degree in Studio Arts/Painting. Professionally she has worked as a children’s grief coordinator and bereavement counselor with an area hospice prior to her current position at Willow House.
“When I worked in hospice, I’d sit bedside helping the patient leave behind tangible memories for their loved ones,” Lauren explained. “And, if they weren’t able do that, they would direct me as I created what they wanted to see.”
Whether working one-on-one or directing art projects for a group, art making enables others to better process their emotions. One project that Lauren facilitated involved building “Grief Gadgets” from huge buckets of miscellaneous donated items that would help children connect to their loved one again.
“One six-year-old boy decided he’d create a radio using wires, a rotary phone dial, and old computer pieces plus a long antenna,” Lauren recalled. “He believed it would help him talk to his dad again who had recently passed away. We took it outside to see if it worked. I asked him, ‘What’s in your heart right now?’ He replied that he knew his Dad was connecting to him through it.”
“Unfortunately, adults too often self-disqualify themselves when it comes to art participation so I like to reassure them there’s no right or wrong way to do things in art therapy,” Lauren said. “It’s simply a way to process emotions – it’s not an art class – there are no grades. Using a collage approach or journaling is often easier with teens and adults for helping them get past their own art resistance and into processing their grief.”
Although Willow House is more geared to assisting grieving children, they actually serve the entire family through support groups scattered across Lake, Cook, and McHenry Counties. Services are entirely free offset by grants, donations, and fund-raising. The organization has been serving area families since 1998. During COVID, their support work is primarily conducted online.
DWELLINGS 16" x 24" by Lauren Wozniak; Watercolor, mixed media, sharpie, contact paper, collage, mod podge. Lauren states: "I wanted to depict the weight of what we carry as therapists for our clients, the weight of my own personal life/experiences of grieving my mom and dealing with my own anxiety, and the weight of the layers that COVID brings to our environment. I depicted hands holding up their head in a physical sense of the idea of heaviness."
For samples of the artwork of grieving children, please scroll down….
Marisol, age 7, crying...Brother and Father died
Cemetery drawing by girl, age 8, right after her mother passed away.