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AU News

Cantrell Helps Patients Through the Healing Power of Art

Art therapist Sara Cantrell
South Carolina School of the Arts graduate Sara Cantrell is an art therapist at Walter Reed Hospital.

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Sara Cantrell, a graduate of the South Carolina School of the Arts at Anderson University, has always loved art and wanted to help others. She feels blessed to be a part of a profession that combines her love of art with a love for helping others who are grappling with health challenges

Cantrell, who received her bachelor of fine arts in art with a painting and drawing concentration from the Art and Design Department of the South Carolina School of the Arts, was recently recognized by the American Academy of Pediatrics and invited to share her story with them. She’s also in the process of obtaining her counseling license in the state of Maryland.

As a certified art therapist in the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine at Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, Cantrell daily sees in her patients the value of art therapy and other creative therapies within a medical setting. 

Coming to Anderson University from her hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, Cantrell felt warmly welcomed from her first visit and cultivated friendships with classmates and professors that she’ll never forget. She recalls long but happy hours spent in the art studios working on projects with her classmates; also professors and others from whom she learned valuable life lessons in the realms of art and her Christian faith.

Cantrell graduated from Anderson and entered a time of soul searching as she was praying about and considering next steps. 

For a short time, Cantrell worked at a Baptist retreat center and then became a parent facilitator at a school. During that time she caught a glimpse of her future when a friend mentioned art therapy to her.

“They had a friend of a friend who became an art therapist and actually went to George Washington University,” said Cantrell, excited about the possibility of a job involving art and helping people in meaningful ways. “This was around the time that COVID hit, so I was released from my duties at the school. I started to explore the art therapy field, talked to a few people in the field and just realized this is everything that I wanted to do.”

“I took the jump, applied, got accepted, I got some funding, and in the midst of COVID I moved to the D.C. area. It was a big, big change,” she said.

Cantrell feels that her faith and art just go together. She feels God prepared her for her career. Each day at Walter Reed is unique in terms of joys and challenges. 

“I really try to show up for those patients to offer them the space to engage within art therapy and the art materials, and it’s totally up to the patient, whether they want to participate or not. I’m really trying to hold space for those pediatric patients who don’t often have much control over their lives, going through cancer treatment, and I want art therapy to be a space that is cherished for them, that they can decide what they want to do and I’m going to assist them with that,” she said. “There’s so much that comes up in our therapy for each child. Like if we’re exploring losing our hair, how are we exploring that through art?” 

In addition to the relationships Cantrell has built with the patients and their families,” she’s blessed to be surrounded by an encouraging, supportive staff.

“We’re all supporting each other in the work that we do in this clinic and so that always makes me feel like I’m working towards something that provides me with a sense of hope—to go in every day and do work that I know is valuable; I cherish that very much,” she said.

You can read more about Cantrell’s approach to art therapy in her complete interview on AU Network.

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