Drexel University’s Girija Kaimal’s extensive research in art therapy was featured in National Public Radio’s Life Kit newsletter and podcast last month.
Life Kit, which focuses on health, money, parenting and life skills, published two back-to-back articles featuring Kaimal’s research. “Making Art Is Good for Your Health. Here’s How To Start A Habit” gave readers six ways to make creativity a healthy life-long habit, while “Feeling Artsy? Here’s How Making Art Helps Your Brain” focused on the science behind what happens to your body when you make art and why it is so therapeutic.
Kaimal is an associate professor at Drexel University and is listed as an expert in research in the Creative Arts Therapy Department, but she did not originally go to school for therapy, she said. She was torn between getting an undergraduate degree in design or psychology, unaware that art therapy was even an option. It combined the interests she was struggling to choose between.
“I ended up choosing design, but part of me was very eager to do psychology. I was always curious about human behavior and very curious about why people do what they do. I’m still fascinated by it everyday,” Kaimal said.
Kaimal completed her Masters in Art Therapy from Drexel in 2001 and her doctorate in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University. She practiced art therapy and worked with youth, HIV patients and in hospitals before returning to Drexel in 2013, researching and teaching for the program she graduated from.
Kaimal considers herself an artist to this day, working mostly with natural media like tree bark, leaves and clay — reimagining and repurposing her materials. After receiving her Bachelor of Arts in design, she finally discovered art therapy.
Although this is not the first time that Kaimal’s work has been featured in the media, she was particularly excited about the responses the Life Kit focus solicited. People reached out to her to let her know that the articles had helped or in some way empowered them.
When asked about how she felt seeing her work published, Kaimal was ecstatic. “That made me very happy, it’s sort of why we do this, it’s to empower people to get out there and do their thing. I didn’t know art therapy was a thing, but when I discovered it, it made a lot of sense to me… so when I discovered art therapy, I felt like it was a perfect combination of my interest in art and connecting it to psychology.”
As Kaimal told NPR, art can reduce stress and improve your mood, and it benefits those who are willing to try. “Someone who is eager to learn more about themselves and wants to share their experience but doesn’t always have the words for it, art therapy is really perfect for that, because sometimes we can express ourselves in ways we don’t always have words for, Someone struggling with communication.”
As Kaimal mentioned in the NPR article, you don’t need to be incredibly skilled to consider yourself an artist. She has worked with clients who possess a broad range of artistic skillsets.
“Someone who comes in with a perception that they’re not skilled… they are the ones I find surprise themselves. Other times there are people who come in and they might not be so happy with the final product because they set a higher bar for themselves … and I try to remind them about what the project means, what they got out of it, not as much about the outcome,” Kaimal stated.
In both cases, Kaimal said that she finds that most people leave with a sense of relief in having the ability to express themselves in a nonjudgmental way. While she is not aware of any current art therapy services for Drexel students, she thinks that it would be a great addition to the school.