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How Art Therapy and Social Work Intersect: Insights from Mariella McNealy

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

The Graham School’s 6th period art class was treated to a visit by a guest speaker whose career centers around social work infused with art therapy. Mariella McNealy (who prefers going by her last name since her family has roots in the military) came equipped with examples of color psychology, a video featuring The Village Potter, and a super fun, hands-on exercise with Play-Doh.

McNealy connected with the youth by doing a round robin introduction session in which everyone shared their first name and favorite color. Her enthusiasm was contagious as she emphatically greeted each student with a bold “Nice to meet you!” and told them what their preferred color said about their personality. For instance, black signified elegance, authority, and power. Blue represented peace, calm, and creativity. This “color psychology” activity gave the youth some fun insight into themselves and their peers. 

The video was an eye-opening experience as well. Roberto Lugo, professionally known as “The Village Potter,” is an artist from Philadelphia and has a relatable manner and way of speaking. McNealy impressed on the students that, even if they come from a background full of strife and struggle, they can still come out strong and successful. Finding a passion in life is key to making it through the toughest of times, and Mr. Lugo is living proof of that. Lead The Way participant, Jesus Gonzalez, appreciated learning about this artist and was moved to open up about his own love of street art and graffiti. 

Lastly, each student was given a tub of Play-Doh and asked to imagine a time when they were faced with adversity. They were to envision their feelings, remember what helped them through it, and then put all of those thoughts into the Play-Doh, making any style of pot they could concoct. Art therapy came to life in their hands, and the youth were thrilled to try it out. 

McNealy and the art teacher, Randi, spoke about “Kintsugi” - the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold — a metaphor for embracing one’s flaws and imperfections. It was a great way to round out the whole event, and both Lead The Way and The Graham School couldn’t be more grateful to McNealy and her inspiring energy!


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