Elizabeth Youngs remembers at a young age having a very active imagination, an acute awareness of her surroundings, and a wandering spirit. Being a very shy child, she was naturally drawn to the creative arts as a form of expression. Without knowing it, she was using art as a therapeutic tool to help her deal with life’s problems and the complex feelings of being a teenager and young adult. Later, after realizing the healing power that she had experienced herself, Elizabeth wanted to help facilitate that power for others.
While pursuing her Bachelor degree in Art Education at Buffalo State College, Elizabeth saw her students struggling with issues of identity, gender, sexuality, and culture with a lack in opportunity to explore these concerns in a safe and constructive manner. Elizabeth believed that if unresolved, these cultural and social concerns could not only affect the individual, but also family systems and the community as a whole. Although she found ways to explore these issues and foster meaning and identity development in her art lessons, she had a strong desire to dig deeper with her students.
While still pursuing her degree, Elizabeth traveled to a small community in Jordan to teach English for two months. This was the first time that she had to figure out how to communicate without the benefit of words and language. The power of being genuine and fully present in the moment became clear while interacting with her students. Simple hand gestures, symbols, and pictures were a necessity. During that experience in Jordan, Elizabeth realized that many symbols used in art were within a universal language and honed in on a deep desire to use the arts in poverty-stricken communities internationally in the future.
While pursuing her Graduate degree in Art Therapy & Counseling at The College of New Rochelle, Elizabeth had the chance to test out this dream and put it into action. Her supervisor, Dr. Kelvin Ramirez, was in the process of planning a trip to Nicaragua and invited her to facilitate some therapeutic art activities with fellow art therapy graduate students at a special needs school in a small community outside of León. Not knowing any Spanish and being a first year art therapy student, Elizabeth was pushed outside of her comfort zone and had to allow her therapeutic intuition to take over and guide her through the process. This experience helped develop her therapeutic approach and build confidence in herself as an art therapist.
Elizabeth currently works on three acute inpatient psychiatry units at a hospital in Elizabeth, NJ. She has become a witness to the stigma and quality of life that her patients experience within the system of managed care and psychiatry. In addition to stabilization, her main initiative as an art therapist in this setting is to have her patients feel seen and heard. Elizabeth has continued to be involved with these international trips and the work of Arts Unchained and FNE International since the first trip in 2012. She strongly believes in the importance of cultural competence as clinicians and therapists in an increasingly diverse country and world.