The Summit: Collaboration and Connection

Faculty Guest Blogger: Stephanie Wise

Stephanie Wise: For the 6th year in a row during the first weekend in November, New York City has hosted the Expressive Therapies Summit. As their website states, it is an opportunity for “creative arts therapists, educators and students, arts professionals, mental health and social service professionals to come together to learn, collaborate, and network.” There are hundreds of people presenting and thousands of people attending programs at different venues throughout the city. I have presented and collaborated in five out of six of the Summits, including this year.

I was honored to be part of a day long Master Class, Multimodal Storytelling, Listening & Attunement as Transformative Medicine, with master storyteller Laura Simms, choreographer/dancer Aubrey Lynch, and drama therapist Emily Nash (see bios below). While we came from differing backgrounds, trainings, and intentions, what unified our collaboration was the overall belief in the capacity of the arts to be agents of healing. In this workshop, we began with a particular story, The Bowl, and followed this metaphor through a journey of personal exploration and transformation utilizing dance/movement, visual arts, writing, dramatic reading, and group process.

The Importance of Collaboration

For this blog, I will share a few of my thoughts on the importance of collaboration. Joining up with others to make something happen is, in my mind, central to our survival. We are social beings who are dependent from birth “upon the kindness of [others]” (thank you Mr. Tennessee Williams for allowing me to somewhat alter Stella’s words.) Surely, surviving childhood requires many acts of collaboration by many people! Throughout the life span it is quite impossible to not need others in some capacity. We do not work and live completely alone and we really do not thrive well in silos. There is so much to be gained and shared through alliances with other humans.

Collaborating with others opens opportunities for understanding other perspectives, negotiating efforts, enriching the material, adding dimension to the conversation, and so much more. One can develop a spirit of generosity, it can be humbling, and it can save the day when things seem to be falling apart. It can also make us aware of our territoriality, make us question our own thinking; bring up competitive thoughts and feelings. There are many challenges in the process of collaboration.

I embed collaboration all my undergraduate Art Therapy courses here at Marywood University. Each semester students work together on class presentations and art experientials. They tell me they are nervous presenting yet afterwards express they feel relieved and content. We relive the experience through conversation and processing. There is a transformation and connection to one and other that comes through collaboration. And isn’t that what it’s all about as humans?

Connection was another important aspect of participating in the Summit. Experiencing one’s self generally as part of the greater professional mental health and creative arts community is invigorating. Re-uniting with one’s own professional community is restorative as well. I was fortunate to re-connect with former students both from where I work here at Marywood, as well as former students from my alma mater, NYU. I met up with a few of my former professors, supervisees, and classmates. It was a rich reminder that we all share parts of a common history which continues to influence who we are today as art therapists. It also brought to mind how our original relationships and self-concepts shift and change over time as we walk this common journey called ‘life’.Participant Summit

Summit Master Class BIOS:

Laura Simms is a storyteller, writer, and activist who advocates and models contemplative storytelling and mindfulness practices. She was a senior research fellow at The Peace Institute and Focus Wellness Initiative at Rutgers Univ. Laura teaches contemplative storytelling at the graduate school at Antioch Univ. and Cae Mabon, Wales and has a private practice in NYC. She directs The Center for Engaged Storytelling and is artistic director for The HC Andersen Storytelling Center. Laura teaches, performs, and collaborates on healing projects worldwide including Nepal, Haiti, Romania, N. India, and post-Katrina New Orleans. She is a certified meditation instructor and Dharma art teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist and Shambhala traditions.

Aubrey Lynch is a former dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, original cast member and former associate producer of Disney’s “The Lion King,” certified life coach, and founder and director of Aubrey Lynch Extra Essential Arts AL-EEArts. He works closely with creative arts therapists exploring new ways to use dance as language to speak our inner truths. As the director of dance at Harlem School of the Arts, Aubrey works with ages 2-17 and as a freelance director, choreographer, and master teacher, he leads master classes and workshops for all ages.

Emily Nash, LCAT, is a drama therapist, psychotherapist, and group therapist. She has presented and implemented her work nationally and internationally, specializing in developing conscious community and creating healing dramas towards individual and collective growth and change. Along with Emily’s colleague, Stephanie Wise, she has co-founded the Integrative Training Alliance, which offers trauma-informed training/supervisory mental health professional intensives for men. Emily is a graduate of the Integrative Trauma Studies Program at NIP (National Institute for the Psychotherapies) and is currently an affiliate in their trauma program. She has a private practice in NYC.

Stephanie Wise, MA, ATR-BC, ATCS, LCAT, is a registered and board-certified art therapist and licensed creative arts therapist in NY. She received her BFA from The Cooper Union and her master’s from the graduate art therapy program at NY University, where she also earned her certificate from the international trauma studies program. Stephanie has worked nationally and internationally in the field of traumatic stress and resiliency and has published and lectured extensively on this work. Formerly, she was an adjunct faculty member at New York University and is currently clinical assistant professor in the art therapy program at Marywood University in Scranton, PA.


Stephanie Wise is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Art at Marywood University

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