Age-old legends of unearthing treasures in one’s own back yard come to mind when speaking of art therapist Ellen Speert, who in the expansive garden of her Cardiff retreat center assists clients in finding their own treasures of well-being buried in their unconscious minds.A native of New York State, Speert initially moved to San Diego in 1972. Early in her career as teacher, an epiphany lead her to earn a Master of Education in Art Therapy degree from Lesley College in Boston. Later returning to California, her dynamic career as an art therapist was born. In 1980 she created The Art Therapy Center of North County, which continues to flourish on the spacious grounds of what was to evolve into the California Center for Creative Renewal.
Speert, who feels blessed in combining her love of people with art, works alongside her clients helping them rediscover what they already have, buried within themselves. She explains, “We are all born as creative beings, but many lose sight of that. Art therapy returns to us our birthright of our individual creative voice. It gives us a chance to free what is inside of us and communicate this with others.”
Although many artists come to work with her, no one needs to be an “artist” to participate in art therapy. Individuals come because they sense that traditional therapy isn’t reaching the core of their issues. Speert says, “The same issues arise that would come up in a traditional therapy, but because they are revealed through kinesthetic activities, they emerge in a slightly different way.” One of the means by which Speert helps clients reach the core of complex emotions is through creating surrealistic collages, which help to integrate conscious and unconscious ideas.
An athlete who loves the outdoors, Speert sees herself as an “Eco-Art Therapist” with nature playing an essential role in the healing environment. She says, “I have designed a playground for adults, a retreat center where people can discover their creativity while at the same time feeling held by nature in a safe and beautiful environment.” The avid gardener continues, “I create workshops that integrate nature into the process of healing.”
From the heart of the garden a labyrinth beckons, designed after a pattern from ancient Crete. Speert explains, “I use the labyrinth in conjunction with the therapeutic journey to help people become more centered and open to the creative process.” She continues, “Walking the labyrinth allows us to step out of our linear approach to problem solving and opens us to greater intuition, creativity and connection.”
During her 35-year career, Speert has conducted workshops, given presentations, and provided training and supervision to therapists around the globe. She has published numerous professional journal articles, designed and directed postgraduate art therapy programs at UCSD and National Universities, and served as president of the San Diego Art Therapy Association. She is currently active in the American Art Therapy Association and the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association.
Learn more about Speert’s programs at artRETREATS.com.