“Stolen” textbook, passion for art fuel career in art therapy

“Stolen” textbook, passion for art fuel career in art therapy

Maureen Kelleher stands next to a horse in front of a stable and smiles at the camera.
Pictured Above: When she takes a break from her work in art therapy, Maureen Kelleher spends some of her down time horseback riding.
Photo courtesy of Ashley Harrison, Serendipity Photography

As a kid growing up in Alexandria, Maureen Kelleher, MS (ATC ’12), ATR, LPC, was always drawing in a sketchbook or painting with watercolors. But it wasn’t until she was a high school student and “stole” her brother’s psychology textbook to read that she considered a career as a therapist.

A Psychology 101 course at Boston College the summer before her senior year of high school sealed the deal, and she went on to earn her undergraduate psychology degree from Connecticut College in 2003.

“I knew when I went to college that I wanted to combine psychology and art somehow,” Ms. Kelleher says, “but I didn’t know what art therapy was. Art was always something I had done on my own. So it took me a while to find a way to combine the two.”

It was seven years later, after working with children on the autism spectrum and in community mental health in Norfolk, that she discovered EVMS Art Therapy and Counseling.

“This program was very rigorous,” Ms. Kelleher says. “But the challenges and the expectations of excellence and the opportunities for internships — working with children, adolescents and adults — were particularly helpful in preparing me to meet the needs of a wide range of patients.”

Today Ms. Kelleher is a therapist in private practice in Hampton Roads. Her expertise encompasses trauma, anxiety, depression, grief and loss, self-esteem and stress management, and she works to empower her patients using the creative process of art.

“Art therapy has so many applications,” she says. “It gives individuals the opportunity to express themselves in ways that can be less anxiety producing and can be helpful especially if somebody is having difficulty accessing words for what’s going on. And the creative process itself can boost a positive mood. That’s why art therapy can be so effective, and results can be seen so quickly.”

During this time of social distancing, Ms. Kelleher offers her therapy services through telehealth. She and her patients are exploring goals they had prior to the outbreak of COVID‑19, as well as the effects of the pandemic, such as not seeing friends or losing work.

In her spare time, Ms. Kelleher likes to ride horses and take her dog to the beach. She also reads a lot of books although, she jokes, “Not quite the amount required during the first semester of the Art Therapy program at EVMS.”