A Q&A with Kyung Bae, Psychotherapist, ATR & Counselor
For Kyung Bae, art is more than a pastime. It’s an essential therapeutic tool to nurture the emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being of older adults. A certified art therapist, Kyung found the perfect place to pursue her vocation when she started working at United Hebrew of New Rochelle over three years ago. Not only does the leadership understand the importance of art therapy in senior care, Kyung says, “but they also let me be independent and creative—and I love that!”
Prior to joining United Hebrew, Kyung worked as an education consultant. After making a career change to pursue a master’s degree in art therapy, Kyung completed an internship where she worked with older adults. She found great fulfillment through the program, and then decided to launch her new career at United Hebrew. For Kyung, going to work every day at United Hebrew meant “being surrounded by kindness in a place where family members know their loved ones are taken care of so well.”
At United Hebrew, art is integrated into its robust recreation program to keep residents engaged and motivated. As Kyung explains, “Art therapy supports both verbal and non-verbal communication for older adults, especially for those suffering from cognitive issues like dementia. As speech becomes limited, art is a means to express emotion and communicate.”
The act of creating helps reduce loneliness, isolation, and anxiety, and by doing so, aids in the healing process for those who suffer from illness. Done in groups and individually, art therapy inspires thought, emotion, and conversation.
“I usually give the group a topic to draw and then everyone interprets that as they like,” says Kyung. “When we’re finished, we talk about what each person’s drawings represents. You’d be surprised at how what a drawing tells us about the artist’s characteristics. We learn about what’s important to them, and understand more about their past and family histories through their art.” Kyung also leads other therapeutic activities that include cognitive games, exercise programs, and music.
During the pandemic, the art therapy program was even more critical. “It helped to reduce a lot of the stress at that time,” says Kyung. Even residents who faced physical or motor skills challenges were able to participate. Kyung remembers a resident who first struggled to even hold a pencil or marker. With patient support and practice, she now loves to draw every day.
With the heart of an artist and the soul of a caregiver, Kyung found the career fulfillment she was seeking when she sees residents finding pathways to communicate through their art.
She’s also grateful for the kind and supportive atmosphere at United Hebrew—a point of pride for all.
“Our residents are thrilled and proud to have their families visit. They want them to see all they do here and how nice their home is here,” she says.