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New arts therapy group will support Cambridge front-line healthcare workers

A collage created during an art therapy session by certified Expressive Arts Therapist Catherine Mellinger. (Submitted) A collage created during an art therapy session by certified Expressive Arts Therapist Catherine Mellinger. (Submitted)

A new arts therapy group aims to offer front-line healthcare workers in Cambridge a much needed space to disconnect and reflect.

Sh*fting Perspective, from Button Factory Arts in Waterloo, started Tuesday and will run weekly on a drop-in basis until Dec. 20. The program, which is being offered remotely, builds off a similar art therapy group Button Arts Factory ran for Waterloo region nurses last fall.

Janice Luczka, a cardiovascular ICU (CVICU) nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital in Kitchener, was one of the participants in that initial group. She credits the program with helping her through a difficult time and allowing her to find compassion in a challenging situation.

“It was a huge diversion that I needed. It took me out of my work environment,” Luczka said, adding it also allowed her to connect to her colleagues in a different way outside of work and form a deeper attachment to her team.

In the fall of 2021, hospitals across the province were straining under the weight of an influx of COVID-19 patients.

Instead of caring for primarily post-open-heart surgery patients in the CVICU like she was used to, Luczka was now also providing care for a variety of intensive care patients who were being transferred to St. Mary’s from all over the Greater Toronto Area.

At the same time, Luczka and her colleagues were dealing with an unprecedented level of aggression from the public.

“[it was a] huge, huge stress,” she said. “I got yelled at so many times.”

“I’ve been working now for 48 years, and this was the only time that I hung up the phone, then called the security, identified this person who I was just talking to, that if this person comes to visit his family member, he must be escorted – for our safety.”


In that environment, Luczka said it didn’t matter what that week’s activity was at art therapy, it got her mind off work. It also helped her shift her perspective.

“It got me looking at all kinds of everyday pieces of life in a different light, through a different lens,” she said.

Talking about workplaces stresses as a group while doing art “sort of took the bite off, and put you in the zone of listening to both sides of the issue,” Luczka said.

“It brought me back to being compassionate to both sides of the coin, of health care and the different lives that these people live, and the different worlds they’re in,” she explained. “It did bring me back to being compassionate to everybody.”

She even explored that theme with a series of pieces showing a masked face expressing different emotions – and through that activity discovered she could show she was smiling by squinting. She shared the insight with her colleagues at work, and it caught on.

“Now at work, we all kind of squint to smile,” she said. “It came around to this compassion thing... how we can express hapiness without a smile.”


Catherine Mellinger, an expressive arts therapist who leads the sessions, said she hopes they offer participants “respite.”

“A moment to just do something that’s just for you, that you can explore something potentially in a way you haven’t explored before and a have a little soul vacation, so to speak.”

Mellinger said there are still spaces available in the current session. The group is open to nurses, disability support workers, personal support workers and other front-line health care workers in Cambridge.

Registration is free, but participants are asked to have an active Button Factory Arts membership, which costs $30.

“These are all people who are working with others who are struggling. If you’re a personal support worker or a nurse, generally the people you’re supporting depend on you… so it’s a moment to be selfish. It’s an hour and a half where you’re not there for someone else. You’re just there for yourself,” Mellinger said. Top Stories

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