Art therapy turns trauma to triumph


Kayla Doherty of East Greenwich found inner peace after childhood trauma through art and has decided to pay it forward with Kayla’s Creative Crafts, Poetry & Amateur Art, free art therapy classes offered out of her home.

Doherty, who has a bachelor’s degree in social work and psychology from Providence College, is a self-taught artist who discovered the benefits of art therapy during a stay at Butler Hospital 15 years ago.

“I carried those skills with me,” said Doherty, who explained that she found an outlet for expression through art, crafts and poetry.

Doherty was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and multiple personality disorder stemming from events during her youth. From age three until she was 24, Doherty was subjected to life within a satanic cult and suffered a great deal of abuse as a result.

“It doesn’t matter how often the trauma went on, it happened,” said Doherty.

She was able to leave the state and go to West Virginia University to study for her master’s degree in child psychology. However, she never completed her program. She returned to Rhode Island and eventually began to have flashbacks.

 “Alternate personalities come in and the memories come apart,” said Doherty.  

In her late 20s she began a long career of hospitalizations – 93 to be exact – the majority in Butler.

“Most of my life has been hell. It didn’t matter what they did,” said Doherty. “It takes away your sense of self.”

Doherty did call the police on her abusers and an investigation occurred, but nothing came of it except Doherty gaining a restraining order. The only family she has contact with is a sister, a brother-in-law and a niece who live in California.

While she says she owes her life to her current therapist, who she has been seeing for many years, she also learned to find a different outlook while hospitalized.

“Being in a psychiatric hospital, there is a lot of homework,” said Doherty, explaining that she was encouraged to find a different way of life and held on to the idea that light always overcomes the darkness.

Now Doherty is hoping to help women and children find a way out of the darkness through art projects, unique crafts and poetry. Her program, which aims to provide participants with peace of mind and hope, does not just help those suffering from trauma. She says it can help those dealing with depression, anxiety, recovery from divorce, anything.

“We are looking for people who really want to heal through art,” said Doherty.

In addition to her home-based program, Doherty has experience running similar programs in clinics throughout the state, including OASIS, Butler, The Wakefield OASIS and The Urban League. She also hopes to bring the program to Warwick’s Kent Center, where she sees a case manager.

Currently, Doherty works with three children and four women in her home program. She meets with the women on Monday and Thursdays and the children on Saturdays for 90-minute sessions.

“We can accommodate many more people,” said Doherty, who explained that a very talented and creative friend assists her with the classes.

She says doing an art project or writing a poem not only allows people to express their emotions in a creative way, but it takes their mind off of whatever they may be suffering from.

“This is very much improvisational art,” said Doherty of her program, which allows participants to choose what project they work on each day. Some projects are jewelry making, scrapbooking, clay sculpting, sun catchers, poetry, storytelling and many more. The children in her program are especially excited to see their artwork on the wall of “Kayla’s Castle,” the art room inside Doherty’s home where she teaches classes.

“They want them up,” she said of her students and their artwork. “It’s their room.”

To fill her castle with art supplies and crafting materials, Doherty saved $600 of her own money, which she earns through disability, to buy them.

In addition to artists’ rules such as clean up after yourself and respect fellow artists, Doherty has one other rule: she never asks about the situation a participant might be facing.

“I don’t play the psychologist role,” said Doherty, describing her position as an art facilitator. “I’m never going to be a psychologist again, but in the years I have left I’d like to spread the word.”

There is no cost to participate in Kayla’s Creative Crafts, Poetry & Amateur Art. However, donations of art supplies are welcome and reservations for classes are required. To contact Doherty about joining her program, call 886-0946.


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