Mental health counselor: ‘ART-hritis’ defined her passion

We are IU Health

July 22, 2019

IU Health Charis Center for Eating Disorders helps patients through various forms of therapy. Liza Hyatt is an art therapist and licensed mental health counselor.

She was about three when Liza Hyatt was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. As a distraction from the joint pain, she turned to art, referring to it as “Art-hritis.” Later in life, she discovered that same therapy helps patients in her care.

Purple – it’s the color that welcomes clients to her studio office at IU Health Charis Center for Eating Disorders. Two framed prints of butterflies hang on the wall. Hyatt created them when she was sitting on her front porch as an 11-year-old.

“I took art lessons as a kid and at home there were always art material. I was told to go out into the woods and paint pictures,” said Hyatt. “In college I wanted to be a writer but I also wanted to do art. My guidance counselor suggested art therapy and so it was.”

She attended St. John’s College in Santa Fe, NM – a 250-acre campus in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. She went on to receive her Master in Art Therapy from Antioch University.

When she was working on her master’s degree Hyatt began working at the Julian Center and then taught mosaic classes with Arts for Learning (formerly Young Audiences). Her work with mosaics brought her to IU Health Simon Cancer Center where she worked with oncology patients creating public mosaic art. The beautiful mosaics remain on display at the hospital – symbols of hope.

Hyatt joined IU Health Charis Center for Eating Disorders in 2007, at first facilitating two art therapy programs a week. She now leads 10 hours of actual experiential art therapy groups a week. She’s one of three therapists trained in EMDR, a trauma-focused therapy.

The Charis Center works from a medical model including a focus on physical, psychological and dietary health, and overall wellbeing. Providers from each discipline assess new patients and offer a treatment plan most appropriate for their needs. The center treats patients with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, other specified feeding and eating disorders, and avoidant restrictive food intake disorder. Levels of care include outpatient, individual, family and group therapies, an intensive outpatient program and a partial hospitalization program.

The treatment team’s interdisciplinary model includes medical staff, nursing, psychologists, social workers and mental health counselors, as well as experiential treatment groups such as art therapy, trauma therapy, narrative and body movement therapies and yoga.

“I have patients of all ages and there is more understanding that eating disorders affects more than just white teenage girls, it can affect people of all stages of life both men and women,” said Hyatt. “There is so much stress on perfectionism in our culture, so much expectation on certain body types so kids are inundated with certain body images.”

Her studio is called the “magical room.”

To Harry Potter fans, the room is also known as the “Room of Requirement.” It’s a safe place where someone in need discovers the magic.

“In the magical room everything they need appears at the right time,” said Hyatt who works with both inpatient and outpatient groups. “A patient may come to me as a referral, maybe someone working through some trauma. Creating art engages the central nervous system and so art therapy is very effective for helping resolve nervous system arousal carried from past trauma.”

Hyatt may talk to a patient about being caught between flight and fight and she will encourage them to scribble as a form of release.

“Scribble art can mean tearing the paper up to release energy or scribble and then look at the scribble from different angles until an image from the subconscious emerges,” said Hyatt. “One of the things that’s so powerful working with people with eating disorders is they are very creative. They are trying to control their body and all that creativity gets focused on their body – how they can be perfect. With art therapy they are challenged to let go of that perfectionism and become playful and free of self-harming rules.”

More about Hyatt:

  • She is a proud mom of a daughter who is a Loyola University graduate with a major in psychology.
  • She plays the Celtic harp, enjoys spending time in nature, practicing yoga, and writing poetry. She is a published poet.
  • She grew up in rural Zionsville the middle child of three. Her late mother, Jane Hyatt taught at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory High School. Her father, Paul Hyatt, 90, owned Hyatt Furniture Store in Zionsville.

--By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
Reach Banes via email tfender1@iuhealth.org.

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