Thrive by IU Health

February 16, 2023

Art therapist inspired by loved one: ‘I saw how art sparked a sense of community’

IU Health Simon Cancer Center

Art therapist inspired by loved one: ‘I saw how art sparked a sense of community’

From a young age, Maria “Valeria” Guzman recognized the importance of art as a form of communication - often for those who struggled to be heard.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, TJ Banes,

The youngest of six children, Maria “Valeria” Guzman is proud of her close-knit family, her heritage, and the lessons she learned from her parents.

“It could be a little chaotic with six of us and it seemed like our voices would get lost sometimes, but my parents always encouraged us to pursue our dreams,” said Guzman.

Fun fact: Although she is the youngest, she shares that role with a fraternal twin sister, also named “Maria.” Born in Mexico, Guzman and her family immigrated to the United States when she was in fifth grade and settled in a small town near Fort Wayne, Ind.

“In Mexico, we are addressed by our first and middle names, so I am ‘Maria Valeria,’ and my sister is ‘Maria Carolina,’” she said, adding that they are the first in her family to attend college. Guzman is also the first to complete a master’s degree. After earning her bachelor’s degree from Herron School of Art and Design, she earned her master’s in art therapy.

She recently joined IU Health Simon Cancer Center, where she works with oncology patients using art therapy to help in their overall healing and coping with their diagnosis. Guzman is part of a team of CompleteLife therapists that include massage, yoga, and music as a way of attending to a patient’s mind, body, and spirit. CompleteLife is part of the Cancer Resource Center located on the first floor of Simon Cancer Center. Support groups, education, and other special services are also offered through the Cancer Resource Center.

During college, Guzman competed hospital internships and went on to work with adults and children in a private counseling service.

“I wanted to work with an underserved population of Spanish speakers because I am bilingual,” said Guzman. “It is very important to me that we are being inclusive and if we do have a Spanish speaking patient, I want to talk in their language because sometimes there’s a lot lost in translation,” said Guzman.

She also brings personal experience to her role at IU Health Simon Cancer Center.

“Growing up a loved one had a lot of mental health issues. He received various therapies and when he began art therapy I saw what it did to improve his overall wellbeing,” said Guzman. “He struggled to communicate and was in his own world. There was some isolation and I saw how art therapy sparked a community and family support system.”

At IU Health, Guzman hopes to help oncology patients feel the same sense of wellbeing.

“I hope to help them improve their quality of life and give them a safe space to express themselves.”

Her areas of interest are working in mixed media, jewelry making, and felting.

Outside of work, she is married to her high school sweetheart, and is a first-time mother to a 5-month-old. She is also a dog mom of two golden doodles - born in the same liter but do not look alike.

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