Photography by Jessica Turner.

ANDREA DAVIS had been an art therapist for six years when she was diagnosed with an aggressive type of breast cancer. It was stage 2. Her treatment included a double mastectomy and six months of chemotherapy. 

“That really does a number on you, when you go through an experience like that,” she says. “And I had a lot of thoughts about what would I do differently in my life.”

She founded Dallas Art Therapy in 2017. It’s a place for therapists to work when they settle in Dallas, and it helps fulfill businesses’ need for art therapy services. 

Davis moved to Little Forest Hills when she was 9 years old and attended Alex Sanger, St. Bernard, Bishop Lynch and Bryan Adams. She received her bachelor’s in psychology from The University of Texas at Dallas and then went to The University of West Georgia to get her master’s in humanistic psychology. She moved back to Dallas but couldn’t find a job in psychology, so she started teaching — at St. Bernard, St. Thomas and St. Rita’s. After five years, she was burned out. 

“I literally sat down at my school computer and just typed in ‘art’ and ‘psychology’ because I’m like these are the two things I love the most,” Davis says. “And I hit enter, and the Art Therapy Institute came up, and it was in the same ZIP code that I lived in.” 

Her curiosity was sparked. She had first been introduced to art therapy when writing her undergraduate thesis. Her professor had briefly mentioned the topic, but Davis never investigated it. She called the Art Therapy Institute. The school’s founder answered the phone and invited Davis to an art therapy exhibit. She went. 

“I had that happen to me, where I already had earned a master’s degree in psychology and I’ve read all of these different writers and different theories,” Davis says. “But this is what hit me as, oh my gosh, this is it, this is what I have to do.” 

She saw a hand-sewn doll wearing a tattered dress. Pinned to it was a note from the doll’s creator, who promised to take care of the doll, feed it and make sure it was clothed. The power in the message, which represented an adult having a conversation with their child self, moved Davis to tears. She signed up for classes and earned a second master’s degree. 

Art therapy can be beneficial for people of all ages dealing with all sorts of problems. Participants have an intent, or an issue they want to work on; it could be an argument with a relative, a death of a loved one, addiction, trauma or suicidal thoughts. They work with an art therapist to select materials to create a visual representation of the issue. No art skills are required, Davis says, because the focus is on the process. 

As a nonprofit, Dallas Art Therapy offers free art therapy sessions for adults a couple of times a month. It partners with The Meadows Texas to help people dealing with addiction and trauma, and is working on a contract with Texas Health Presbyterian to offer art therapy for the elderly. Dallas Art Therapy also has a program for girls in middle school and high school who have ADHD. 

“We don’t need to just rely on the language center for expression and processing through things,” Davis says. “It can happen in so many different ways.”