This article includes images of a mature nature.
Alessandra Santos Pye left her native Brazil in 1998 and came to Kalamazoo. She left for art —love. Today, she’s been married for 20 years and has earned degrees in art and psychotherapy. Now in private practice, Pye uses art in workshops and group sessions to help her clients find their own voices, especially those who are marginalized in American society.
“Growing up in São Paulo, Brazil, I was always encouraged to tap into creative outlets,” Pye says. “Dance, drawing, and theater were my primary art activities. Although I never learned to play a musical instrument, music was a constant in my world.”
Pye says her father was an avid record collector, and her native city was rich in music and festivals and street dancing. She felt a cultural loss moving to the United States, at least at first. But the pull of love inspired her return.
She had first spent time in Michigan as an exchange student at a high school, where she met the man who is now herhusband. At Western Michigan University, Pye became formally trained in couple, marriage and family therapy, and got a master’s degree in counseling education and psychology.
Pye says the COVID-19 pandemic has hindered her work with clients in her private practice, where she helps them find healing and self-expression through art. But she's developed new ways to reach out and has used this time to develop ideas about how to work with marginalized populations.
“I’m lucky that I have established a client caseload that already has a relationship to some form of creative expression,” she says. “So many are continuing to explore art as a coping mechanism, as a restorative practice on their own. And they have some virtual guidance from me, because we're using telehealth sessions. These challenging times are demanding that we have some sort of creative outlet to help us navigate, to help us process, to get a break from, or to integrate the chaos that we are all experiencing.”
Pye says her work on reaching marginalized populations is in a “gestational form,” but she's using this period of self-isolation to form ideas about reaching those who rarely access psychotherapy services, often because they don't have enough money.
“This country has capitalized on every aspect of creative expression,” Pye says. “Think about concerts and festivals and museums: everything requires money. Sometimes even when I think about art supplies, I can become discouraged. This system has left many people who exist on the margins having to take many extra steps to participate in this very natural process. Creating, generating, bringing new things into the world is natural to all of us, yet because of the way this culture is shaped, it interferes with this process for many people.”
Pye says she has focused her practice on including some of these marginalized artists to help expand their ability to create and to reach their communities. She offers workshops and retreats, and she hopes to expand those efforts when social distancing is no longer necesary.
“The majority of my recent work has involved clients whose mental health is impacted by systems of oppression including racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, classism, ageism, and so on,” she says.
Listen to WMUK's Art Beat every Friday at 7:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.