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The Nebraska Expressive Arts Therapy Foundation

As a social worker and mental health practitioner, I have been in the unique position of helping those experiencing complex trauma, family disruption, and grief for over two decades. Early on in my profession, I worked directly with young people impacted by the devastating effects of sexual abuse. I can vividly recall working with one individual who endured extreme sexual trauma resulting in a lack of a will to live and an intense unrelenting emotional wound. Together, we worked to find an outlet to help this young person process this painful experience. I could see that talk therapy alone was not going to be enough.

Drawing on the recent training I had obtained in the field of Expressive Arts Therapy, I introduced the concept of creative writing as an outlet to help this youth release the trauma from her body onto paper. The effect was profound, as this individual was given permission to express her experience through poetry and by this expression, she was able to finally find a way to share what she had experienced. Being safely witnessed in her own way allowed her to finally feel seen, heard, and believed. This validation reignited her will to go on. This and other client experiences opened my eyes to the healing benefits of the Expressive Arts. Eventually, through my desire to bring the arts more into my professional life, I obtained specialized training in Expressive Arts Therapy. I am now a Registered Expressive Arts Therapist (REAT).

As a mental health practitioner, I believed that I had seen it all, but nothing could have prepared me for what was to come. Prior to 2020, the effects of social media were taking a serious toll on our youth and families. Somehow, this amazing achievement of mankind which had connected us together globally, simultaneously created a sense of isolation especially in our youth and teens. Problems with online bullying, suicidal ideation, self-esteem, and body image were prevalent. A lack of normal developmental social experiences created severe social anxiety and thus feelings of isolation for many youths and teens.

In response, I created an Expressive Arts group model called, The “GREAT” Kids Group-‘Growing with Expressive Arts Together’ which was delivered in area metro public schools beginning in 2016. The positive benefits of this program were shared and echoed by children, parents, and teachers. Kids were finding new ways to connect and express themselves creatively. They reported feeling comfortable opening up and gained a newfound sense of belonging with their peers. Their social anxiety was decreased, and their confidence and self-esteem increased. Data supported these benefits and the demand for these group opportunities expanded dramatically resulting in more providers being trained to facilitate the groups. It was clear we were positively impacting the community through Expressive Arts.

However, since 2020 and in the wake of the COVID pandemic, we have seen an unprecedented rise in mental health issues in our community. I believe the mental health effects of the pandemic were exacerbated by our inability to fully mitigate the ramifications of social media. It became abundantly clear that there simply were not enough mental health providers to address the needs in our community. Calls for help from those in crisis often sat unanswered for days or weeks. In response to our community’s overwhelming need, and the lack of services to meet this need, NExT Foundation was established.

The Nebraska Expressive Arts Therapy Foundation (NExT) is a nonprofit organization established in 2022 with the primary mission of improving mental health in Nebraska through Expressive Arts Therapy. Expressive Arts (EXA) Therapy is a field of expertise under the Creative Arts umbrella of modalities. EXA offers a unique combination of psychology and the creative process which helps foster emotional healing and growth for adults and children. It draws on the innate human desire to create and can be transformational for patients who struggle to express themselves in words.

Our work is based in trauma-informed, evidence-based research that has shown the effectiveness of the Expressive Arts as a means for growth and healing. NExT runs innovative programs and a diverse array of groups, including those for youth and teens, adults who have experienced severe trauma, and individuals who are un/under-insured. Additionally, we provide retreats and trainings for other helping professionals to help mitigate secondary trauma and to provide knowledge about the healing benefits of the Expressive Arts.

Across all our programs, including groups for at risk and marginalized youth, teens, and adults, we were able to serve over 200 individuals in 2023 alone. We will continue to move forward in 2024 with a goal of increasing outreach to those in need in our community. Those who feel called to assist in our mission through volunteer opportunities, donations, referrals, or collaboration can find us at or reach out to me directly at Together, we can make a positive impact on mental health in our community.

Executive Director
Nebraska Expressive Arts Therapy (NExT) Foundation
1111 N 13th Street Suite 114
Omaha, NE 68102