×
Book Appointment Online with select physicians.
Request Appointment Online to schedule with one of our coordinators.
1.888.IUHEALTH for
Same-Day Primary Care Appointments.
If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 9-1-1.

A Look at a Leader: Cassie Dobbs

Blog A Look at a Leader: Cassie Dobbs

“In the pediatric units, we see the children two or three times a week at their bedside or in a separate room,” says Dobbs. “We do painting, drawing, clay, collage, videos, sewing. But we feel it’s important to give the kids control in choosing the art form because in this environment, they don’t have control over a lot of things.”


“I was the kid who had art supplies with me wherever I went,” says Cassie Dobbs, art therapist at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. “Since I was little, I loved any kind of art I could get my hands on,” adds Dobbs, who grew up in Los Angeles and then in Cincinnati, Ohio.

As Dobbs got older, her mother encouraged her to pursue a fine arts degree at the University of Cincinnati. “I fell in love with it,” she remembers. During her freshman year, however, Dobbs’s father passed away. “I lived at home that year to help my family, and split my time between the hospital at my dad’s bedside and class,” she says. “That’s when I realized the power of art in helping people cope with traumatic experiences.” Dobbs found creating art to be so therapeutic that she returned to her art classes shortly after her father’s passing to help her handle the loss.

Soon after, Dobbs discovered the profession of art therapy and it was a perfect fit for her. She decided to get a minor in psychology in addition to her major in fine arts to prepare for a masters program in art therapy. Her plan worked.

After graduating from college in 2009, Dobbs earned a spot in the art therapy master’s program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “Art therapists are mental health counselors eligible for state licensure who are trained to use art making within the therapeutic relationship,” says Dobbs. “Going into the program, I felt really comfortable with the art side, but my training threw me into the psychology side too, and I loved it.”

During her first internship at Maryville Scott Nolan Behavioral Health Center in Des Plaines, Illinois, Dobbs counseled adolescents and young adults who were psychiatric inpatients, and learned hands-on to help patients express themselves and heal through art therapy. For her second internship, she trained at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois, and counseled children who were there for medical needs. “Though their primary concern was their physical health, our primary concern was their mental health,” says Dobbs.

Dobbs then took it upon herself to start a bereavement program there for family members going through loss. “That was a huge priority of mine after losing my dad,” explains Dobbs. So she and her supervisor offered group art therapy sessions for parents and for siblings.

After Dobbs received her master’s degree in 2012, she stayed at Advocate Children’s Hospital (which still facilitates the bereavement program she founded) on a contract basis and furthered her interest in working with pediatric medical patients. In 2014, when Riley was looking for an art therapist, Dobbs applied for the job and got it.

Today, she works mostly with inpatients ages 4 and older. She and Riley’s other art therapist split the hospital between them, which means that Dobbs sees kids primarily in critical care units, which include the burn unit, hematology and oncology, the stem cell transplant area, the heart center, and the neonatal intensive care unit, where she works with parents and siblings. Dobbs also spends about 10 hours a week counseling in Riley’s Hope in Healing Bereavement Program.

“In the pediatric units, we see the children two or three times a week at their bedside or in a separate room,” says Dobbs. “We do painting, drawing, clay, collage, videos, sewing. But we feel it’s important to give the kids control in choosing the art form because in this environment, they don’t have control over a lot of things.”

Dobbs tailors every intervention to each patient. “Sometimes we sit and talk while they make art, and build our relationship. Other times we do something more directed,” she says. Some kids make self-portraits because body image is often a focus when they are in treatment losing their hair or have a new scar. Other children work on decorating their rooms, which helps them make a space that feels like theirs. And many art projects are interactive. For example, kids frequently make boxes that they fill with written feelings, memories, or thoughts they want to share with Dobbs or with the doctor. “We encourage them to work on their art even while we’re not there,” adds Dobbs.

Each year, patients may participate in an exhibit at the hospital where they can display their art for family, friends, and staff. “Families travel from far and wide and the kids are proud to show off what they’ve been creating. This is an opportunity for patients and families to tell their story through their art work,” says Dobbs.

Dobbs is hopeful that eventually, Riley can grow the program to include more art therapists because she sees the transformative effect it has on the children. ““We’re not just ‘the arts and crafts ladies,’” jokes Dobbs. “We’re doing powerful therapy.”

-- By Rachel Peachman

Viewing all posts in …