New art therapist finds her calling at Riley



Emily S Web

Emily Sondgerath joins Emily Allbery on the art therapy team – using art to help heal emotional trauma.

Riley Hospital for Children has added another Emily to its art therapy team.

Emily Sondgerath joins Emily Allbery on the art therapy staff covering the in-patient units at Riley.

If you need help telling them apart, Sondgerath is blond, and Allbery is brunette. Both bring a passion for art and people to their jobs.

Why art therapy?

“For me, it’s the combination of using art to help people – help them express themselves – while also counseling them along the way,” Sondgerath said.

Art therapists at Riley, who have master’s degrees with an emphasis on therapy, provide mental health counseling through art-making to ease anxiety, depression and psychosocial and emotional difficulties related to illness, trauma and loss.

While almost all children could benefit from having the counseling piece from an art therapist while hospitalized, parents may find it therapeutic as well. Just getting out of the hospital room to work on a project with an art therapist can be a good stress reliever.

Sondgerath didn’t know the career existed when she headed off to Purdue University several years ago. The first two years, she majored in education and special education. The latter was important to her because she has a brother with Down syndrome.

But over time, she decided a career in education wasn’t quite right for her.

“I wanted to work more one-on-one with people and develop relationships.”

That’s when a friend told her about art therapy. She did her research and decided that was her calling. Purdue didn’t have an art therapy degree program, so she changed her major to art education with a minor in psychology.

After graduating from Purdue, she completed her master’s degree in art and art therapy from Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis. During that time, she also interned at Riley and loved every minute of it.

Riley is a special place, she said, because it offers comprehensive care – not just medical treatment, but emotional support for the patient and the whole family.

“Everyone feels that they’re being taken care of while they’re here.”

Sondgerath and her fiancé, Connor Slavich, live in Broad Ripple with their Australian cattle dog, Chance. Slavich is finishing a degree program in audiology and is completing an externship at Riley. The two are getting married Sept. 7.

– By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist