Rachel Nelms, M.A. '12

Read about Rachel Nelms,  
M.A. '12 and her career as a  
Grief Art Therapist.

Read about Rachel Nelms,
M.A. '12 and her career as a
Grief Art Therapist.

Rachel Nelms graduated from the Adler School of Professional Psychology Chicago campus in 2012, with a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology: Art Therapy and a Certificate in Substance Abuse Counseling. Currently, she is the Grief Art Thearpist at Horizon Hospice and Palliative Care, where she works with youth in the Chicago Public Schools. Learn more about Rachel, her Adler School experience, and her career.

Q: Tell us about your career.

Rachel: I am a bereavement counselor who runs grief art therapy groups in Chicago Public Schools. The goals of my program, BraveHeart in Schools, are to reach out to youth who have suffered the loss of a special person and provide a safe place to help them with their grief journey. The BraveHeart in Schools philosophy follows a humanistic approach that acknowledges no one should have to grieve alone and models constructive coping mechanisms within a nurturing community. The program seeks to reach neighborhoods that experience a high incidence of death from violence. Additionally, BraveHeart in Schools hopes to diminish the stigma associated with talking about death and build positive coping skills.

Q: What is your impact on the individuals or communities with whom you work?

Rachel: The impact on individuals and communities where BraveHeart in Schools is offered has been very positive. BraveHeart in Schools was created in February 2013 in one school, and by February 2014 had expanded into five schools. Additionally, BraveHeart in Schools is repeating the program in three of the five schools because the students, faculty, and parents saw the positive changes in the participants.

Q: How did your Adler School experience affect where you are today?

Rachel: The Adler School experience had a significant impact on where I am today and had I attended another institution I would be uncertain if I would have been able to accomplish what I have done in such a short period of time. The rigorous curriculum and preparation through multiple practicum experiences really taught me the hands-on knowledge of how to take an idea and turn it into action.

Q: Was there a particular Adler School faculty member or experience as a student that has most influenced you, and why?

Rachel: The Art Therapy department, particularly Gail Roy and Dr. Katy Barrington, have had and continue to be significant influences in my personal and professional life. From the day Dr. Barrington interviewed me for my application to attend the Adler School; she has made an imprint on my life. She has taught me to not only believe in my dreams, but to take a step further to make them happen and then go even further. Her research methods class solidified my pursuit to change the methodology of how we view grief and seek ways to provide support for those in need.

Gail has been and continues to be a major advocate for my BraveHeart in Schools dream. She never let me forget that what I was doing had purpose and significance. Gail wholeheartedly believes in the art therapy process and encouraged me to think outside of the box to make my dream come true.

Q: What career accomplishment have you found most fulfilling, or considered your greatest professional accomplishment?

Rachel: My career accomplishment that is most fulfilling is that at sixteen years old I stated I want to be an art therapist and go to the Adler School - and I did. The BraveHeart in Schools program is my most fulfilling professional accomplishment. I was hired during my internship and decided to take on the BraveHeart Program. After struggling to get participants to join our evening support group, I thought outside of the box and went directly to Chicago Public Schools. I distinctly remember speaking with our Communities in School liaison, Karen Roddie, and saying, “I want to run grief art therapy groups in schools, can we make this happen?” I have the joy and honor to bear witness to students who are grieving and support them through the art therapy process in their grief journey every day. This is the dream, and I am looking forward to the future with high hopes of publishing research and furthering the field of Art Therapy and Children’s grief.

Q: What is the single most important piece of career advice you can give someone in your field?

Rachel: Post this on your wall and look at it every day, “Understand now that every setback is another opportunity to make something incredible happen.” Also, keep a daily drawing journal and work on it each day. You will be amazed at the power of the healing process.

Q: What advice can you give a student just joining the Adler School?

Rachel:  The Adler School will be one of the most intense, rigorous, and life changing experiences that you will ever have. Embrace every moment of it. Make sure that you build in time to care for yourself every day and make that a priority that stays at the top of the list. The School is incredibly challenging and you need to make sure that you’re taken care of too, because you are going to need your strength.