Healing Through Art

Héctor Ruiz

Class of 2016
Majors: Psychology and Art
Hometown: South Bend, Ind.

Héctor Ruiz knew for years that he loved art and loved helping people — but only recently has he realized that he can do both at once.

“Art therapy was the field I prophesied joining, because of my interest in counseling and art, but I steered away from it during my freshman year,” Héctor explains. “I felt that if the answer was not challenging enough, then it wasn’t the right one.”

Instead, Héctor focused most of his attention on his major in psychology. Héctor thought he would work as a counselor or therapist, but he wasn’t sure about the exact direction.

As a work-study student at Hilltop Neighborhood House, a childcare center near the University, Héctor experienced the joys of a helping profession. Beginning in his freshman year, he has worked with the children there, encouraging them to play and have fun while also helping them stay safe.

“The kids are in a developmental stage in their life where interaction with others is very important,” he says. “Working with them and helping them grow is very rewarding.”

While Héctor developed these vocational interests, he continued to pursue his interest in art. He began with a sculpture course in his first semester, which introduced him to the freedom he could experience in an art class. He thought he would take a few classes as electives to balance the stress of his other courses. By the spring of his freshman year, he declared an art minor.

Héctor’s experience in the art department showed him the benefits of a creative outlet. He says that the cathartic effects are much stronger than the stress of a project deadline.

“My favorite thing about the art program is the flexibility and freedom to use creativity as a tool for expression,” he says. “I love going to the studio to work on a project after a stressful day and losing myself to reality and finding myself in the art I create.”

By junior year, Héctor felt more confident entering the field of art therapy. Independent research and conversations with his academic advisor convinced him that this was a legitimate career and a good fit for him personally.

“As it turns out, the answer was right in front of me, but I chose to push it aside until I could no longer ignore where my interest led me,” he says.

Héctor is building on that decision with more art classes — he is now pursuing art as a second major. He will spend the spring of his junior year in the Chicago Arts Program, living full-time in the city that has inspired countless other artists. The program includes an internship and an independent project, and Héctor plans to use those opportunities to deepen his experience with art therapy.