November Alumni Spotlight 2023 | Heidi Heft Laporte
Dr. Heidi Heft LaPorte, an expressive arts facilitator, has completed rigorous training, completing 220 hours at the Expressive Arts Florida Institute in 2020. She further honed her skills in 2022 as a Community Service Wellness Initiative (CSWI) Guide through the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association (IEATA), where she also serves as Co-Chair of Membership.
An Associate Professor at Barry University, Dr. LaPorte has an extensive academic career that began at Yeshiva University's Wurzweiler School of Social Work. She earned her MSW and DSW there. Over time, she transitioned from a Teaching Assistant to Associate Professor. She was a full-time associate professor at Lehman College in New York.
In her current role, Dr. LaPorte has enriched curricula across MSW and Ph.D. programs. Her notable contribution is a trauma-informed interventions course that employs expressive arts in the DSW program. In 2023, she received the Social Work Educator of the Year award from the National Association of Social Workers - Florida Chapter (NASW-FL), acknowledging her impact both in Broward County and the State of Florida.
Dr. LaPorte's mentorship extends to graduate assistants, guiding them to facilitate six-week dialogues exploring complex issues like privilege, ancestral heritage, and social justice through expressive arts. She co-facilitates with her GAs "Self-Care Sunday – Contemplative Expressive Arts for Self-Care" virtual self-care sessions for Barry University students and alums.
Dr. LaPorte is committed to community service and has offered expressive arts support groups to LGBTQIA+ youth and adults. This upcoming November, she will launch a specialized group for LGBTQIA+ individuals aged 55 and older. Her scholarly work includes 29 peer-reviewed articles and a book of poetry and digital art: 'Digital Healing."
Dr. LaPorte strives to build bridges between academics, healthcare professionals, and marginalized communities through her varied roles and initiatives.
Heidi, what drew you to the field of Expressive Arts, or motivated you to get Expressive Arts training?
My interest in Expressive Arts is rooted in a rich tapestry of experiences that amplify the transformative power of creative expression. My childhood was a challenging time filled with loneliness, but it was also where I first encountered the power of art as a form of solace and connection. My older sister, a talented artist, opened my eyes to the endless possibilities of imaginative expression.
For me, music has been my refuge, providing a language when words alone were insufficient. As an undergraduate, I wrote and performed music. I found a deep sense of connection and spirituality through storytelling in song, whether as a street musician in Jerusalem, performing in a café, or on a college campus. Strangely enough, sharing my story through music with strangers created meaningful connections.
As an undergraduate student, I lived and worked as a residential crisis intervention counselor. I saw firsthand the value of empathy and active listening. While I initially had no formal training, an impactful conversation with a Vietnam veteran taught me the therapeutic value of storytelling. This experience became a catalyst for my formal training in social work, with a specific focus on Expressive Arts.
As I transitioned into academia, I recognized that my role as an Associate Professor at Barry University provided me with a unique platform to broaden the reach of expressive arts. Fueled by my past experiences, I was motivated to incorporate expressive arts into my teaching. These formative experiences and the profound impacts I witnessed convinced me to study and understand the theories, techniques, and practices that make expressive arts a potent tool for healing and transformation. I remain committed to leveraging this invaluable knowledge to enrich not only my own understanding but also to inform and enhance my teaching.
As you began to immerse yourself in this work, were there any unexpected gifts or surprises?
When I first introduced Expressive Arts (EXA) to my students, I expected to see academic advancements and therapeutic benefits. I didn't anticipate the profound personal and social transformations that unfolded. I integrated EXA into various courses, including my MSW Advanced Clinical Practice with Groups, Human Development, and Trauma-Informed Interventions II - Expressive Arts. In doing so, conversations naturally expanded into deeper discussions about the transformative power of the languages of the soul, some of which are words. These dialogues revealed the healing capabilities of artistic expression and its ability to bridge societal divides, enriching our understanding of a diverse range of narratives.
While working with graduate students in cross-cultural conversations, an unexpected but invaluable synchronicity often emerged, especially during challenging topics. Whether discussing white privilege, heteronormativity, cisgenderism, or xenophobia and the intersectionality of various 'isms,' the intermodal Expressive Arts approach served as an emotional catalyst. Expressive arts activities were containers for raw emotions, and subsequent writing prompts encouraged introspection. This paved the way for meaningful one-on-one conversations, where participants engaged in storytelling and witnessing. Completing this introspective cycle made it even more impactful when participants returned to a larger virtual space, where their experiences and insights could be collectively witnessed and appreciated.
Professional Development Workshop
How are you currently implementing expressive arts in your personal and/or professional life?
Professionally, I've proactively integrated EXA into Barry University's School of Social Work. This includes collaborating with graduate assistants to facilitate 2-hour virtual contemplative expressive arts sessions for self-care every Sunday evening. I've also written and proposed materials to be included in the curriculum to equip foundation and concentration year students with EXA tools for their fieldwork with clients. I'm also mentoring nine graduate students and hosting the Sunday evening expressive arts sessions for self-care. Additionally, when invited, I offer pro-bono mentoring for CWSI work in community agencies.
On a personal level, my EXA practice involves daily engagement in visual art and writing prompts. I often transform my art into puzzle pieces, inscribing affirmations on the back before giving them away. This is more meaningful than holding onto the art, as my space is limited.
Effective teaching and advocacy for EXA require living it authentically. The congruency between my personal and professional practices lends credibility and depth to my role as an educator.
What are your goals in this work, or how do you envision your involvement with EXA unfolding in the future?
I envision EXA becoming a cornerstone in Barry University's School of Social Work, with every student graduating having had some transformative exposure to the expressive arts. Furthermore, I aim to bring EXA into community-based settings, by perhaps helping to create outreach programs for marginalized communities. I want to continue to mentor students in expressive arts.
In addition to these goals, I am mainly focused on depathologizing silence. In our society, silence is often misunderstood—a void that must be filled or a sign of disengagement. In my work, I aim to reframe this narrative by recognizing silence as an integral part of expression and understanding. Silence can offer a space for reflection, introspection, and even transformation. Within the realm of Expressive Arts, silence can serve as a canvas onto which thoughts and feelings can be projected and explored, either internally or within a group setting. To operationalize this, I incorporate periods of intentional silence into my work. Techniques include meditative practices, silent writing prompts, or reflective art activities that invite participants to sit with their thoughts and emotions in a non-judgmental space.
By doing so, I hope to foster environments where silence is respected as a form of expression and a tool for deeper understanding rather than as something to be avoided or filled.
How has Expressive Arts enriched or expanded your career path?
My career has been enriched through my experiences with intermodal expressive arts, notably through relationships with students, graduate assistants, and ongoing collaborations on an international scale. In particular, it has been an honor to serve on the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association board as the Co-chair of Membership. I've also extended this work into other organizations where I am involved, serving as a core member of the Florida chapter of the International Association of Social Work with Groups.
My contributions as an educator have been recognized by the National Association of Social Workers in Florida, which honored me as the Social Work Educator of the Year at my local unit in Broward and across the State of Florida. This recognition directly relates to the innovative and authentic ways I've incorporated expressive arts into the classroom.
What is your current personal practice and how does it enrich your life?
At some point, every day, I engage in expressive arts such as meditative doodling, watercolor painting, or digital art. This practice serves as a form of mindfulness, helping me to center myself during breaks at work or quiet moments in the evening. The colors and strokes become a form of visual journaling. These practices are essential components of my emotional and intellectual self-care. Even a brief engagement with a sketch or a poetic phrase can act as an emotional reset on particularly challenging days in my professional life. This allows me to approach the remaining tasks with renewed resilience and creativity.
I also share my images and writing on social media platforms, enriching my experience and fostering community and collaboration. This has led to meaningful connections with colleagues and friends from the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association (IEATA). Though our busy schedules can be challenging, we find time to create collectively, usually in a virtual format.
Sharing personal artistic expressions often sparks conversations with students and colleagues, nurtures a sense of community and mutual respect. This additional interaction layer enriches my professional life, making it more fulfilling.
In essence, my personal EXA practice is a choice that is deeply integrated into my daily routine. It provides multi-dimensional outlets for expression and introspection, helping me find my center in a highly demanding profession. This practice has become an irreplaceable cornerstone of my day-to-day life.
What do you wish you could tell the world about Expressive Arts?
One central message about Expressive Arts (EXA) is that it is fundamental to human communication, expression, and healing. Often, people think of art as something reserved for the creatively gifted or an optional add-on to 'serious' therapeutic work. However, my experiences have shown me that EXA is an indispensable tool for understanding oneself and others.
Its universality is one of its most meaningful qualities. Whether it's the stroke of a brush, the beat of a drum, or the prose of a poem, these expressions speak in a language that transcends geographical, cultural, and even linguistic barriers. This means that EXA can be effective in many settings, from educational and clinical environments to community outreach programs, making it a versatile and inclusive medium for therapeutic and personal growth.
EXA incorporates the whole spectrum of human expression. This allows for a more nuanced and comprehensive approach to mental health, enabling individuals to explore and express complex feelings and thoughts that might remain unarticulated.
Not only does EXA have the potential to transform individual lives, but it can also affect societal change. This impact extends to therapeutic interventions that benefit individuals, families, groups, communities, and society. EXA is necessary for anyone interested in a more holistic approach to human well-being.
What are you currently offering, and what are the ways that people can work with you?
My work with Expressive Arts (EXA) reaches far beyond the classroom; it's integral to our community engagement at Barry University. We're proud to offer a trauma-informed curriculum and are actively working to infuse EXA throughout our educational offerings. Whether you're considering our Master of Social Work (MSW) or Doctor of Social Work (DSW) programs, we would be thrilled to welcome you to the Barry University School of Social Work. Here, you'll find a vibrant community that values holistic, innovative approaches to healing and well-being. https://www.barry.edu/en/academics/social-work/msw-traditional/
Anything else you would like to say?
Expressive Arts (EXA) has been more than just a transformative element in my professional journey; it has also profoundly impacted me personally. The layers of engagement it offers, the never-ending opportunities for learning, and its inherently transformative power continually inspire and drive me forward. My work is more than a career; it's a calling and a lifelong passion.
These detailed insights provide a deeper understanding of my philosophy, goals, and ongoing contributions to the world of expressive arts. Thank you for the opportunity to share my journey and aspirations.
Professional links - Learn more about Heidi
Watch for our Alumni Spotlight on the 1st of each month. We feature graduates of our Certificate Training Program - Expressive Arts Facilitators, Therapists, and Educators. We hope this series will inspire you, help spread the work of our alumni, and demonstrate the scope of practice of the expressive arts field.
For more information about our Certificate Training Program, Professional Development, and Workshops - both online and in-person, visit us at www.expressiveartsflorida.com
Tamara Teeter Knapp
MA, NCC, MHC Intern, REACE®
MA, LMHC(S), REACE®, REAT®