- Associated Press - Friday, December 26, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Eileen Wallach doesn’t practice a lay-back-on-the-couch kind of therapy.

The opposite, actually.

She’s there to help when words won’t come.

Three years into her nonprofit venture, Your Heart on Art, Wallach, 59, of Nashville, has brought therapeutic art to hundreds of hurting people - those who have lost loved ones, returned home from war, survived sexual assault or struggled with poverty.

She insists: No art experience is necessary - the less the better - as she uses guided art projects to help people confront their pains and then let them go.

“Artists, we have a tendency to have a committee in our head telling us what our work looks like. We’re very critical of our work before we show it to other people,” Wallach said. “We don’t want you to have a committee in your head. It’s painting from the heart, not the head.”

One recent afternoon at Napier Elementary, she walked the room snapping and clapping and offering high-fives while students created masks to express their emotions.

She also had to dole out stern rules when the boys and girls were rambunctious. But then she’d flash a big smile, raise her eyebrows and swing her ponytail - enlivened by a purple streak.

It’s those moments when Wallach’s ability to blend the serious and the silly shines through. It’s essential to who she is and what she’s been through.

A trained clown, Wallach spent years performing. But she also has known heartache. In 2011, her husband committed suicide as she looked on.

The traumatic event ended her clowning - for the time being - but within four months she had begun work on Your Heart on Art, drawing from her background in clinical social work.

Her experiences make her uniquely qualified to connect with struggling people.

“My calling is to help people heal who don’t have the strength to do it themselves,” she said. “It’s very hard, but I’m here and I do it.”

From her studio on White Bridge Road, Wallach teaches group workshops and hosts multiweek courses. She speaks to bereaved parents, suicide survivors like herself and military veterans.

With a group like the students at Napier, who have known hardships but retain a youthful energy, Wallach’s clowning makes more appearances. She has a whole repertoire of goofy facial expressions and an animated bouncing walk when she crisscrosses the room.

She said she has slowly brought back her love of the clowning craft. It’s a sign of her own healing as she mends hearts through art.

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