Helen B. Landgarten dies at 89; pioneering art therapist

Helen B. Landgarten, a Los Angeles artist and pioneering art therapist who established a clinical art therapy program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and graduate departments in art therapy at Immaculate Heart College and Loyola Marymount University, has died. She was 89.

Landgarten died Wednesday at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center after suffering a stroke, Loyola Marymount announced.

In the 1970s, Landgarten helped legitimize art therapy, which combines art and counseling, on the West Coast. Practitioners say that art therapy can be an effective diagnostic and treatment tool during psychotherapy sessions, particularly with children, adolescents, families and groups.

"I can have a family create some art together and in about a half-hour, by the way they have proceeded — who went first, who went last, the whole mechanism, observing all that — I could tell you what the family system is, what role each person played, how they functioned as a unit," Landgarten said in a 1986 interview with The Times. "Now when people come to a clinic, they don't push and shove each other like they might at home. You know people are on their best behavior, so the art can be symbolic of what happens in their daily lives."

Art also provides mental health patients with a positive, creative outlet and allows them to communicate with others in nonverbal ways, Landgarten said. And the art produced is tangible evidence of the effort made in the treatment process.

A painter, she earned a bachelor of fine arts degree at UCLA in 1963. She was drawn to psychotherapy in the 1960s and '70s, said Debra Linesch, chairman of the graduate department of marital and family therapy at Loyola Marymount.

"As a painter, she recognized the deeper connection between art and the unconscious, one's own inner life," Linesch said in an interview Friday.

Landgarten earned a master's degree in marital and family therapy at Goddard College in Vermont in 1972 and introduced a clinical art therapy practice to Thalians Community Mental Health Center at Cedars-Sinai.

In 1976, she founded a master's degree program in art therapy at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles, the first of its kind on the West Coast. After the college closed in 1980, she moved the program to Loyola Marymount. She directed the program and taught courses until 1988, when she retired.

She was the author of academic textbooks, including "Clinical Art Therapy," "Family Art Psychotherapy," "Adult Art Psychotherapy" and "Magazine Photo Collage."

In retirement, she remained active at Loyola Marymount's Helen B. Landgarten Art Therapy Clinic, which works with children and families.

Born Helen Barbara Tapper in Detroit on March 4, 1921, she married Nathan Landgarten in 1942. They had two children, daughter Aleda and son Marc, who survive her.

Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. Sunday at Mount Sinai Memorial Park, 5950 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles.


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