Carol Greiff Lagstein once led six students from St. Thomas Aquinas College to an orphanage for disabled children in Russia. With a trunk of art supplies, the group changed the minds of the skeptical staff when children who had difficulty communicating created bright, expressive artwork.
“By the second day, the halls were filled with reporters wanting to write about the impact of art therapy on these formerly ‘hopeless and abandoned’ children,” Carol says. “That was an exciting outcome, but the best experience was witnessing the joy of the Russian children as they created art.”
In the 25 years she’s served as STAC’s Director of Art Therapy, Carol has taught every art therapy course, including the Self Expression Workshop and Art Therapy Seminar. She also advises the Art Therapy Club, which hosts bi-annual conferences and plans creative projects for the college community. They’ve held workshops, such as creating stress balls during midterms and hosting “paint and sip” events, and have led fundraisers for community art therapy programs.
“The art department is small but fierce,” Carol says. “I enjoy collaborating with my colleagues — all talented professionals — and working together to encourage creativity and innovation in classes and around campus.”
Carol is dedicated to defining the skills undergraduate art therapy students need in order to achieve the best results in their field. In her recent article, “Student Learning Outcomes in Undergraduate Art Therapy Education,” which is pending publication in Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, she identifies two timely goals: cultural competence and social justice. In response to today’s call for social equality, she describes a need for art therapy students to gain competence in these areas for personal growth and to connect with their future clients.
Former student Christian Cotumaccio, who now works at Zucker Hillside Hospital and is pursuing a Master’s in Creative Art Therapy Counseling, fondly remembers his mentor. “The most important lesson I learned from Carol was the importance of networking and holding onto working relationships,” he says. “The community is on the smaller side, and this allows participants to form close-knit relationships with other members in the field.”
After earning a bachelor of fine arts at California College of the Arts, Carol completed her master of professional studies in art therapy from the Pratt Institute. She began her career at the Federation Employment and Guidance Service in New York City and later received her MSW from Columbia University. Carol received post-graduate training at The Institute for Expressive Analysis, The Institute for Mental Health Education, and The Ackerman Institute for Family Therapy. She has taught at Ramapo College, the School of Visual Arts, New York University’s School of Social Work, and the Apollo Institute in Beijing, China. She has also served as a student assistance counselor in elementary and middle school in New York’s Clarkstown Central School District. Besides teaching, Carol runs a private psychotherapy practice.
Since childhood, art has been at the center of Carol’s life. She once spent two weeks painting in the Giverny Gardens in France, in the same spot where Monet created his famous water lily paintings. The first piece of artwork she ever sold was a sculpture she created in a high school class, and today her work is represented at two art galleries.
One of the greatest rewards of Carol’s decades-long career is seeing the significant progress a client can achieve through art therapy. She recalls a day when she was having lunch with a friend and a couple approached her. They thanked her for working with their then-four-year-old daughter. They said that the child who was once afraid to leave the house was now an outgoing student set to graduate from college. “Integrating art therapy into the therapeutic relationship and seeing its ability to help people heal,” Carol says, “is infinitely rewarding.”