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Express YourselfPersonal creativity counters stress and depression at Santa Rosa Center for Creative Expression

By Bruce Robinson

I kept seeing people more and more stressed out and no outlet for that stress," says Robbie Saunders. So she established the Center for Creative Expression to provide those needed outlets. With the help of a lengthy list of local instructors, the center offers classes and workshops in yoga, creative writing, "movement expression," painting, journal writing, mask making, tai chi ch'uan, personal mythology, and much more.

"Tremendous things can happen by doing art," Saunders explains. "It's a way to express yourself in ways that don't get expressed in normal, everyday life--the greatest way of stress reduction I've ever seen."

And, she adds, it is also "a wonderful thing for couples to do this together."

In addition to combating stress, many of the creative outlets the center encourages are also helpful in countering depression. Saunders sees this as a positive alternative to anti-depressant medications. "Sometimes you can do movement that releases all that pent-up emotion, and you find the medication isn't the answer," she explains.

A psychotherapist who relocated from Southern California to Sonoma County to carry out her vision, Saunders searched for more than a year before finding the space she wanted for the center, a rambling home surrounded by oaks in the hills north of Santa Rosa. With the garage converted into a carpeted, unfurnished movement room, studio spaces for both painting and sculpture, small counseling rooms, and a larger meeting area with a full brick fireplace, the center is able to host several varied activities at any one time.

Once those physical needs were met, Saunders put out a call for allies, advertising for the teachers who would give life to her center. The response was strong, both in numbers and in abilities. "I couldn't believe the amount of talent in this county," she marvels. "It was no problem finding teachers." The list of instructors now working with Saunders includes Kathy James (Feldenkrais/aikido), Bill McMillion (writing), Joel Wechsler and Sylvia Israel (drama therapy), Gail Witali Johnson (painting and drawing), Ken Ward (jazz appreciation), and Stephen Echols (sculpture and songwriting).

Seventeen of the classes offered at the center can earn students academic credits at Sonoma State University, including the class in movement expression that Saunders has developed and teaches herself. Her concept is that "movement can be more free form, allowing your body to move the way it needs to, without having to do it 'right' or in a set way," unlike exercise, which she dismisses as "a set of rules and patterns."

Other accredited classes include "Intuitive Painting," "The Art of Creative Expression," and "Yoga, Meditation and the Dharma," as well as more scholastic topics, such as "Archetypes and Nature," "Sacred Psychology," and "Persephone's Wisdom: Girls Coming of Age."

The accreditation came last fall, less than a year after Saunders' center opened its doors.

The center also offers expressive groups, wherein participants explore a variety of outlets--movement, painting, and writing, for instance. "You get a group like that and it's incredibly powerful," Saunders says. "It's also self-affirming. Whatever comes out is coming out of you, and it's OK."

Recognizing that the overwhelming majority of students at the center in its first year have been women, Saunders is now consciously reshaping her concept into more of a women's center. "We'll still emphasize the arts and movement, but using them toward women's issues," she says.

Not that men will be excluded. The calendar still features Santa Rosa psychologist Hari Meyers' class, "The Male Soul in Epic Heroic Literature." Group retreats and other special events are also frequently scheduled.

In all these areas, Saunders says, her fundamental premise is that "everyone is innately creative. However, for a variety of reasons, both internal and external, most of us have lost touch with our natural talents.

"At the center, our goal is to help people find and enjoy the creative process again."

For a listing of current classes offered by the Center for Creative Expression, call 571-0404. Public tours are also available by prior appointment.

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From the Jan. 18-25, 1996 issue of The Sonoma County Independent

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© 1996 Metro Publishing and Virtual Valley, Inc.

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