Betty Brouwer was still an undergraduate student when she discovered art therapy. The search for her ideal career abruptly stopped.
“When I was growing up, art was considered a nice hobby but not something practical you could make a living with,” she says. “I ended up at Redeemer thinking I’d be a special ed teacher because I like helping kids who maybe aren’t understood so well. But then, after speaking with my academic advisor, I realized that wasn’t really what I wanted to be. I decided to go with a psychology major and social work and art minors. In my last year, I was doing a research paper for a course and came across art therapy. I could work with kids and still do art, and that really excited me.”
The established career Brouwer has enjoyed since then has come with notable titles and accomplishments. Along with being a registered psychotherapist and art therapist, she’s one of only four certified Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP) trainers in Canada and served as chair of the Board of the Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy Institute (DDPI) until March 2021. An attachment-based therapy, DDP focuses on repairing the relationships between children who experience early neglect and maltreatment and their parents or caregivers. As the attachment director at Shalem Mental Health Network, Brouwer primarily uses the method in her work with children in adoptive, foster or kinship care.
“We are created to be in relationships, we have a relational God and we grow and develop in the context of relationships.”
“Attachment therapy and theory dovetails with my interest in helping kids whose behaviours are misunderstood,” she says of DDP. “To me, it really seems like everything is about attachment. We are created to be in relationships, we have a relational God and we grow and develop in the context of relationships.”
In Hamilton, Brouwer is perhaps best known as the founder and artistic director of RE-create, an outreach art studio for marginalized youth in the downtown area. Since opening in 2003, it’s grown exponentially and is now part of Shalem itself.
“It gives me a lot of joy and leaves me with a lot of humility. All along the way, people have encouraged me as I’ve developed [RE-create].”
Although Brouwer has had to step away from the studio’s day-to-day operations and rely mostly on staff and volunteers, this is actually what led to its flourishing.
“That was intentionally done so that RE-create isn’t just about me. It’s something that exists on its own,” she says. “If I think about how it benefits the Hamilton community, I would say it provides a place where youth who’re self-described as ‘on the fringe’ can come, create and feel safe. [RE-create] is such a rich and vibrant community, and it’s neat to hear some of the stories that come from that. For example, this summer we hired two youth artists-in-residence, both of which are RE-create alumni. Seeing how people’s lives have been impacted really encourages me to keep going. Because of the studio coordinators and the student volunteers we have from Redeemer, the youth come in knowing there’s someone there who’s going to be interested in them and encourage them.”
When Brouwer looks back on her journey so far, she’s able to see the progression of her professional and spiritual growth.
“It’s in the context of my relationship with God and with people that I continue to grow and develop. In my work, I talk to parents about how they are to be the secure base and safe haven for their kids to develop healthy and secure attachments. God is my secure base and safe haven. My story, my life narrative is part of a larger narrative.”
“I talk to parents about how they are to be the secure base and safe haven for their kids to develop healthy and secure attachments. God is my secure base and safe haven.”
Leanna Nightingale, Redeemer’s Alumni Association president, had the following to say about Brouwer:
“Betty exemplifies someone who’s continued to learn and become an expert in their field using the gifts God has given her. She does this all while being completely humble about the accomplishments she has achieved over her career. It’s such an honour to have such a qualified candidate receive this award. Redeemer is truly blessed by alumni like Betty who have taken their mission to go out and spread God’s kingdom here on earth.”