Haag and his students.
Haag and his students.

Haag Uses Art to Help People Communicate

May 19, 2022

Ever since he could remember, Millikin’s Art Therapy professor, Jonathan Haag, has been creating art. As a senior in high school, he knew his life’s purpose was to pursue his passion for art.

“It was the one thing that distinguished me from other people and one of the only things I felt I was good at,” said Haag.

Haag was the middle-son born in Denver, Colorado to parents Glen and Carol Haag. Haag recalls his parents were surprisingly supportive when he decided to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Haag’s father was a practical man who held a position as an accountant for many years.

Often times, art students and parents alike are concerned with a lack of financial stability in the field.

“It is one of the big stressors going all the way through four years of art school,” said Haag. “You’re spending a lot of money, time, and energy on this pursuit and there is always this concern, ‘Am I good enough? Am I going to be able to make a living doing this?’ I wasn’t obsessed about it, but it hung in the back of my mind.”

However, Haag’s family held the belief their sons needed to explore their talents and go in that direction in order to lead a happy life. With his interdisciplinary major between Fine Arts and Design in Illustration, Haag wanted to become a children’s book illustrator.

A year post-undergraduate school, Haag worked freelance illustrator projects. This field of work left him lonely, isolated, and unfulfilled. So for the following three years, he was trained and worked as a youth minister for a small-town church in South Dakota. Haag found joy working with youth but his life was missing art.

“I started thinking how I could work with kids, be supportive and build them up,” said Haag.

Even in his current role as a professor, Haag still strives to show support and positivity in the lives of his students.

“Earlier this semester, I was struggling with some personal problems and I was actually able to go to him and communicate that and he helped me a lot,” said senior art therapy major Erica Reyes. “Not only that, but he works with me in class. And if I have an off day I’m able to communicate with him and he’s able to help me. So I really praise him for that.”

In the latter part of Haag’s senior year in art school, he stumbled upon a book on art therapy that he got from the library. “I checked into it, but no bells or whistles rung out that way,” said Haag. “But when I started working with kids and then started missing art, I thought I need to figure out a way of combining this.”

Haag’s destiny to become an art therapist was foreshadowed when he took a CT aptitude test as a senior in high school that ranked him in the 98th percentile for social services such as psychology, counseling, or a member of the clergy.

“I thought that was the craziest reading I’d ever heard of,” said Haag. “I didn’t even know if I liked people that much. I was very shy.”

Nonetheless, he finally realized his true calling and moved to Dayton, Ohio to obtain his Master’s Degree in art therapy at Wright State University. For his internship and practicum, he worked on an adolescent psychiatric unit that became his full time job after graduating.

During this time he met and later married his wife, Cindy Haag, and had daughter, Emily Haag, a senior communication major at Millikin. While working full-time, Haag returned to school to get a second Master’s Degree in social work at the University of Cincinnati for job security and stability.

He was faced with many challenges working on the adolescent psych unit. The population of people he helped varied from major depression, suicide risk, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and oppositional defiant disorder from the juvenile detention center. All of which Haag led art therapy sessions with in a big group.

“One of the great things about art making is that it was a great equalizer,” said Haag. “A nine year old girl could do art just as easily as a 17 year old boy. The other thing about art making is that it’s not reliant on language for people to express themselves.”

Upon further realization through journaling and prayer, Haag discovered ultimate job fulfillment working with youth who sought out his professional help and actually wanted their lives made better by his work. From 2002 until 2018, Haag worked as an art therapist providing grief counseling to the children and teens of parents with terminal illnesses at Hospice of Dayton.

Additionally, the grief clinic operated by Hospice of Dayton provided free services to anyone in the community. Many of the children Haag worked with lost loved ones unexpectedly either from a car accident, sudden illness, drug overdose, or suicide. Part of these services included an annual summer grief camp that Haag directed and rebranded.

Among many of his accomplishments, he returned to school in 2012 and obtained his Doctorate’s Degree in art therapy at Mount Mary University. Haag pursued his Doctorate in order to conduct a research study on an art therapy activity called Draw a Story. His research was later published in the American Art Therapy Association Journal in 2018. That same year Millikin’s art department gained a new professor of art therapy.

Coincidentally, Jennifer Holt, assistant professor of art who teaches ceramics and sculpture at Millikin was also hired that year and has been working with Haag for the last four years.

“He’s dedicated to his students,” said Holt. “He’s respectful and easy to work with.”

As Haag was just getting comfortable in his role as professor, COVID-19 struck and professors were faced with the challenges of remote learning.

“One of the things I praised him for when we had to do online was he never gave us assignments he didn’t understand how to do himself,” said Reyes. “He took the time to figure it out on Moodle and how to turn it in.”

Haag is on his way to becoming a tenured professor and continuing to build and shape the minds of Millikin’s future art therapist by teaching the therapeutic and universal language of expression through art making.

Editor’s Note: Emi Haag is a graduating senior who wrote her final feature for the Dec on her father, Dr. Jonathan Haag.

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