Art, therapy mesh for Up Center’s new clinical director

Published 9:01 pm Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Art and therapy combine in the interests and expertise of the new clinical director for outpatient and in-home services for the Up Center.

Dr. Abby Calisch will be guiding clinical services for individuals, families and groups in Western Tidewater. More than 1,250 individuals, in addition to families and groups, receive outpatient counseling services through the nonprofit organization, many of them for no fee or a nominal fee.

“We just have an incredible energetic and dedicated group of folks who are invested in doing this kind of work,” Calisch said. “There’s so much being provided by the agency that I’m kind of wowed daily by all that is happening.”

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The organization provides a variety of programs including mental health counseling, job training, financial counseling, parenting support, teen mentoring, youth counseling, support for those with disabilities and more.

Calisch said she initially decided to go into social work “after I finally decided I wasn’t going to be a vet or a physician.”

She had always loved the arts, though, and in the early 1970s she found out about art therapy.

“This was in 1971, and the field, as an academic degree field, a master’s degree field, had only been around in the States since about 1969, so it was still very new,” she said. “I thought, ‘Wow, that combines the two things I want to do.’”

She switched colleges in order to get a master’s degree in art therapy and has worked for about 35 years in the field.

She has worked in various psychiatric and mental health agencies, helped start a graduate program in art therapy and a doctorate program in clinical psychology and directed graduate programs in art therapy.

She eventually wound up at Eastern Virginia Medical School, where she led the graduate program in art therapy there for the last six years. She’s also been teaching art therapy at Old Dominion University.

Her new job at the Up Center is an amalgamation of all of her experience, Calisch said.

“This job kind of combines everything. There’s lots of supervision, there’s lots of consultation with clinicians, there’s outreach to the community and community partners, there’s grant writing, there’s budgeting, pretty much everything you can imagine.”

Calisch said her goals in her new position include “to continue enhancing the lives of folks,” and look for new ways to provide services and get the word out about the offerings.

“There are niches that need to be filled,” she said. “We will see if we can provide them for the community.”

One of those niches will be strengthening the center’s “trauma-informed care.”
“It really takes into account the astronomical numbers nationally of people who have encountered trauma in their lives from childhood to adulthood,” Calisch said. “That sort of perpetuates itself and affects everything from their ability to work and their ability to have good relationships with people, their ability to be a well-functioning citizen.”

For more information about the Up Center, visit, call 965-8663 or visit the Suffolk office at 109 Clay St.