Philadelphia native Myra Levick was a pioneer in the field of art therapy — the practice of using creative outlets to promote mental healing.
“The art therapist does not interpret,” she said during an interview with 6ABC in March 2019. “The important thing is for someone to appreciate their own artwork and understand it.”
The artist and clinical psychologist died Sept. 16 of complications from a seizure at the Abramson Center for Jewish Life in North Wales. She was 96.
She married her high school sweetheart, Leonard Levick, when she was 19 and he was 23. The couple lived in Mt. Airy with their three daughters.
“We were members of the Mount Airy Jewish Community Center. The rabbi at that time was Aaron Gold, and my parents were very close friends with Rabbi Gold and his wife,” Levick’s daughter Bonnie Cossrow said.
Myra Levick agreed to work to send her husband to medical school on the condition that he would, in turn, send her to art school so she could pursue her own career. He became a physician and made good on his word — she attended Moore College of Art & Design 17 years later.
She earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from Moore, then earned a master’s degree in education from Temple University and a Ph.D. in psychology from Bryn Mawr College.
In the 1960s, psychoanalyst Morris Goldman hired her to work with his patients at Albert Einstein Medical Center North and later at what was then Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital. She helped him create a graduate-level art therapy program at Hahnemann, which became part of Drexel University in 2002.
When Goldman died suddenly after the program debuted, Levick was promoted from adjunct instructor to associate professor so she could direct it. In 1976, she became a tenured professor in Hahnemann’s Department of Psychiatry, where she taught for 20 years.
Cossrow said she continued to grow as an artist, working in mediums like sculpture and knitting in addition to painting.
“She started out doing a lot of oil painting, a lot of portraits, portraits of everybody in the family, and then she did a little more abstract, and she did a lot of watercolors and then she did acrylics,” she said.
Myra Levick created the American Art Therapy Association in 1969 and became its president. The organization has grown from 20 members to 4,000 members since it was founded, according to the online newsletter Drexel NOW.
In addition to her career, she was a dedicated mother to her daughters, who saw her as an inspiration.
“She was always very involved in our lives but had very high expectations of all of us, and we all went to college and graduate school and had our careers because for us that was the normal, natural thing to do, even in the ’50s and ’60s,” Cossrow said.
Levick retired from Hahnemann at age 62 and moved to Florida, where she continued to practice art therapy.
Craig Siegel, a clinical art therapist in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, worked with her on a study on the Levick Emotional and Cognitive Art Therapy Assessment, a tool she developed to evaluate the therapeutic needs of special‐needs children. They later co-authored a chapter about the LECATA in “The Wiley Handbook of Art Therapy.”
“She was an individual that was ahead of her time, a trailblazer who fought for causes for everyone, not just for her family but for her community, for those in need, those that didn’t have a voice,” Siegel said. “She advocated for the growth of the profession she loved by being the first president and one of the creators of the American Art Therapy Association.”
She returned to the Philadelphia area in 2018 to live in Blue Bell Place, an assisted living facility. She continued to learn new artistic techniques and practice art therapy by teaching classes on art and aging for fellow residents.
In addition to Cossrow, she is survived by daughters Marsha Levick and Karen Gomer, as well as her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Her family and colleagues remember her dedication to the people she loved and her visionary personality.
“She was a feminist before there was feminism. She was a pioneer,” Cossrow said. “We were so influenced by her, we learned to follow our dreams and be very comfortable in our own skin because she was in hers.”