Working with children was always part of the plan for Robyn Spodek-Schindler, our NJ Mompreneur of the Week, but she had another passion, too—fine art. Midway through college, Robyn discovered art therapy and how it could combine her two loves of helping kids and creating art. After becoming a licensed counselor and working for a decade in mental health facilities, Robyn wanted to do something on her own and knew opening an art therapy practice could make the most impact. Fast forward to today, and Paint The Stars Art Therapy offers a unique approach using creative outlets alone or alongside talk psychotherapy to help children and adults cope with anxiety, mental health issues, behavioral problems, ADHD, autism, and depression. We chatted with this Manalapan mom of two to talk about how making art can help kids open up, what boxing and art have in common, and the delicious bakery in Hightstown that’s all about pies.
Tell us a bit about your family and background. I grew up in Woodmere, NY, and got my master’s while living in Florida. When my husband, Jeff, and I first married, we lived in Forest Hills in Queens, but we soon moved to Manalapan. We didn’t know much about New Jersey, but when we started looking for a home in 2011, we started in northern NJ and worked our way down. Once we got to Monmouth County, we felt a real sense of connection in terms of the types of homes and property you could get with proximity to the beach as well as an excellent school system and super nice community. It’s a great place to raise our kids, Danny, 8, and Sam, 5.
Has art always been a part of who you are? Yes, from as far back as I can remember, I’ve been creating, starting with coloring and drawing when I was very young to becoming quite skilled as an artist as I grew up. Once I got to college, I ended up studying fine art, and to this day, I continue to create art on the side, primarily with charcoal, pencils, pastels, and watercolors.
What (if anything) in your past led you down this path? Growing up, I had wanted to be a pediatrician because I was so inspired by mine, who always had a warm, relaxed attitude and helped me feel great. Because of him, I wanted to help children, too. I also loved art, and in college, I discovered art therapy as the right path because it combined art and helping children, so I knew it would satisfy both my passion for art and my dream of working with and helping kids. After college, when I was working for a larger mental health facility, I had the idea of being a private practice therapist. I was torn because I loved what I was doing there, but I also wanted a healthy balance of family life and career. When I decided to start my practice, it grew around me, and I brought on additional therapists to help so many more kids and their families. It was definitely the right choice.
Specifically, how does art therapy work? I like to look at art therapy as one branch on a much larger tree—we replace the traditional couch with a paintbrush to help our clients relax and open the door to healing. Clients portray what they’re thinking and feeling. They might not even realize how they actually feel about something until they see it right in front of them—it comes out in their art. Often, we give art therapy directives to help clients peel back the layers one by one. It might lead to a conversation, and it’s important for me or the therapist working with them to know how a patient interprets the work they created.
Another way we help is with different types of therapies like Paint it Out Boxing, where we put large canvases outside and put on boxing gloves which are repeatedly dipped in paint before hitting the canvas. Kids (and adults, too) can box out any hard-to-reach feelings they don’t want to discuss. It combines movement, creativity, and emotional release, all important aspects of therapy.
What’s your favorite thing to do in your downtime? When I can carve out some extra time, I’m all about creating art, relaxing at the beach, cooking, or baking, and I also like to go running, which is a nice way to clear my mind. Also, as a family, we do a lot of weekend trips together, and hiking is a big part of that, which I enjoy, too.
Tell us about some of your favorite NJ businesses and why you love them. Almost Home is a great brunch and lunch spot in Lincroft. It has a cozy and fun atmosphere that makes you feel connected to the community, and everything on its ever-changing menu is super fresh and so good. I also love Anemos, an incredible Greek restaurant in Manalapan that’s my all-time go-to. And Pie Girl is this wonderful Hightstown bake shop selling extraordinary pies. She makes this incredible lavender honey pie and a mixed berry dark chocolate pie.
Please share some NJ spots that you and your family enjoy. I’m sure it’s no surprise that we enjoy the beach. Spring Lake is my favorite because it’s quiet and chill, but my kids prefer Belmar and Point Pleasant. Belmar has excellent playgrounds on the beach, and Point Pleasant has a boardwalk with games, rides, and an aquarium. We’re also big fans of hiking and like doing it often. Cheesequake State Park has trails that my oldest loves. And we love to explore towns and sample their ice cream shops. We frequent Princeton, Lambertville, Frenchtown, and Cape May.
What’s your best practical advice for a mompreneur just starting? You must believe in yourself and what you’re about to embark on. Without your own confidence, you can’t expect others to believe in you. Also, it’s helpful to seek out other mompreneurs that have paved the way before you. Ask them for advice on their first steps and some of the hardest things about the business for them. The connections you’ll make are important and will give you a good understanding of what to expect. Women helping women is how we all win.