CCAS Alumnae Share Their Unique Story of Friendship and Family

Bardot & Hilingala graduate on the Mall with crowns they created as a class
Bardot & Hillinga graduate on the Mall with crowns they created as a class.

Alumna and director of GW’s Art Therapy graduate program, Heidi Bardot, CCAS MA ’99, generously shared the following GW story with us:

Unimaginable Journeys

By Heidi Bardot

What seems like a lifetime ago, I was a graduate student in the GW Art Therapy Program. The program was life-changing for me in a variety of ways, the effects of which are even felt now. I learned how to sit with clients and help them express their emotions.

I explored different forms of art so that I could have foundational skills to use with my clients. I discovered how to deal with the emotional impact of hearing client stories and create personal boundaries for myself.

GW gave me the skills, knowledge, and emotional capacity to go out and become an art therapist. However, it also gave me deep and supportive friendships with similarly souled women.

Hillinga (left) and Bardot (right) backpacking through the Middle East and Europe doing art therapy research.

One of these women was Helena (Lena) Hillinga, CCAS MA ’98. We became deeply bonded because of our similar histories growing up overseas and our connection through art therapy.

We dreamed and planned and upon graduation, traveled for four months through the Middle East and Europe, meeting with counselors, social workers,  art therapists, school leaders, NGOs, and anyone who would let us bring art therapy to their organization. We carried everything on our backs: art supplies, paper, laptop, camera, video, and shared clothing.

We began in my country of birth, Lebanon, and ended in Lena’s home country of Holland. We experienced the call to prayer in the middle of the night while staying at a school in south Lebanon. We did art work with students in Athens, Greece.

We shared ice cream with local art therapists in Florence, Italy. We rode bikes through Switzerland, with our hair in braids. We took an endless night train to Portugal. I got engaged in Paris, France, and we all met my in-laws for the first time and toasted with champagne.

We collected over 150 pieces of art work and presented our research the following year at an AATA Conference.

Through the many years, Lena’s move to Seattle, changing jobs, getting married, numerous birthdays, and the birth of Lena’s twins we have deepened our friendship.

Left to right: Doug Haas, Helena Hillinga Haas, Heidi Hilgendorf Bardot, and Frederic Bardot. Photo by Tracey Salazar.

Two years ago, when Lena found out that I could not medically carry a child, she and her husband, Doug, offered me and my husband, Frederic, a true gift—to become a surrogate for our child.

On June 4th, our son will be born with all four of us to witness his birth.

It has been an amazing process to witness such love and generosity. Both Lena and Doug have sacrificed in order to bring our dreams to fruition and to allow us to have the joy of parenting that they have experienced with their two children. The four of us have been deeply connected and bonded by this experience—we have become family.

We often think back to what created this friendship—the GW Art Therapy Program.

As the director now, this is the environment that I seek to create, modeling it after my mentors, Katherine Williams and Carol Cox. An environment where students not only learn and explore and grow professionally and clinically, but one where they can bond and create deep connections emotionally with others.

The possibilities are endless and often unimaginable, but sometimes they begin with the smallest of seeds in the most unassuming of places.

Next fall, Drawn from the Circle will focus on alumni updates, memories, and reflections. If you have an unimaginable journey that began in the GW Art Therapy Program you’d like to share, contact:, with Drawn from the Circle, in the subject line.

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