The world of art therapy is a small one indeed. Your fellow students, supervisors and professors become your colleagues and friends. My facebook friend list is filled with art therapists that I have grown to know through my own schooling and teaching. Lesson number one is: don’t burn any bridges. I had a painful experience at the end of my graduate training and I was so tempted to blow out of there in a blaze of glory. It took all the restraint I had to keep my composure and exit gracefully. I am so glad I did because it would have hurt me professionally for years to come if I had chosen to burn that bridge.
Lesson number two: networking is key. Back in the old days, and by this I mean 1996, there was no Google, no Yahoo groups, no LinkedIn, no Facebook. I was stuck looking for a job in the want ads in the newspaper. You remember the newspaper? The big help wanted section came out every Sunday and I would get out my highlighter and desperately pore over the ads for a job bearing some resemblance to art therapy. I barely knew what I was looking for and the job search was arduous indeed. Week after week I would send off resumes into what seemed like a black hole and wait for the phone to ring. I finally secured a position with a mental health agency as a Master’s level clinician. Before you get your license, this is the type of the job you qualify for. I was lucky because within the parameters of this job I was able to do art therapy with elders in nursing homes. I was also extremely lucky that within the agency there was a licensed and registered art therapist who was able to provide me with the supervision I needed to get my own credentials. Lesson number three: always ask if there is anyone in the entire agency who can provide you with supervision. It could save you a great deal of time and money and serves as a nice job perk to boot.
It takes some time to “break into” the field, but fostering relationships while in graduate school and beyond is key. You never know who may be hiring or who might hear of a job that would be perfect for you. Stay in touch with everyone you can in the field. Connect in every possible venue. Thanks to the Lesley alumni list I hear about job openings all the time. I wish that valuable resources such as this had been available to me when I was looking for that first job. It doesn’t have to be the lonely experience that it used to be for me and many other art therapists trying to get started in the field.
“Networking” is such a daunting word to me. All it really means is taking every opportunity to meet people and stay connected. This can happen formally or informally. Attend art openings. Go to workshops. Take a class. Do an internet search. Join an online group. Lesson number four: Say yes to every opportunity to connect with other artists and art therapists. You never know how it will benefit you in the future.
Lesson number five: Be gentle with yourself. It takes some time to establish yourself in any field and art therapy is no exception. Because we are so small in number and our work is unfamiliar to many people, it can be even harder. Perseverance is key. I wanted to give up several times. Bartending started to look pretty good again. But I kept going because being an art therapist was my dream and I wasn’t going to give it up lightly. I am wishing you well as you pursue your own dreams.