Have Art, Will Travel

With a new batch of art therapy students about to start the job search, I am being asked about what types of jobs they should be looking for. I have had a variety of jobs in multiple settings. Some were explicitly art therapy jobs and in others I had to be more creative about integrating the arts into my work. Let me tell you about my first job out of school.

Honestly, and I don’t mean to scare you off, it took me a solid year after getting my master’s degree to find a job in the field that met my needs. My first job was as a master’s level clinician at a large mental health agency. I worked in Elder Services and spent ALOT of time driving around to various nursing homes. I had to bill for 28 hours a week which was no small task. I only saw individuals for treatment, there were no groups because the billable rate was higher for individual therapy than group therapy. It was tough work. My clients were all very ill with both medical and psychiatric conditions. The work consisted of dealing with issues both large and small. I could spend an hour with someone helping them deal with an annoying roommate and then spend the next hour helping someone else work with their sadness over their loss of functioning. On several occasions I came into work to find that a client had passed away suddenly. I was at this job for two years. I was fortunate to have had a supervisor who was both an art therapist and a licensed mental health counselor. This supervision enabled me to garner my own credentials.This job was not specifically geared towards art therapy but I was more than welcome to bring it into the work I did with clients. I had a tool chest that was filled with art supplies that I carried around to all of my sessions. I called it my “have art, will travel” box. I was prepared if a client wanted to do some art making but was also available just to talk if that was what they wanted.

This job wasn’t necessarily my dream job, but it helped me along my journey. I learned so much during my two years there. I can still see the faces of many of my clients and vividly remember their stories. It was an immensely moving experience to walk a little bit down the road with them. I wouldn’t trade my time spent there for anything.

When you are just starting out, it can feel very frustrating to search the job boards and not see art therapy positions listed anywhere. I am here to tell you that it is entirely possible to get a job in this field and to find satisfying work. Here are a few tips for the job hunt: Ask about the type and amount of documentation you will be required to do. Ask whether this documentation will be something you are paid for-some jobs expect you to do this outside of your 40 hours and it is unpaid. Find out if there is a licensed professional in your discipline anywhere in the agency you are applying to. There may not be one in the department you will be working in, but there may be someone in the agency who can work with you. Expect to apply for jobs that don’t have “art therapy” anywhere in the job description. Get REALLY good at explaining what you do and how it can benefit the site. Get creative-about places you apply to, about how you can integrate the arts into their site, about how to shape your work life. Network, network, network. This is as simple as staying in touch with your professors and fellow students, attending gatherings, getting involved in professional organizations and joining online groups. Print up some business cards and give them to everyone you meet. Don’t give up. I almost did and boy am I glad I stuck with it through the difficult times. You can shape the career you are dreaming of. It may not be easy, but it is possible. May the wind be at your back.


A Room of Our Own

Unfortunately, I forgot to put in a time-off request for the holiday today and had to work. Fortunately, I got some rare and treasured time alone in my studio at work.

This studio is a living, breathing space. It is a little messy most of the time no matter how much time I spend trying to organize it. I try to remember my motto ” a clean studio is one where nothing happens” whenever I walk in and survey the disarray. It is a rather small space but the soaring windows give it an expansive feel. There are two carts loaded down with flat work stored below and table weaving looms resting above.  A large selection of art books anchors another table and under the table are bins filled with fabric, magazines and recycled items. The cabinets burst with paints, pastels, craypas, beads, collage materials and paper. A rolling rack holds six drawers filled with yarn. Because I work at a psychiatric hospital, all the “sharps” have to be locked up. These all live in a padlocked cabinet that threatens to explode every time I open it because of all the bins and toolboxes stacked inside.

I keep thinking that some day this space will be truly organized and completely functional. But you know what, it already is. I have certainly never heard a group member complain about it. They come in and gather their materials and sit right down and start working. They are perfectly content with the space. This satisfies me. My dream for this space is that it can serve as a sanctuary to our clients.  So much of hospital life is about loss of choice. I want the art studio to be all about choice. I want it to be a place of comfort, of rest, of peace of mind-a place where you can unhook from your troubles for just a little bit.

So never mind the mess, this studio is about being a warm and welcoming place to come to. The clients don’t care about how I decide to organize the paints. They care about how they feel in this space. And isn’t that really the most important thing?

Hierarchy of Wants

The other day I was thinking about something that happened to me when I was starting graduate school. I suddenly realized that this event happened almost twenty years ago. Twenty years! Where does the time go? Twenty years from now, I will be in my sixties. The time goes by so fast, what do I want to do with the next twenty years?

This question came home to me during a training I attended today. The question posed was simple: What do you want? The answer: not so simple.  I mean, let’s face it, some opportunities have passed me by. But when it comes to my work, the field is wide open. I want to be the best listener I can be. I want to respond and not just react. I want to help my clients find their inner strengths and help them grab onto hope and joy. I want to be more patient. I want to be more of a fellow journeyer and less of a tour guide. Did I mention I want to be more patient? I want to grow in my ability to offer options instead of just saying no. I want to improve my skills in fostering a team spirit. I want to help others grow into their full potential as leaders.These are all the ways I want to be.

Here is what I want to do: write a solid book proposal and start shopping it around to publishers. It is time to take action on this, it has been a goal for a long time. I also want to have more fun and do more to relax than collapse into bed at the end of a long day. Write a book, have fun and relax. I think that is plenty to have on my plate for 2012. That is my focus and I am sharing it with you so keep me honest and hold me to it, okay?

What do you want? What are your dreams, your aspirations, your deepest desires? How close are you to getting your wants met? What can you do to facilitate this? How often do you even think about this? Do your wants get sublimated because of the demands of everyday life? How do we start to make our wants known and get them met? Our wants are just as  important as our needs. I for one need to start paying attention to them.

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