Belief in Things Unseen

I just finished making a 16 foot long dragon for story time during tomorrow’s Easter services. What, pray tell, does a dragon have to do with Easter? I was wondering the same thing until it was explained to me during this morning’s rehearsal. The story is about a boy who is the only one who sees the dragon until it so large it is impossible not to see it. How all this ties into Easter is the subject for another blog, this is a Unitarian Universalist church after all.

I think it is an apt metaphor as well for the work we do as therapists.  So much of our work relies on believing in the unseen and unknown. We usually don’t know where our words and actions land within our clients. We spend a lot of time time helping people unravel the mysteries of the heart and the psyche. Sometimes our clients are the only ones who see the dragons. Being the Dragon Seer can be a precarious role to play.

All of this impresses upon me the power and the awesome responsibility of the job of being in the role of therapist. I must act and speak with kindness and care. I must hold onto hope when my clients have abandoned it. I must believe in each person’s  ability to change, heal and grow. Hope, kindness,healing-all of these things are unseen and immeasurable-yet I must maintain absolute faith in them.

It seems to me that anyone working as a therapist must have a bedrock belief in something so ethereal as human potential. How else do we carry on? How do we understand the nebulous nature of our work other than a belief in things unseen?


Altered by Art: The Transformative Medium of Beeswax Collage

Altered by Art: The Transformative Medium of Beeswax Collage


This is the video that I made for the 6 Degrees of Creativity project. In it you will find soup to nuts instructions for doing beeswax collage. In response to a query, no, the collages will not melt unless you leave them in your car on a hot day. I hope you enjoy the video, I certainly had fun making it! And check out 6 Degrees of Creativity 2, happening now at


Small Beauties

Back in September, I had a reallllly bad day. I received some upsetting news that left me very agitated. What to do? Go to bed and cry? No, I needed to do something active. The biggest task that lay before me was to plant some 50 -odd bulbs. They had to get in the ground before the first frost.

I dug holes and buried bulbs and stopped every once in a while for a crying jag. My neighbors truly must have thought I had lost my mind. One of my strongest memories of this day was my fervent hope that by the time these bulbs came up I would be in a better place emotionally. I worried that seeing the newly sprung flowers would only take me back to that sorrowful place.

The bulbs are coming up now. And here is the gift:  my grief has transformed. I truly am in a different place, just as I hoped I would be all those months ago. Transported by the beauty of the hyacinths, tulips and daffodils, I am reminded that nothing ever stays the same. As the Little Prince said, “time soothes all sorrows.”

The bulbs came up.

I am artist, hear me roar

What are the qualities that make one a good art therapist? Does one have to be a skilled artist to be a good art therapist? I was asked this question recently and I think it is an important one.

In previous posts I have discussed the important differences between creativity and artistic skill. I would posit that it is necessary for one to have a passion and affinity for the arts, including some intensive training in technique, in order to be an art therapist. What is required is a facility with the arts, a knowledge of art history, a thorough understanding of the creative possibilities and an ability to guide a client through the creative process. Is this you? Are you thoroughly grounded in the arts-the making of it, the history of it, the care-taking of the creative process? Imagine a music therapist who knew the words to all the songs but couldn’t play an instrument.  Are they still a music therapist? Can you lead if you can’t play the tune? We have to be able to play the artistic and creative tune.

You may have already read my thoughts about being able to draw. Drawing skill alone does not equal artistry in my book. I cannot draw realistically, does this diminish my ability as an art therapist? No, of course not. Drawing realistically is a particular skill subset, my strength lies in my overall creative sensibility. And so does yours.

I definitely think you have to self-identify as an artist in order to be an art therapist. How else can you truly support others on their creative journey unless you are on one yourself? I like music, but that doesn’t make me a music therapist. I embrace art, I practice art making, I am trained as an artist. My identity as an artist is truly the underpinning of my identity as an art therapist.

Get Off the Couch and Make Art

I was laid low this week by a terrible cold, the worst I have had in recent memory. I spent all of it, 7 days, on my couch in my studio. This couch doesn’t get much use as a couch. Mostly I pile papers and bags on it and use it to hang up my coat. Sometimes visitors to the studio actually  sit on the couch. I got this piece of furniture when I moved to Massachusetts almost 18 years ago. You could say that we go back a ways together. It started living in the studio when I decided that I wanted this to be a cozy and inviting space. Mostly it invited me to fall asleep on it in front of the television. I had 7 whole days to lay on this couch and think about how else I could create a comfortable space for myself while delineating my work space.

That’s really the problem, you see. I can’t have my studio space double as my living room. It is getting way too easy to zone out in front of the television on my cozy couch. This in turn is taking away from my focus on my work that is theoretically supposed to get done in this space. I really don’t need any help distracting myself from my work.

So out went the couch and in came my bookshelves with all of my art books. What were they doing out in the kitchen anyway? Now this studio sends a different message. It says “this is where creative work happens.” It says “roll up your sleeves.” It says “turn off the television and make some art.”

What changes can you make in your environment that will make it more conducive to engaging in your creative work? What is it about your current arrangement that is holding you back? How can you create a nourishing yet stimulating space for yourself?

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?

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