Art Therapy Perspectives 

Interview with Jon Ehinger, ATR-BC, LCAT

Jon Ehinger is a licensed and board certified art therapist, multimedia artist, and educator who works in Brooklyn, NY.

Jon and I were introduced through a colleague last year, and he was kind enough to sit down with me one day and tell me about his process using digital media in art therapy. I am so excited to share this post on the blog so that more people can learn about his exciting new process.

What initially drew you to art therapy?
I was living in Los Feliz, California in 2003 when I read about Elliot Smith's suicide. He had a history of mental illness and substance abuse. I remember the LA Times newspaper article mentioning that his girlfriend was an art therapist and I found that a meaningful discovery amidst such tragedy. It ultimately drew me to this work from my career in magazine and broadcast design.

I remember feeling intrigued by the power that those two words [art and therapy] could bring a person in need. Smith’s music touched me so deeply- from his XO record onto the Good Will Hunting soundtrack - I wanted to help people living with similar struggles and acute distress. I wanted a career where I could be intimate with people who would ordinarily be thrown away by societal norm.

How, if at all, have you seen the use of digital technology change art therapy?
In my work, I am very comfortable exploring new things that often times my patients introduce me to.  We can use internet based videos, loopers and sound making software to allow the patient to feel empowered throughout our time together. It's important to meet the patient where they are, and if that means unconventionally creating a narrative from a video game with an autistic child in order to maintain a dialogue for example, then that’s where you'll find me. In my observations it's about a 50/50 split of clinicians who maintain more traditional roles in today's therapy practices, while others are making strides to respond to the growing masses of computer savvy patients.

Additionally, digital technology’s live video conferencing sites, such as Skype, allow the patient/therapist relationship to continue from long distances. While I have yet to initiate a therapy session on-line, I have participated in Google video chat for supervision; I identified the virtual experience as 1-step above a phone call and 1-step below human contact. Art therapy’s roots should always remain person-centered at its core regardless of its medium.

You have some unique approaches integrating green screens and a digital recording camera into art therapy sessions. Can you share how that came about, and about your process?
The light bulb went on when I worked as a video specialist at a special needs summer camp in Pennsylvania. I was given a sizable budget to spark interest with the children who suffered from ADHD, Conduct Disorders, Turrets, onto early onset of Schizophrenia, using our new production facility. These special needs kids really responded most to the green screen studio I created, and their performances in this virtual reality really resonated with me. In those summers I hold some of the most magical moments of my career using computers in the media arts.


In 2007, I began stressing out about my thesis, like so many grad students do, and I knew I wanted to integrate new media into my research study. I was fortunate enough to have a thesis adviser, Laurel Thompson,  who was extremely encouraging throughout this process. Laurel and I met at an AATA conference in Atlanta while I was working at CNN Headline News where I learned green screening for weather reports and over-the-shoulder graphics etc.

She was aware of my background in professional video production and then put me in contact with Mari Pizanis Grande, who supervised my phenomenological study using green screen special effects with at-risk youth in her school.

My process of using green screen technology for therapy is incredibly stimulating, yet remains a laborious endeavor. It usually requires assistance, such as an assistant or an intern with knowledge of studio set-ups. I've been lucky to find art therapy interns with video production backgrounds from NYU and SVA over the last few years. We almost always start with the basics: a pencil and a piece of paper for each patient to begin a storyboard. This is helpful for patients to formulate their ideas--much like in the ways motion picture companies create feature films. A storyboard is also a valuable tool for therapist and patients, as it encapsulates time at a glance and lends itself to art therapy's fundamental roots of pencil to paper.

This is where magic happens...once a patient has created a personal story board such as a dream, fantasy, or wish, then we begin creating it through video means. We can shoot individually or in a group setting, and the patients control their story's visuals and sound from beginning to end. As the therapist, I merely facilitate their visions by acting as their subordinate ego throughout these therapeutic production sessions. We can easily complete a patient's green screen therapy video in a 50 minute therapy hour using live video feeds within inpatient settings. This allows the patients to enact their movies in real-time, seeing themselves within a computerized virtual environment. Another possibility, best suited for outpatient care, is working with patients in post-production, where we can edit their videos on an ongoing basis.

Using the compositing capabilities offered through special effects green screening for therapy, I find that most all populations respond appropriately within their developmental stages. Children, as you would expect, can't get enoughseeing themselves in the green screen as they move through their virtual computer environments. Teens especially engage the green screen's possibilities for performances, but we must consider personal esteem issues, and also use it on occasion for problem solving.  Adults often times have a story to tell using the green screen, utilizing it more as a catalyst for the verbal processing components it offers when reviewing their movies. Older adults and geriatric populations use its capabilities for life-reviews and/or a beneficial safe-space to reflect, and sometimes even regress.

How did you come up with the idea to shift the approach to green screening ‘Media Arts Mandalas’?
Honestly, the idea of making the green screen into a circle shape spawned out of resistance I received from art therapists in the field. When I presented the traditional green rectangle screen for an experiential or in-service etc., they challenged its validity and tried to discredit it with claims that it was more of a platform for dance or drama therapy, rather than as a viable art therapy medium. Even though I disagreed with those art therapists who challenged video green screen in therapy, I valued their clinical stances and opinions. It dawned on me to try changing the format of the screen to something more relevant to art therapist’s therapeutic toolbox, such as a mandala. I think it worked--the interest in this technique has grown significantly since my last workshop Lights, Camera, Therapy

The best part about this evolution of transforming a traditional green screen backdrop to a mandala circle-shape has been repositioning of it from the wall to the floor. Several interns and I experimented using the green screen mandala on the wall, and it didn’t translate as well with patients than with the screen on the floor (with the camera mounted on the ceiling above). It’s confusing to imagine until you see it all set-up in person or shown in a video, so I’m attaching a link from a recent workshop where I collaborated with a drama therapist Shira Hon. In Multi-Media Mandalas we invited many expressive therapies participants to utilize the pseudo-infinite floor space we provided, and we received great response.


green screen mandala showing the live composite from the computer generated image

You recently presented at the annual Expressive Arts Therapy Summit and started a program at the hospital in which you work, how receptive has the art therapy community been of this new approach?
As I was saying in previous questions, it wasn't always easy working with the art therapy community at-large regarding using green screen technology for therapy. Many times people resist what they don't know, and it's understandable for those newly coming into these new media scenarios without a solid digital background. Video in therapy can be intimidating for all involved and should only be engaged in by those with an open mind and are comfortable with the many video-making processes.

The administration of my current mental health hospital setting embraces media arts therapy, but only after a series of pilot studies I performed with my own equipment. The results of my findings were so successful that I was awarded a grant within our psychiatric unit, that is now expanding to other units with other disciplines. Music therapist, Nir Sadovnik, is currently integrating some of my Macintosh purchases in his regular patient sessions. Creative Arts Therapy department director Frances Fawundu and Michael Chambers have continued interest in new media approaches under their roof.

How are you able to utilize the digital technology and green screening in your private practice?
It's something I'm pushing more for in private practice versus at my day job, as there is far less set-up and break-down time needed. My weekend private practice space is set-up and stationary, so all we have to do is "power-up" the cameras and computer. Keeping setup to a minimum is important--any more effort that can cause a lot of problems for the patient in terms of delayed group times or even cancellations due to time constraints.


Green screen video studio set-up in an inpatient art therapy room

Do you work from a similar approach in your private practice as you do at the hospital?
My private practice is geared towards children ages 7-17. The population I work with at the hospital is 18 and up. However, the therapeutic approach I take is often shared by these two populations. I find that I'm usually a lot more relaxed in my weekends, and that translates back to those patients I'm working with privately.  However, there is a common thread of a trusting and stimulating camaraderie, combined with a lasting rapport. I try to assist in identifying their internal struggle, and alleviate it through psychic awareness found in the art.

Do you think there are any negative aspects of using this new approach, and if so what are they?
Patients want to post their work on social networking sites and Youtube as soon as they've completed the first scene. They are usually very proud of the final product from working with me in digital ways, even after just a few weeks. I continually redirect their requests to publish patient videos simply because videos created in therapy cannot be shown for confidentiality reasons, with the exception of immediate family members. It's something that consistently creates conflict with my patients, and we must reach common ground throughout their therapeutic process.

One way I have been able to work around that is to reframe my title upon our first meeting. I identify myself as a mentor or media arts counselor, rather than a therapist, depending on the client's needs. In the psychiatric hospital setting where my title is fixed, I have been granted rights to give discharged patients a disk copy of their therapeutic Quicktime movies, as long as it does not show any other patients in the video. It is their art that they created, and I feel the patient has a right to own it for future reflection. In both private practice and inpatient psychiatric settings, I abide by HIPPA laws with strict compliance of patient privacy.

Are there any other new technologies that you think art therapists should be looking towards?
There are a few software programs that my intern and I have been exploring lately. We've been experimenting with PhotoBooth, a special effects software that's available for Windows and Mac, that records photo and video self-portraits in real-time. My current media arts therapy intern, Joe Kavitski, has been theorizing Photo Booth's therapeutic potential. He reviews the patients' reactions in terms of cognitive distortions within it's many mind states. Using media arts therapy in this way allows the clinician to take a patient on a virtual guided tour through a computer-generated house of mirrors. Its nice to have these kinds of opportunities at hand, should that be an appropriate intervention for your patient.

Also in PhotoBooth, there are many moving stock video backgrounds where a patient can quickly place themselves, including a beach sunsetand an exotic aquarium. It's similar to video green screening technique we are already using (only without the screen). I'm noticing a trend in simplifying and streamlining old technologies in order to develop new ones. That's what's next for us I think as consumers and clinicians alike: more accessibility, ease of use, and promotion of least resistance. Having said that, wouldn't it be ironic that a reader of this interview a year from now finds the green screen an innovative technique for therapy, only to discover through new technologies that we no longer even need that big green backdrop?!

Where would you like to see art therapy go in the future?
My hope is that art therapy continues to grow in scope regarding new media, while never forgetting its psychological roots. As 21st century clinicians, we are finding ourselves at a cross-roads with juxtaposing views of care, from old-school to new-school standpoints. It's Blogs like these that I feel are the most effective in promoting dialogues that will see the future of our work moving in the right directions. 

If readers have any questions for Jon or are interested in his private practice, they can check out his website

For those of you wanting more info, check out this video Jon put together after a presentation, which displays his process with a group 2009 American Art Therapy Association conference professionals:

Originally posted on March 26, 2013

Interview with Liza Toft, ATR-BC, LCAT, Certified Yoga Instructor

Liza Toft is a licensed art therapist and certified yoga teacher working in her home office in Brooklyn, NY.

What initially drew me to art therapy?
I went to art school first to be an Illustrator.  My father is an artist and had been doing Illustration when I was younger to make a living.  He was the one who taught me how to draw, which was a true blessing because I was almost failing out of school!  When I was in high school I enrolled in a program that allowed me to study at Minneapolis College of Art and Design for half the day.  This was a total lifesaver and allowed me to put together a portfolio, which got me into SVA in NYC for college.  Not knowing a lot I went into illustration, I think this was from the encouragement of my parents because I needed to make a living when I got out.  My second year of school a good friend of mine recognized that what I really needed was to explore myself through art and that year I switched over to fine art.  It was a struggle to let go of years of formal training and relying on skill rather than something deep that I needed to express through imagery.  As I began to let loose and find the inner symbolism that emerged from my body and psyche I found that there was a very deep healing and re-balancing that took place.  Years after graduating from school, painting, waitressing to make a living, getting involved in meditation and entering into therapy, I realized that my draw towards making art was more about healing than selling my work and doing the whole art gallery thing.  I really had little interest in that. I decided to combine my interests and go back to school at Pratt to study art therapy.

What populations do you/have you worked with?
My first internship was at Ittelson, which is a residential treatment center for emotionally disturbed children.  My second internship was in substance abuse and after I graduated I stayed on as a paid employee and worked in substance abuse for about three years after graduation.  I later went on to working with children in a trauma unit at Lutheran Medical Center.  I stuck it out for another three years until I decided what I really wanted to do was be in private practice.

How did you get to where you are today?
With a lot of courage and a leap of faith (as well as great supervision from Arthur Robbins an amazing therapist) I gave up my part-time with benefits job at the hospital and went totally into self-employment.  While I was at Pratt getting my Masters Degree I started studying yoga very seriously.  When I graduated from Pratt I always had dual careers one as an Art Therapist and the other as a yoga teacher. I knew down deep that there was a way to combine these two modalities, however for the first few years I dedicated most of my time absorbing myself in the art of yoga.  Most of the work I was doing was teaching yoga privately.  My training as a therapist I think gave me something that other teachers didn't have which was a sensitivity to the psychological and psychic material that was very present in the room.  Even though I was not directly doing therapy in a traditional sense it was the foundation in which I was "teaching" from.  

Although this had its benefits I knew down deep that there was another element that I could bring to my work more directly that the non-verbal psychic material of the body. Although you could have some awareness through just doing yoga, I think that people often miss the connection.  I have challenged myself in the last couple years to take it to the next level and offer in my private practice a form of treatment that uses art to express what the body is trying to communicate through injury, tension, numbness and imbalance.

How would you describe your style or approach as an art therapist?
My training as a yoga teacher and in particular the type of yoga I have studied has given me a deep sense of the psychic energy people are holding in their bodies.  A lot of what I am doing as a therapist is reading that energy and using either yoga, art making or both to shift energy, to hopefully bring more insight into where the conflict is beginning from how it is being expressed in peoples bodies.  I know that the word energy is a little abstract or obscure and what I mean by this is that physical presence carries similar attributes to how we would look at a drawing for example, where is this persons center?  This can be seen through people’s postural stance or in the way one speaks or walks across a room. I need to first feel this in my own body and then that gives me the information on where to go in the session.

What are struggles or challenges have you had to overcome in your career?
My biggest challenge has been to have the confidence and courage to move forward with my vision of combing art therapy and yoga.  I have struggled for years with doubt and insecurity about how this could work.  I didn't want to make either modality watered down and am very turned off by a lot of the hybrid yoga and new age stuff that is out there.  It was and has been important to me to honor the depth and wisdom that is in the yoga tradition as well as art therapy. I think it is difficult and also incredibly rewarding to have a career or trade that is also your deepest passion.  There is more at risk!  But I can't imagine doing anything different. I am learning and growing continuously. 

How do you use yoga in your practice?
Really what I said above, it is difficult for me to talk about either one of my paths separately at this point in my life and career.  Yoga has trained my eye as well as my body to be sensitive to what is going on for people underneath the surface.  It has helped me to awaken the intelligence and wisdom of my body and to let go of some of my own blocks that have allowed me access to my own emotions.  Sometimes yoga alone as we look at our habits and tendencies and shift towards creating more balance we feel the deeper benefits on a mental/emotional and even sometimes spiritual level.  I still do work with people purely in just teaching yoga; however sometimes people want to understand a little bit more in order to make lasting shifts. We need to know what the underlying psychic material is.  Making images gives it form and from there deeper exploration.

What keeps you going as an art therapist?  And/or where do you find inspiration?
What keeps me going is making art, however I became a mom 4yrs ago and finding time for it all is challenging!  My inspiration comes from my supervisor Art Robbins. I find that I start to get burned out when I am not aware of the transference and counter transference going on in sessions.  I think supervision is key to staying inspired and not burned out.  I have been involved with an Art's supervision group for almost 11 years.

Do you have any special self-care techniques?
Hands down my yoga and meditation practice!  As well as acupuncture and any kind of bodywork I can get!  I tend to be someone who moves into her head quickly and when I spend too much time up there I get drained and dried up.  Art making also helps me and now that my son is a little older I see making more art in the future. 

Is there any art therapist or someone in the mental health profession alive or dead that you would like to meet, speak with or pick their brain?
Daniel Siegel, he is not an art therapist but knows and writes a lot about creativity and the brain as well as the importance of bodywork for deep healing.  I think he is amazing and was fortunate to present a few years ago where he was a keynote speaker.  I did not get to meet him but have been reading his book Mindsight, which I think is fascinating and so important in the field of therapy or any healing profession.

If you could work with any population or anywhere on the planet for a week or two what would you do?
It is kind of heavy, but I would love to work with children (and adults) that have been directly affected by war.  I think the potential of art therapy as well as yoga to help heal the trauma of war could be very profound.    

If you are interested in connecting with Liza check out her website.*

*Her website will be back up and live within the week.

Originally posted February 24, 2013

An Interview Series with Sara Roizen, MPS, ATR-BC, LCAT: Part-Two

Sara Roizen (ATR-BC, LCAT) is an artist and licensed board-certified art therapist, currently living and working in New York City. She received a BFA in Painting from the Rhode Island School of Design and a Masters in Art Therapy and Creativity Development from Pratt Institute. Most recently, Sara has focused her art therapy work with adults living with HIV/AIDS, substance use, mental health issues, and homelessness.

Sara Roizen and I were introduced through the Linkedin Group of Art Therapy Alliance. I really enjoyed reading about her journey as an art therapist in this interview series. She has faced and overcome some challenges that are common with new art therapists, and we can all learn something from her unique perspective. Sara also shares about her role as an art therapy consultant and about art therapists who have influenced her work and career. If you enjoy reading this interview as much as I did than check back later in the week for more from Sara.

For more of this interview, check our Part-One Here

What struggles or challenges have you had to overcome in your career?
One of the biggest challenges for me was piecing together the post-graduate work that was necessary to receive my NY state art therapy license (LCAT) and my art therapy board certification (ATR-BC). These credentials are very important to obtain because they help to regulate the practice of art therapy and also hold professional art therapists to a high standard. However, many new art therapists in the field are caught in a double bind. Most organizations will only hire (or heavily prefer) licensed art therapists, but to obtain the required supervised hours, an art therapist must first be hired and supervised by a credentialed art therapist. This seems to be a common challenge for most new art therapists that I’ve talked to. I was able to piece together my post-graduate hours at a few different organizations where I could also receive the proper supervision, but it took me about two years to complete the hours. I’m not sure what the solution to this scenario is, but I can say that I utilized a lot of creative problem solving in the process.

What keeps you going as an art therapist? And/or Where do you find
I find my daily experiences with art therapy clients during groups and individual sessions to be truly inspirational. It is an honor for me to act as witness and gentle guide as my clients create, process, and share their art and feelings. This work is never dull or predictable and it keeps me on my toes.

I am inspired by the incredible art therapy work that my friends and colleagues do, and our ongoing relationships are nurturing on many levels. It can be challenging to stay connected to others in our field when we are often the only art therapists on site, so I also find it important to attend art therapy workshops, lectures, and other events where I have the opportunity to connect and network. Technology provides us with yet another forum for creative exchange and there are many online communities that connect art therapists from all over the world. My personal art making practice is also a core component of my continued work as an art therapist.

Do you have any special self-care techniques?
One of my most important self-care techniques it to maintain my personal art making practice. This has been my natural form of self-care since I was a child. I also find mindfulness meditation practices, journaling, listening to music, going for a walk, exercising, and cuddling with my cats to be wonderful methods of self-care. Being in nature is another core aspect of my self-care, and so my husband and I do our best to get out of the city and into nature whenever possible. I’ve found that nothing helps center me quite as much as the ocean energy.

How do you keep up with your own art making?
Since my own art making has always been a priority, I have continuously found ways to make space and time for my art. I never put the pressure on myself to create art every day, because I have found that my art making cycles fluctuate.  I’ve learned to trust that when an image or feeling needs to be expressed visually it will find a way out.

There are times when I create every day, but also times when I might go a few weeks or longer without making any art. For me, the key is to ‘follow my bliss’ as the saying goes and work on whatever grabs me at the moment. It also helps to take a broader view on art making and creativity in the sense that I find countless ways to be artistic in daily life. It might be as simple as snapping a picture on my walk to the train. All of the little acts of creativity really do add up and enrich each day.

How do you balance your identify of both artist and art therapist?
My biggest fear when I decided to pursue art therapy was that my personal artwork would fall by the wayside. The reality is that I have created more art in the years since becoming an art therapist than before. I tap into different pieces of my identity depending on whether I am making my personal art or guiding a client, but they are parallel experiences that inform and enrich each other. Without my background as an artist, I would not be an art therapist and my experiences as an art therapist feed directly back into my own art making.

I know that you have been involved with the 6 degrees of creativity online course. Can you tell us more about your experience?
It has been an incredible six months as an instructor for the 6 Degrees of Creativity 2 workshops. I am grateful to art therapist Gretchen Miller for creating the 6 Degrees of Creativity community and inviting me to be one of the instructors! I created and taught a workshop called Feeling Your Art: Exploring Texture and Process. We explored different techniques for making textured paintings, using acrylic modeling mediums as well as found textures and mixed media. The ultimate goal of the workshop was an invitation for participants to engage with the materials in a playful and process-driven way. The amount of support, inspiration, and fascinating dialogues moved me and it has been a pleasure to witness the visual process of the group members.

Where would you like to see art therapy go in the future?
I would like to see art therapists increasingly embrace our identities as both artists and art therapists. Sometimes in an attempt to fit into a pre-existing therapeutic model, I think that our field faces a significant challenge. It is critical that creative arts therapists become further recognized by insurance companies and state licensure boards as many other mental health professionals have. Rather than fitting into a pre-existing mold, established by the predominant medical model, however, our background as artists should be utilized to help us create a new paradigm for the work we do. We are in a unique position to offer our clients clinical expertise that is strengthened by the integration of our artist identity. When we can confidently embrace our unique capabilities and offerings, I believe that the creative arts therapist collective will unify to a greater degree and increasingly gain recognition on a national and international level.

Anything else you would like to share?
I would just like to thank you for creating this blog! It’s an amazing forum to connect with other art therapists, get inspired, and share the work that we are all doing in this phenomenal field.

If readers would like to connect with you, how should they do so?
Your Blog? Linkedin? Etc.
Sara's Art Therapy Blog
Sara's Art Site
Sara's Art Therapy Spot on Facebook

Originally posted on January 17, 2013

An Interview Series with Sara Roizen, MPS, ATR-BC, LCAT: Part-One

Sara Roizen (ATR-BC, LCAT) is an artist and licensed board-certified art therapist, currently living and working in New York City. She received a BFA in Painting from the Rhode Island School of Design and a Masters in Art Therapy and Creativity Development from Pratt Institute. Most recently, Sara has focused her art therapy work with adults living with HIV/AIDS, substance use, mental health issues, and homelessness.

Sara Roizen and I were introduced through the Linkedin Group of Art Therapy Alliance. I really enjoyed reading about her journey as an art therapist in this interview series. She has faced and overcome some challenges that are common with new art therapists, and we can all learn something from her unique perspective. Sara also shares about her role as an art therapy consultant and about art therapists who have influenced her work and career. If you enjoy reading this interview as much as I did than check back later in the week for more from Sara.

What initially drew you to art therapy?
Ever since I was a child, art has been an intuitive outlet for me. My parents caught on to this early, and when I was struggling through a difficult day or emotion while growing up, they would suggest that I pull out my art materials and create for a while. I would often return a few hours later with a completely different mindset.

Over the years art has been a constant outlet in my life – helping me to process experiences, create meaning, and channel my emotions. My path to becoming an art therapist was an organic process and a result of many experiences. Ultimately, I wanted to share with others the enormous benefits of creating art as a healing and life-enhancing process.

What populations do you/have you worked with?
For the past few years I have worked predominantly with adults living with HIV and AIDS in emergency transitional housing. Many of my clients are struggling with multiple challenges in addition to their medical diagnoses such as mental health and substance abuse issues (dual diagnosis), past incarcerations, and histories of trauma. I have also worked with adults in acute inpatient psychiatric units and day treatment programs, and with chronically ill children and adolescents within a children’s hospital.

How did you get to where you are today?
Like many new art school college graduates (especially fine art majors), I spent a number of years working random day jobs that paid the bills and also left me enough energy to make art. My first job after moving to NYC was as a store artist at Whole Foods. It wasn’t a great fit after a while, as my creative spontaneity didn’t exactly mesh with the corporate branding and design aesthetic. Although my jobs were somewhat mundane, they were incredibly important in helping me to eventually realize that I was really in search of a career that would combine my passion for art making with my desire to work directly with others in a healing capacity.

While working at these various jobs, I began doing some volunteer work as a way to satisfy the part of myself that wanted to help others and create more meaning in my life. Through volunteering with organizations such as Free Arts and New York Cares, I had the opportunity to observe and assist art therapists working in various settings such as shelters and psychiatric hospitals. I became fascinated with the field of art therapy and began seeking out art therapy books, articles, and art therapists to talk to.

I eventually enrolled in the New School Creative Arts Therapy Certificate program and took evening classes so that I could gain a better understanding of the field. Although it was not a credentialed and degreed program, I gained an immense amount of knowledge during my time there and was able to take art, music, drama, and dance/movement therapy courses, which helped me to develop an overall appreciation and respect for all four modalities. The certificate culminated in an intensive internship at Mt. Sinai Hospital in the acute psychiatric unit, where I was supervised by a music therapist. It was incredible to be an intern with a treatment team that was composed almost entirely of creative arts therapists. That challenging yet incredible internship cemented my desire to take the next step and apply to graduate school for art therapy.

I chose to go to Pratt Institute for my graduate art therapy training. I had an immediate connection with Pratt and the professors there. I was drawn to the experiential quality of all the classes and how much the professors pushed students to delve deeper while always nurturing their process. My first graduate internship was at Housing Works – a day treatment program for adults with HIV and dual diagnoses. My second internship was at the Mt. Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital, where I provided bedside and group art therapy to children and adolescents with chronic and terminal illness. After graduation, I began work in the field and received my NY state license and board certification.

What sorts of services do you offer as an art therapy consultant?
Consultant is another way to describe freelance work, although the term consultant seems more apt for me because I often see freelance work as short term, whereas I’ve been at one of my consultant jobs at Services for the Underserved (SUS) for almost two years. That being said, as a consultant art therapist I have also created art therapy workshops and started art therapy pilot programs for various organizations, which are more short term in nature. I love the flexibility of working as a consultant and it supports my natural inclination to work with different organizations and groups of people. The one challenge is that my consultant work is not as consistent as having one full-time job and so I’ve learned to accept that opportunities and funding come and go. Being a consultant art therapist means learning how to ride the waves inherent in non-profit organizations and being incredibly flexible. I enjoy the challenge of creating my own art therapy work and opportunities and introducing art therapy to organizations and groups that were previously not aware of the field.

How would you describe your style or approach as an art therapist?
Like many art therapists I find myself drawing from a diverse toolbox of approaches, theories, and techniques. Object relations theory and the work of art therapist Art Robbins largely informed my training at Pratt and much of my approach applies this philosophy. I am partial to the open studio approach and the work of art therapists and authors such as Bruce Moon, Catherine Hyland Moon, Shaun McNiff, and Pat Allen. These art therapists focus on the integration of the artist as art therapist and using our unique aesthetic and creative process as a way of relating to and working in a healing capacity with others. I will use directive based techniques when I find it appropriate, but I often enjoy playing with the boundaries inherent in the open studio and the controlled chaos of a non-directive approach.

I also find mindfulness-based art therapy to be a constant source of inspiration in my own life and I am naturally drawn to this approach in the work that I do. I feel that mindfulness and the creative process are intimately connected in that both allow us to find purpose in the process and this moment rather than the finished product or end goal. They are about slowing down, using all of our senses, and becoming increasingly aware of the present moment rather than resisting what is already here. All of us have a tendency to push away emotions and memories that we perceive as negative or unwanted. The mindfulness based art therapy approach encourages the individual to sit with whatever emotion is arising in the moment. The art component is a powerful method for then visually exploring that emotion. I am finding that the underlying meaning and purpose of my work is to be as present as possible for my clients and to connect with them in a genuine way during their art process. There is something beautiful about going into a session and being a witness and co-creator, neither one of us knowing what the next moment will bring but just being open and interested in the process.

Originally posted January 14, 2013

Interview with Shannon Mekuly, MPS, ATR, LPC

Shannon Mekuly, MPS, ATR, LPC graduated with her masters in art therapy from Pratt Institute. Post graduation she moved to Austin, Texas to pursue licensing and certification. She has since worked with a variety of populations of all ages including adults with mental illness, adolescents and their families, and currently she is an art therapist at Shoal Creek Psychiatric Hospital. There she runs Art Therapy and Creative Writing groups throughout the hospital clients from age six to 96.

I was introduced to Shannon through a good friend of mine who is a social worker at Shoal Creek Psychiatric hospital, where Shannon is an art therapist. Shannon has provided me with great insight on the Texas landscape of art therapy, and I thought she would be a good representative of the Austin, Texas art therapy community. 

What initially drew you to art therapy?
I met my first Art Therapist after entering a juried art show in Austin, Texas. The curator of the show was Benee Rockett and when she told me about her career I was mesmerized. My art had always provided a form of therapy for me and I knew right away that I wanted to become an Art Therapist.  Benee became my first mentor and she supported me through the process of applying to graduate schools.   I am forever thankful that our paths crossed.

What populations do you/have you worked with?
My first job out of Graduate School was working with adolescents on probation.  We built a community garden in the South Bronx for the Wildcat Service Corporation.   My next job was with the Brooklyn Bureau of Community Service.  I was a Case Manager and ran Art Therapy groups for adults with mental illness in a day treatment program.  We then moved back to Texas and I got a job with Cedar Springs Austin, an Eating Disorder Clinic.  I loved this population, but I only ran a couple of Art Therapy groups a week and needed full time work.  I got a job working for Communities In Schools and worked with adolescents and their families in a middle school.   After a couple of years, I wanted more opportunities to run Art Therapy groups and got a job with Shoal Creek Psychiatric Hospital.  This is my current position and I am very happy with it.  I run Art Therapy and Creative Writing groups throughout the hospital and get to work with clients from age 6 to 96.

How did you get to where you are today?
I do not know where I would be without my support system. My family has nurtured my artistic talents throughout my life. My partner moved with me to Brooklyn when I was accepted to Pratt and suffered with me as I transitioned from bartender to therapist.  My friends have always supported my career as a professional artist and therapist.  I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by so many wonderful humans.

What are struggles or challenges have you had to overcome in your career?
One of the greatest obstacles has been securing full time work as an Art Therapist in Texas. Pratt helped prepare me for this challenge in graduate school, but finding a job can be disheartening.

Would you say that Art Therapy is any different in Texas than it is in other states?
The presence of Art Therapists in Texas is ever increasing.  Some of the bigger cities like Dallas, Houston and San Antonio have thriving Art Therapy communities and Austin continues to grow as well.  San Antonio will be hosting the AATA Conference in 2014 and this will allow all Art Therapists in Texas to expand our work even further.  I am proud to be a part of a small, but strong group of therapists that is collectively working towards greater recognition for our field.

What keeps you going as an art therapist? And/or where do you find inspiration?
I am always inspired through the art making process. Watching my clients find new ways to express themselves inspires my dedication to my field and reinforces my belief in the power of Art Therapy.

Do you have any special self-care techniques?
Absolutely!! I make my own art, travel, grow my own vegetables, cook, bake, refinish mid century modern furniture, bowl on a league, do yoga and laugh as often as I can.

How, if at all, do you advocate for the field?
Every time someone asks me what I do I feel I am advocating for the field of Art Therapy. Many professionals I have encountered have little knowledge of Art Therapy and I am pleased to educate others on the therapeutic benefits of artistic interventions.

Have you noticed changes in the art therapy marketplace over recent years?
Right now I am working towards becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor with a specialty in Art Therapy. This is a new path for therapists in Texas and a great opportunity for increasing our presence and power as professionals.  This license will allow me to accept insurance and start a Private Practice someday.

Is there anything other than art therapy that you could see yourself doing, or if you were not an art therapist what would you be?
I would love to travel around the world. I also hope to someday publish a book based on my experiences as a therapist.

Is there any art therapist (or another mental health professional) alive or dead that you would like to meet, speak with, or pick their brain?
Bruce Moon - his theories on Existential Art Therapy have had a great impact on my professional development. I am also incredibly thankful for having the chance to study with Art Robbins at Pratt. His guidance and wisdom influences my work every day and I would love to have another conversation with him.

If you could work with any population anywhere on earth for a week or two, who would it be?
Refugees, I ran an Art Therapy group for adolescent refugees when I was working for Communities In Schools. These students were from all over the world and each group project we did together was amazing. Many of them could not speak English, but their artwork told stories language could have never conveyed.

If readers would like to connect with Shannon they can do so through her Linkedin page.

*Picture above is of Shannon looking at a Keith Haring painting at the MOMA.  

Originally posted on December 26, 2012