Art Therapy Perspectives 

An Interview Series with Natasha Shapiro, LCAT, ATR-BC: Part-Two

Natasha Shapiro, LCAT, ATR-BC, is a professional artist, a Licensed Art Therapist and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. She obtained her BA Cum Laude in Russian Literature at Harvard University and her MPS in Art Therapy and Creativity Development at Pratt Institute. She runs a private practice out of her studio office in downtown NYC, Tribeca Healing Arts, where she provides individual and group art therapy, couples therapy, individual and group supervision as well as Reiki, Sand Tray and Play Therapy, Creativity Development and Workshops. She has been exhibiting her work in galleries and alternative spaces for many years.

This is part-two of a two part series with Natasha. For part-one in the series, click here.

Can you share with us more about the supervision group you run? I know you take a unique approach.
It has evolved over the years. Now it’s one weekly group of 6 members with a waiting list and includes people with more experience. My main approach is studio art supervision. I think it is important to make art during the group itself in the company of the group members and me. Art therapists desperately need to make their own art. Their jobs are traumatizing. You are making art in the room with clients, or witnessing their art making, but did you make art this week or month? My supervisees report that the group has helped them reconnect to and nurture their artist self.

The supervision group is founded on my conviction that art making connects the art therapist more to their work and helps avoid retraumatization and burnout. Every week, we spend the first 45 minutes making art. Participants and I experiment with a wide variety of art media. The remaining time is for a case presentation, which often involves response art that gets processed at the end. The response art gives the case presenter another tool, non-verbal, to get a sense of the case. The presenter’s current art project is also useful as a way to process clinical issues. I love this group; it is inspiring to hear group members report that since joining the group, they started making their own art again or making art more often.

How would you describe your style or approach as an art therapist?
Eclectic, with the setting as my art studio, with my art on the walls. People feel
comfortable here in this unique and inviting environment. It is controlled chaos. I enjoy the way art therapy just comes up spontaneously. I meet the person where they are at, and it is a natural progression. I Sometimes I make art along side the person, or we do something together. Other times the session involves talking and/or processing dreams or using the sand tray. I also do Reiki. After I became an Advanced Practitioner, I did some workshops where I included meditation and art making. Sometimes individual Reiki sessions are an opportunity to incorporate art making with the bodywork through adding mandala drawing to the session. The newest piece for me is play therapy and sand tray as I have mentioned. With kids it’s a lot of role-play, and elements of Play therapy, involving characters fighting or playing, whereas with adults, they may make a world in the sand tray and I will act as witness.

What are struggles or challenges have you had to overcome in your career?
Building and maintaining therapy groups in private practice is a huge challenge. Another big struggle was building my privative practice, and then rebuilding it after I had a kid, which coincided with the economy tanking. That’s when people need therapy the most, but let go of it because even the co pay costs too much. I have worked with people to make low financial arrangements to help them go to therapy in a difficult time of their life, often people without insurance. It is very rewarding when someone starts working with you even when their insurance won’t pay or they are not sure about coverage, and then stay with me anyway paying on a sliding scale, showing how much they value the relationship with me.

What keeps you going as an art therapist? And/or Where do you find
When you are an artist, it is inherently therapeutic how rewarding it is, and how healing both therapy and art therapy can be for people. I get inspired when my patient expresses being proud of themselves for overcoming something. It is an honor to be on someone’s journey. I respect the process.

How do you keep up with your own art making?
I focus on the fun of the materials and the process and avoid analyzing my own work. It is hard as an artist to market myself, and produce an artist statement, because part of the joy for me is getting lost in the process and using the non-verbal side of the brain. I don’t have many titles because of this. It always amazes me when people come up with interesting titles. In my own work, the series will have a title but not the individual pieces.

I just got a piece accepted into a Small Works show at the 440 Gallery in Brooklyn, and I have a piece in a show at New York Creative Arts Therapies, LLC. They have an art show every year in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and this year its’ a benefit auction for the foster kids part of their program.

Besides showing work, selling work is crucial, knowing someone will have your art in his or her home is a great feeling and motivation. I make art no matter what. I carry around a mini “studio” in my bag and do some kind of art daily. I always have a journal going; sometimes I pull from the journal for bigger pieces. Having the studio and making art with my child also helps. I always need to make art to survive. What is more difficult is finishing things, getting yourself geared up for a show, and trying to advance your career. I need to stay in process and not worry about the product. Having shows does keep you going, but it is challenging to get to that point and keep it up.

How do you put your artwork out there?
I am now very involved online promotion and improving my website. I got invited to a website called Artsicle. Both individuals and corporations go onto the website they can rent or buy your art. The Internet is useful in many ways for artists and art therapists. I also rejoined the Organization of independent artists. This year the fall salon show is an online gallery.

As a blogger, I discovered a wonderful blog called Broken Light Collective; people submit a photo a short profile, real name or fake name, and talk about their connection to mental illness, and how the photo relates to that connection. Sometimes they post photos by therapists, some have mental illness or just affected by it. It is a great community where someone can talk openly about their struggles and educate the public about mental illness. I would like to do something like this, an online type gallery for people with mental illness who use other means of expression than photography.

How do you balance your identify of both artist and art therapist?
By having a studio that I do both in, being first an artist, and continuing my art career, always working on my own personal art. It is a tricky balance. I’m good at using any free moment to make art. Having the studio as the arena for both helps make room for both and keep a balance. To be a good therapist, I have to make art regularly. It’s important to show my work regularly. My last solo show was very exciting, at a gallery in Tokyo in 2010. It was an amazing experience, as I have a personal connection to Japan.

Click here to see Natasha's collage drawing in the OIA online gallery.

And click here to see the whole group exhibition of OIA.

Where would you like to see art therapy go in the future?
I want the public to appreciate and recognize art therapists as having extra skills and expertise, and for more people to view creativity as inherently healing. I want it to have better publicity and marketing. I want us to have a lot more exposure in the mainstream media.

If readers would like to connect with Natasha they can do so through the following websites-

Natasha's Blog
Natasha's Private Practice Website
Natasha's Artist website  

Originally posted December 7, 2012