Art Therapy Perspectives 

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