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Art Therapy Perspectives 

Interview with Amy Duquette, ATR-BC, LCAT

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Amy Duquette, ATR-BC, LCAT, has practiced art therapy within The North Brooklyn Health Network (NBHN) of the NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation since 2004. She worked with adults on an inpatient secure psychiatric unit and on a medically managed detoxification unit. She also worked in an outpatient center for geriatric mental health. Amy managed The Artist Access Program where uninsured artists, dancers and musicians bartered their talents for health care. Doing art therapy with adults who experience chronic physical pain and those who want to explore the emotional burden that often accompanies the medical diagnosis became Amy’s main interest. Therefore, she initiated and established art therapy services on the adult inpatient medical units of Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center. She currently works part-time at Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center, bringing art therapy bedside to patients.

Amy also has a private practice where she sees adults who have chronic pain. Amy conducts a weekly art therapy group for adults with HIV/AIDS through the Art Therapy Outreach Center (ATOC). She also supervises art therapists new to the field in her private practice, and trains graduate level art therapy students at Woodhull. Amy has offered lectures, in-services and has been interviewed on the radio, sharing her passion for art therapy while educating others on the vast scope of its healing potential.

Amy and I met in 2010 when I interned under her on the medical units of Woodhull Medical Center. She taught me a lot there, including the importance of advocating for yourself and the field. Almost every patient I met on an adult or geriatric unit needed some level of education on what art therapy was before we had our first session. Amy has been a great mentor for me, both during the internship year and post graduation. Amy’s interview will be interesting to those with any level of interest or professionalism in art therapy, as she has been working in the field for over eight years. I know she has provided me with inspiration, and I hope this interview will do the same for you.

What initially drew you to art therapy?
I came to art therapy after a year of teaching art to middle school children in New York City. The classes were really over crowded, and the students were not motivated to be there. I ended up throwing out my lesson plans for the year and instead started using the art to communicate with the children, help them get through their day. The art provided an outlet for them to not be so angry and enjoy being in the room. When I explained to a former professor what I was doing, she said it sounded a lot like art therapy. I looked it up, and it instantly clicked with me. I went back to school the next year and received my master’s degree in art therapy from the School of Visual Arts. I think art therapy found me. I needed it to get through that year in the classroom.

What populations do you/have you worked with?
I have worked mostly with adults. I have worked in mental health settings; detox units and both inpatient and outpatient medical. After working on psych units, I became interested in working in medicine at a medical setting. I approached administration, and explained the benefits, and they were willing to make a position for me there. I am also currently running an outpatient group for consumers with HIV/AIDS.

How did you get to where you are today?
It started with my first year internship. I interned at Woodhull Medical Center, and after graduation I went back to the department and inquired about openings. They had one on inpatient psych, and I have been working at the hospital ever since. Then the position in medicine was one that I created. While working on medicine I was offered to run a program called Artist Access, which connects uninsured artists to healthcare through a barter for their services within the hospital. For about three years, I did both clinical work and program management. I was really happy with what I was able to accomplish in that time, and the changes and shifts within the program. After that time I felt a pull to come back to clinical work on a full-time basis, so I decided to start a private practice. I have always felt a strong connection to my work at Woodhull so I am there part time and balance that with private practice.

What are struggles or challenges have you had to overcome in your career?
I have had a really enjoyable time in this career, and really love the path that I have made. I am not sure I would call this a challenge, but in art therapy there is a constant need to educate people on the merits and benefits of art therapy. This includes co-workers, as well as people I talk to outside of the hospital and in agencies about the work that I am doing and the scope of art therapy. This has been a constant.

What keeps you going as an art therapist? And/or where do you find inspiration?
All of my relationships with each patient that I have had, and all of the times when a patient pulls insight from their artwork it is incredibly moving to me. It never stops inspiring me. I can say that I have learned from every patient even the ones who were challenging.

Do you have any special self-care techniques?
I run. I came to running during my time in graduate school. Before that I had no use for it, and I don’t think that was a coincidence. Running both grounds me and reconnects me to myself. When I run, my mind is racing, thoughts running through my mind, face paced, and then when I am done it is empty. Running serves a very real purpose for me, and it teaches you about yourself. After I ran my first marathon it was very clear to me that there is not anything that I can’t do. I also started drawing after I started working as an art therapist. It wasn’t something that I did before. It intimidated me, but since I was encouraging patients to use mediums that they don’t use in their daily life I wanted to as well. Now I draw frequently, probably every single week, and I have learned a lot about myself through it.

How, if at all, do you advocate for the field?
There are lots of opportunities to speak about art therapy. Recently I was asked to speak on the radio (for those local to NY station 91.5), on a program called “Tell Me More” - about bringing psychology to your everyday life.

I have done many inservices both in the hospital and outside. Recently I did a Grand Rounds at the hospital regarding my work in palliative care with a specific case presentation. Even people that I have worked with, and who are around art therapy on a daily basis, want to know more about art therapy. Even though there are twenty plus creative arts therapists in house people there still don’t always understand what it is. Other opportunities have been outside the hospital at agencies, at The College of Mt. St Vincent to their psych club because they wanted to know what art therapy was and I have an upcoming presentation at the Fall Benefit, An Autumn Affair for the Art Therapy Outreach Center (ATOC).

At the ATOC Fall Benefit I will be presenting on the group that I run through the ATOC. I will speak about the use of art therapy with that group, and present one case on an adult group member who has been attending the group since February. I will be able to give an example of his process through the group.

Anytime people are willing to listen, I will tell them about art therapy.

Did these opportunities come to you, or did you seek them out?
Both sought out those opportunities and they have also come to me naturally. There have been times in the hospital when I have had something powerful happen in a case, and I ask can I present it to both advocate and educate? It has always been received positively, and then I have also been approached to present. In private practice I have had to meet many different people, though connecting and outreach opportunities will come back to you. This is how the radio interview happened.

Have you noticed changes in the art therapy marketplace over recent years?
I think art therapy is in a wonderful place right now. There are so many more people are interested in it, so many more students apply to art therapy schools, but it also means harder to get a job. The formation of the ATOC for instance was something I think is an example of how things are growing. David Wasserman heard about art therapy and was so moved about it that he decided to donate personal funds to bring groups to people who don’t have them. There are also more website groups, the word is getting out about what it is, and people are approaching art therapists as their primary therapist in private practice, it is a very different place now. I think a lot of the movement came after the licensure came about. The field is different than when I first came into it, it is much more competitive, which raises the standards in the field in a lot of different ways.

Is there anything you know now that you wished you had known sooner in regards to art therapy?
No, I think how I came into the field green and inexperienced is right. You gain your experience and lessons from clients, and luckily it’s a field where you can be in supervision and process your countertransference. I would not want to have learned any of that ahead of time. Plus, it would not have made sense.

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 can’t imagine doing anything else. This feels right every single day that I go to work. The only thing I knew when I was younger and was going to school was that I wanted to be around art every single day, and that didn’t really formalize until I found art therapy. If for some unknown reason I absolutely could not do art therapy I guess I would maybe be a veterinarian, and take care of animal welfare like I do for humans now

Where would you like to see art therapy go in the future?
I would love it if every insurance company would take art therapists on their boards for third party reimbursement. Right now for private practice purposes it is very difficult to get on. We are moving towards that direction. I know art therapists are going to be more widespread. They will be in public hospitals, in other settings, so that is not so much a wish as how long will it take them?

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?
Yalom (Irvin D. Yalom, M.D.), I would want Yalom to be my supervisor. That would be so rich. I would also love to talk to Cathy Malchiodi (Cathy Malchiodi, PhD, LPAT, LPCC, ATR-BC) about her books and medical art therapy.

If you could work with any population anywhere on earth for a week or two, who would it be?
I am absolutely doing it - high functioning adults who have chronic pain, and it’s causing distress emotionally. Those two pieces are connected and I like to explore that connection. I have been able to find what really fits me. Also, I would never leave New York City.

If readers would like to connect with you, how should they do so?
They can visit my website to get more information about what I do, and connect with me that way. My contact information is on my website.

Originally posted on October 5, 2012