Art Therapy Perspectives 

Interview with Artemis Anagnostopoulos - Angelone, Art Therapist in Rome, Italy

Artemis Anagnostopoulos – Angelone is a graduate of the Art Therapy Four Year Training Program held by Art Therapy Italiana, and is registered with A.P.I.Art. the Italian Association for Professional Art Therapists. She has worked with a variety of populations and is part of a transdisciplinary team for the care of children and adolescents inpatients at the oncology – hematology dept. of the Bambino Gesù Pediatric Hospital in Rome. Artemis was recently invited by the Luigi Pigorini National Museum for Prehistorical and Ethnographic Studies to present her work with international populations residing in Rome and the Lazio province. She is active in the Association Art Therapy Italiana and advocates for the profession’s full recognition and regulation in Italy.

Artemis Anagnostopoulos-Angelone and I were connected via the Art Therapy Alliance group on Linkedin. I was thrilled that she was open to being interviewed, and to learn more about art therapy in Italy. It was especially interesting for me to read about some of the struggles art therapy as a profession is going through to be more recognized in Italy. I believe educating and advocating for art therapy is truly a global goal. I really enjoyed the interview process with Artemis, and learned a lot from her interview. Thank you Artemis for sharing your journey with art therapy.

What initially drew you to art therapy?
I first discovered art as a medium for self-exploration and authentic inner dialogue when I was twelve years old, a few months before relocating with my family from Greece to Italy. At that time my art was strongly connected with supporting this process of change. Once we settled in Rome I studied at the visual arts high school and the academy of fine arts for the following eight years. Although I wasn’t aware of the existence of art therapy I sort of knew at an intuitive level the potential of art for healing, communication and empowerment. As an adult I developed an interest in psychodynamic studies as well, and found a close link with my vision of the art process. As soon as a qualified art therapy training course was established in Rome I decided to study the discipline and pursue the career. I remember reading the school’s description of the course and requirements for applying as a student and thinking “Hey, that’s me!” This was the very beginning.

What populations do you/have you worked with?
As an intern art therapist I worked with children and adolescents inpatients in a neuropsychiatric unit and with outpatients at a clinical center for therapy and prevention of emotional disorders. I also held a self-expression workshop with an international group of parents, caregivers of their children affected by organic health problems. Participants were citizens of countries in war or developing countries of Africa and Asia. They were supported in Rome by international healthcare agreements.

I have also worked with immigrants and refugees - mostly women and children - researching a multimodal approach that combines art therapy and dance-movement therapy in co-operation with colleagues who are dance-movement therapists. I currently work with children and adolescents affected by cancer at a pediatric hospital unit. I regularly acknowledge the benefit patients get from medical art therapy.

How did you get to where you are today?
After graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome in visual arts and stage design, I specialized as an art therapist at the four-year training program held by Art Therapy Italiana with headquarters in the city of Bologna. As a student I started searching for an internship as soon as my training program allowed it and managed to find it soon. This was very helpful for connecting theory and practice from the very beginning.

After graduation it was difficult finding a job as an art therapist because there’s no licensure or any type of recognition for our field in Italy. When I was asked to be part of a team, composed by two educators who held creative arts workshops at the Pediatric Hospital Bambino Gesù I accepted. I worked briefly as a substitute during summer vacations and gradually gained more work and responsibility. Being the only art therapist in the group I was able to bring a different point of view, a new method and experience, expanding the team’s resources. Today I collaborate with the elementary school teacher in the morning hours. In the afternoon I carry out sessions in the inpatients ward, the types of setting are open studio and bedside.

During the last three years I’ve been meeting regularly with dance-movement therapists to study a multimodal approach that combines our disciplines for supporting the well being of immigrants and refugees residing in public institutions. In September 2012 our group received an invitation to present our experiences at a conference that will be held in a city museum next spring. I believe in the art therapist being active under many aspects. Art therapy is a field for study and research, a cultural and intercultural agent, a career choice and much more.

What are struggles or challenges have you had to overcome in your career?
Art therapy in Italy is struggling to become a licensed profession like in many other countries and states around the globe. As a consequence, the main challenges are connected to the lack of state regulations and recognition for our profession. A lot of people and most institutions still don’t know what it means so I often have to introduce them to the meaning and principles of the discipline. I try to be creative and I enjoy advocating for art therapy.

Does art therapy in Rome differ from art therapy in other parts of the world?
It is well known that ancient societies commonly used the arts for the care of suffering people. However, as far as I know Art Therapy as a modern mental health discipline originates both in Great Britain and the United States of America. In 1982 three art therapists - two Italian and an American - upon returning from their postgraduate studies in New York founded the first art therapy association in Italy. Art Therapy Italiana initially was a small group but became larger as artists, dancers, psychologists and more arts therapists also with British studies in their background joined in. Together they created a four-year training program for art therapists and one for dance-movement therapists. The approach is psychodynamic with a special reference to the object relations theory. This year is the thirtieth anniversary since the foundation of Art Therapy Italiana.

In the meantime more associations and schools were founded with different features and approaches, such as psycho/physiologic, Jungian, Gestalt, etc. Art therapist groups continue to come up with a variety of styles and points of view. Some use “art as therapy”, others are centered on “art psychotherapy”, others use both approaches depending on the clients’ needs. Evidence based research in art therapy and the study of the relationships between the art process and neuroscience is considered very important by the art therapists’ community in Italy. A blend of European and American art therapy is probably a common and precious background for most art therapists around the world. What makes art therapy special at a local level is the slightly different way we use theory and tools for meeting the clients’ needs considering that each person’s own culture and society affects the way both patient and therapist relate with self and others. This is true even in this age of globalization.

How do you connect with other art therapists both in Rome and around the globe?
I connect through national and international conferences, email, social networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook. I enjoy groups like Art Therapy Alliance. I invite national and international colleagues to lecture at Exploratoria AT & DMT workshops in Rome. I also enjoyed responding to your call and participating in your interview project. Thank you Victoria.

What keeps you going as an art therapist? And/or where do you find inspiration?
My love for art and art making as an authentic means for exploration and expression, respect and devotion to patients as well as trust in my theoretical and practical tools keep me going. Inspiration comes from relationship with patients, contact with other art therapists and special moments of good interdisciplinary teamwork.

How, if at all, have you witnessed the art therapy profession grow and change in Italy?
Art Therapy in Italy is still expecting full recognition and legal regulation. Even though a number of trained art therapists have been working for a long time in health programs, institutes and hospitals, the word "art therapy" is not used yet in such institutions’ official documents, budget, web sites, job descriptions etc. Nevertheless doctors, nurses, teachers, parents and especially patients rely on our specialized contribution. During the first months of 2012 a law was approved in the Parliament and is being discussed now in the Senate of the Republic. This law aims to establish guidelines for licensure regarding many categories of professionals that exist and fully contribute to our society but are still waiting for recognition. If it should be approved all arts therapists will work under better conditions but also other professions, such as physiotherapists, archaeologists, tax consultants and many more.

The national association that advocates from a legal point of view is A.P.I.Art. (Italian Association for Professional Art Therapists). Over many years they have carried out a lot of work by selecting the requirements for Art Therapy training and approving a number of Schools according to their programs, establishing a Code of Ethics as well as a professional roll for art therapists compliant with the above requirements, etc..

How, if at all, do you advocate for art therapy both locally and abroad?
As a member of Art Therapy Italiana I am part of a group active in Rome and the Lazio region and I am in charge of a permanent initiative called "Exploratoria AT & DMT" (AT stands for Art Therapy and DMT for Dance Movement Therapy). It started in Rome in 2010 with the aim to enhance communication and exchange of experience between art therapists, dance movement therapists and other professionals working in private and public healthcare, both at a national and international level. For example, next month an event will be held by a team composed of a music therapist, an art therapist and a dance-movement therapist.

If you could work with any population or anywhere on the planet for a week or two, what would you do?
I’m interested in expanding my knowledge over the application of art therapy in many contexts with different populations. However, in this moment I would like to support families in bereavement especially those who have lost a young child or adolescent. Another population of interest is people with insulin dependent diabetes. About “where on the planet”, I would like to visit places where art therapy is considered more or less at the same level as any other mental health or medical therapy and bring this experience back with me.

Do you have any special self-care techniques?
When I’m tired and under pressure I briefly recall a natural landscape from my homeland, some place I really visited and loved. I get a feeling of returning solid, centered and connected with myself. This is my emergency technique. Otherwise I love spending time with family and friends, going to art exhibits simply enjoying what I see, listening to music, collecting shells on the beach, having Sunday lunch at a little restaurant.

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?
Donald Winnicott, Marion Milner, Thomas Ogden, Joy Shaverien and Cathy Malchiodi, just to list a few.

Readers interested in connecting with Artemis can do so via her LinkedIn page. 

Originally posted on November 19, 2012.