Art Therapy Perspectives 

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