Art therapists work within local and national communities where contributions are being made to society at large. As well, the challenging world we live in makes place for art therapists who wish to work in war torn environments or areas facing natural disasters. Individuals are encouraged to bring their own special interests to this work. With their newly acquired skills, our graduates are making a difference in every corner of the world.
While art therapy continues to develop as a profession, and has many more miles to travel, many graduates of VATI have been instrumental in taking their training all over Canada and the world. The recognition of art therapy as a healing modality is increasingly acclaimed and acknowledged as a unique form of treatment.
GRADUATES MAKING A DIFFERENCE
After I completed the VATI program, I started to develop my career as a psychological counsellor and an art therapist in my home country – Hong Kong.
Currently I am working for a mental health center, which is a subsidiary of a hospital, as a freelance counsellor/art therapist. As well, I am also working with a number of NGOs, facilitating art therapy groups and providing art therapy service for individual clients. I work with a diverse range of clients including adolescents and adults with depression and anxiety disorders, special education needs students, LGBTQ+ clients, drug abused families, and sex workers.
Since I am also a ceramist and a ceramic teacher, I blend in therapeutic effects in my ceramic teaching so my students can move towards self-healing through the art creation process. I really enjoy my current work. Thanks VATI provided me the opportunity to be trained as an art therapist!
IMAGE: “Reborn” – Made of fragmented slip cast porcelain, with drilled holes, placed in a fish pattern.
I completed my Masters of Counselling and Art Therapy (MC:AT) degree in December 2017 through Athabasca University and the Vancouver Art Therapy Institute (VATI). VATI was invaluable in supporting my growth and development on my journey towards becoming a professional art therapist. I received exceptional training while attending VATI, either in person spending two Vancouver summers doing hands-on training (in VATI’s glorious art studio space on Granville Island) or through interactive online courses with peers and instructors from all over the world. During my year of practicum, in both a private practice and agency setting, I was able to apply the theoretical and practical training I had learned through VATI and combine this training with my previous personal and professional experiences. The excellent and supportive supervision that VATI offered me throughout my practicum year helped enrich the training and expand on my learning.
I’m currently working as an art therapist in a part-time private practice, part-time within an agency setting, facilitating and co-facilitating arts-based workshops for various groups/populations, and am continuing my personal arts practice in fine arts and filmmaking. The ongoing opportunities and support that VATI has provided me contribute to my commitment to continue to grow and develop personally and professionally within this exciting field. Now as a professional member of the Canadian Art Therapy Association, I hope to work towards registering as an art therapist and to one day pay it forward, as a reflection of the incredible support I have received throughout my experiences at VATI, by supervising other budding art therapists. I am eternally grateful and joyful for my participation and connection to VATI and for my peers and colleagues that I met within the institute.
I have added art therapy to my private practice in counselling and over the last year I have received numerous referrals specifically for art therapy. I historically worked mainly with adults and the occasional teen but after deciding that I would like to gain experience working with children using art therapy, I started getting referrals for children and youth from colleagues and people finding me online.
I have worked as a Clinical Social Worker in an adult psychiatric/forensic facility for over 19 years. Since starting the program at VATI, I created and still offer weekly individual and group art therapy sessions with both men and women. Adding art therapy to my practice has added a lot to my job satisfaction and is valued by my clients and my colleagues. I completed my final project on the benefits of offering art therapy in this setting and last year I presented on this, as well as presenting a case study, at an international nursing conference. The subject has been very well received and people from other facilities and communities ask how they might bring art therapy to their clients. I am living the dream!
Will I be a true art therapist once I finish this training program? This was my troubling question to someone at VATI, first thing after arriving from Bolivia to start our first Spring Residency and Full-time Diploma in Vancouver. “I promise that you will,” was the reassuring answer I got back then in May of 2016. So, I believed them and got my hands dirty in the art.
A year and a half later, January 2018, I am getting a one-page full press coverage (see above) in my hometown, La Paz, highlighting and recommending my art therapy professional practice, as an innovative and auspicious form of alternative therapy.
That I love what I do – yes! That I held an innate inclination needing to be expressed –yes! But the other main “yes” that I can and have relied on, is that they believed in me – the people from VATI did, and they gave me the needed trust when I began to question my decision to pursue art therapy all throughout because of financial impediments at the time.
The true and reassuring finding here is that once I embraced and internalized art therapy as a life-changing option/occupation for me, its practice is turning out to be a life-reaffirming and life-changing to others through this art therapist’s most wholehearted assistance.
As I soaked in a tepid bath one grey afternoon in winter 2014 reflecting on where I had been and where I wanted to go, I realized I was nearing an existential turning point. I had quit my career in the public service one year previous. I gave myself time to flail in my ungraceful mid-life “blossoming”. I started a computer-based business that failed, I sewed boat tops with my mother, I tagged along with my partner’s landscape construction team. After such a long held feeling of stagnant certainty, I intentionally “got lost”.
It was in the tub on that fateful day that “art therapy” occurred to me as a fitting career path. My undergraduate degree was in fine arts. I had always cared about making art. I had often volunteered in art-based community projects since about the age of 20. I researched art therapy schools and found VATI. Before long, I was on a plane to Vancouver for the May 2014 VATI session.
I grew up harshly and had healed some painful wounds through personal expression. For as long as I remember, art (drama, writing, music, visual art) was a way that I made connections with people as it was a conduit to intimacy for me. Art presented “problems” to overcome which was a way to reinforce positive notions about my own resilience.
Midway through VATI studies I entered Saint Paul University’s (SPU) Counselling and Spirituality Program in Ottawa, Ontario. The VATI program gave me the psychology prerequisites that I needed to apply. Since graduating from SPU in the spring of 2017, I have opened a successful private psychotherapy, counselling, and art therapy practice. I have created a personalized and sacred talk/art therapy space.
In my new career, I hold art-based workshops for counsellors and social workers as a means to exercise self-expression and self-care and to encourage various expressive professional outlets including art making, expanding metaphors, and doing art therapy “in the air” in talk therapy (i.e. If I were to take a photo of your family what would I see?). I have been invited to facilitate workshops at an upcoming conference at Saint Paul University entitled, The Creative Therapies in the Helping Relationship: Psychotherapy and Spiritual Care. I have chosen the theme of intimacy with nature – moving from visual form into visual essence, from ‘story’ to senses and spirit with the purpose of deepening relationships with Mother Nature, our own internal natures and with the natures of others we meet and witness in healing relationships.
It had taken me 43 years to take this particular bath, on this particular day. In the bath I remember the question to myself: “Now what?” I will forever cherish that pivotal moment, my experience at VATI, the relationships that formed in the experience, and the immersion into a judgement-free environment that helped liberate me from old ways of thinking and experiencing art while integrating psychology and promoting transcendence of self. For me, it has evolved from being a new career path to being a lifestyle and a spiritual evolution. I found home.
I came to VATI from the UK with a background in filmmaking and writing, rather than one of fine art. I utilized these skills explore the intersection of art therapy and technology and how both could be used in treating children who had experienced varying levels of trauma. Throughout my clinical placements, I worked at an elementary school, seniors centre, a child and family agency, as well as an addictions centre in downtown Vancouver.
I always knew that I wanted to work with children and adolescents. Once I graduated, I facilitated workshops across the Lower Mainland with the program I created as my Final Project. I was then hired by the Nexus Program of the Boys and Girls Clubs of South Coast BC – a non-profit organization as a Youth Counselor. We are trauma-informed outreach counsellors who work free of charge in a harm reduction setting with youth aged 12-24 who are dealing with issues pertaining to addiction and substance use, including those who are “substance affected” because their parent/guardian/friends/partner is using drugs or alcohol. I spend most of my day out of the office meeting youth where they’re at – whether that is in school, at a Starbucks, in a park, or in the counselling space at the Nexus offices if they prefer. I utilize art therapy when I am faced with a youth who can’t tell me in words what is going on for them. I also facilitate workshops to create connections and healthy coping strategies with larger groups – such as in schools and community drop-ins. To date, I have facilitated art therapy at the Broadway Youth Resource Centre (BYRC), Pinnacle Program at the Vancouver Alternative School, Odyssey I, Odyssey II, Qmunity, and the Youth Engage Event at the Surrey Board of Education.
In addition to my role as a youth counsellor and art therapist, I also organize and host the Youth Service Provider’s Network meeting where all of the youth services and their programs in Vancouver – such as Vancouver Coastal Health, Covenant House, Foundry, Urban Native Youth Association, Ravensong, Work BC, Directions Youth Services, Native Health, Watari Counselling Services, SACY, Vancouver School Board, YMCA, Plea Community Services – get together to discuss changes to funding, staff, new trends in the community, referral processes, and how we can better serve youth as a collective.