The fall semester is in full swing for new art therapy students. I typically work with therapists on the other end of the spectrum - those who are graduating and ready to start their careers, sometimes as private practice owners.
So what can art therapy students do now to build a strong foundation for their art therapy career? Here are 10 ideas.
1. Get in Therapy
Studying mental health and practicing hundreds of art therapy techniques will bring up A LOT of internal things. I recommend that every student actively be in therapy while going through graduate school. This will provide you a place to take what comes up. It will also provide you with a model of the therapy process. Even if you have done therapy in the past, exposing yourself to a new therapist will help you to see new things about how therapists operate, new perspectives about yourself, and how it feels to be on the client side. Searching for a therapist will also help you learn more about how clients search and make decisions.
If possible, I highly recommend you work with an art therapist. It is powerful to experience art therapy, especially if you are going to be an art therapist. It will show you new techniques and approaches. It will give you the lived experience and increase your confidence in the efficacy of art therapy.
2. Keep a Journal
You will be learning and processing a lot. A journal will be a helpful place for you to place your meandering thoughts. You can also make it an art journal, which will be a powerful visual of your journey.
3. Expose Yourself to as Many Mediums as Possible
Graduate school is the best time to explore. Expose yourself to as many expressive arts mediums as possible. If your projects allow for you to select your medium, try something you’ve never done before. If workshops are offered in mediums you’ve never tried - take them. This will lay a strong foundation for the wide variety of clients you will encounter. It will also spur your creativity and increase your toolbox. I also suggest that you do all of the art assignments given to you in your classes. Even if it is a medium you’re familiar with, still invest the time to explore the medium in a new way.
4. Explore What You’re Interested In
Graduate school for mental health and art therapy is a very broad education. If you want to learn more on a specific subject, it is up to you. Seek out classes that interest you. Tailor your class assignments to the topics you want to learn more about. Take extra workshops. Read on your own time. This amalgamation will provide you with a strong foundation in mental health AND the specialities you want to pursue.
5. Maintain Nourishing Relationships
You will meet many interesting people as you attend classes. Stay in touch with the people that resonate with you. You will need a strong set of colleagues to rely on when you graduate. You’ll need them for friendship, consultation, referrals, staying up to date in the field, and more. This includes your professors. Stay in touch with them, providing them updates or even writing them thank you notes when appropriate.
6. Stay Organized with all your Documents
You will soon learn that mental health is a HIGHLY regulated field. Keep all of your key documents organized and in one place. Documents such as your internship forms, verification of hours, etc. This will make life much easier when you submit paperwork for graduation and apply for licensure or registration.
7. Take Advantage of as Many In-Person Opportunities as You Can
The program I attended was primarily virtual. While it is possible to learn virtually, experience is the primary teacher. Expressive Arts Therapy came alive for me when I attended my school’s week of in-person art therapy workshops. Do as much in-person learning as you can, for that makes all of the difference with the arts. This includes attending conferences.
8. Keep a File of Ideas You Don’t Want to Forget
You will learn A LOT across your education. There may be interesting art therapy techniques or ideas that you would love to try with future clients. Tuck these things away in a file. Take a picture, write them down, or store them in your google Drive. Something so that you can access them later and be inspired.
9. Verify Laws and Regulations for Yourself
The mental health field is constantly changing. Furthermore, every state and country has different laws and regulations that are also in constant flux. It’s a lot to stay on top of. I had professors tell me information that was inaccurate (for example, one told me I was not allowed to open a private practice when I graduate… turns out, it is legal in Arizona and I did just that). It’s on you to do the research yourself. Read the laws and regulations for where you want to practice and for what governing bodies will oversee your license or registration.
10. Know It Will Not Always Be Like This
Graduate school can be an extremely challenging time. Allow yourself to feel it. Make time to tend to your needs. Part of this includes my initial point - go to therapy! Moreso, know that your needs will be higher during this period of your life because you are under far more pressure in every way imaginable. If it is hard, there is nothing wrong with you. It is hard because it is hard. Honor what is and tend to your needs. And, know it will not always be like this. You can also read this letter I wrote to overwhelmed future art therapists.
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