The most influential and impactful group on the therapy profession is educators: the professors and leaders of therapy graduate programs. In a previous essay, I shared three things I want educators to each future art therapists:
Caseload Norms and Burnout
Career Possibilities and Business Fundamentals
Bridge from Graduation to Licensure
I’m back to share two more things I’d love educators to teach.
How to Take a Client Through Therapy
Graduate education is very broad. We take generalized classes such as “Diagnosis and Treatment” or “Groups.” I understand why the curriculum is structured this way, but it leaves many therapists without education in how to move a client through months of therapy.
We learn how to do an assessment and construct a treatment plan … but then what?
Well that depends on your theory. Even though we are receiving education in art therapy, we are taught that our theoretical approach shapes how we choose to move a client through therapy. In a generalized education, we are presented with many different theoretical approaches and told we need to decide for ourselves our theory. The end.
I’ve yet to meet another mental health counselor or art therapist who felt that their graduate classes prepared them to know what to do with a client from beginning to conclusion in therapy. Everyone says they learned in internship. They learned by doing. They then continued to learn when they graduated and jumped into their first job with supervision.
Learning by doing is great - but it’s also stressful as hell. It leads to massive levels of imposter syndrome. Though I don’t know if imposter syndrome applies in this case, because many actually don’t know what they’re doing (versus knowing what they’re doing and feeling like an imposter).
Part of me knows I might just have to accept this as the way it is, but another part of me wants better for future therapists. I want them to have more classroom time learning how you take someone through therapy across time. What do you do when the client is stuck? How do you prioritize needs? What do you do when a crisis comes up? What do you do when they experience a major setback? It would be great for therapists to have more time thinking through and discussing case studies such as these. I would love for therapists to feel knowledgeable and empowered. This may not be possible before internship, but we could at least get them 25% of the way there.
It’s Ok to Not Work With Everyone
I’d love for educators to teach future art therapists that they do not have to accept and work with every client and every population.
As therapists, we can honor our own boundaries and limitations. For example, when I was in internship, I was paired with a contentious couple. During therapy, one of the partners began screaming and threatening violence. I felt out of my depth. I spoke with my supervisors and was encouraged to keep trying new approaches with the clients. I did not have the experience or skills to navigate working with this couple. I appreciate that my supervisors were trying to help me “learn,” but it was an unsafe situation and I was being taught to ignore my own needs of safety and competence.
I would hate for a new art therapist to feel like they “have to” endure a client who makes sexual advances (this happened to me, and I concluded the therapeutic relationship), racist remarks or any other form of unacceptable behavior.
Yes, everyone deserves mental health care. That does not mean we as individual therapists have to provide our services to everyone. It means there may be another therapist, program, or facility that is a better fit for someone. For example, the client who made sexual advances toward me was referred to someone older and of the same gender.
We can also honor our own preferences as therapists. While internship is a wonderful time for an art therapist to explore working with a wide variety of clients, an art therapy career is a gradual discernment and journey of what specialty and population a therapist feels called to work with. It is normal and appropriate for a therapist to develop preferences over time. It’s ok to decide you don’t want to work with kids or couples or a particular type of diagnosis. It’s also fine to specialize in a topic that you are passionate about.
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