I am originally from Saudi Arabia; born and then raised in Algassem until I finished high school. In my early education, I was absolutely passionate about and only interested in art and design. My first award in art was in elementary school when I was ten years old. I also received many awards and certificates for art in my middle and high school years. After high school, I went to Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia, to study art education at King Saud University in order to become an art education teacher. While at university, I met Dr. Awadh Alyami, and learned about art therapy in a course titled “Art Education for Special Needs.” I learned how art is useful in special education, and that art is powerful as a therapeutic tool. From that time on I have been involved in art therapy trainings and workshops. I studied with Dr. Alyami who, before me, was the only art therapist in Saudi Arabia, and he received the first art therapy credential from the Saudi Health Commission in 2000. I have witnessed the many challenges Dr. Alyami has faced as a pioneer educating mental health professionals about art therapy.
While I was completing my first masters degree in art education, I got a full-time position teaching art education at King Saud University (KSU). There, I did my first thesis in art therapy, “The Role of Art Therapy in Rehabilitation of Spinal Injuries.“ Realizing the importance of completing formal training in art therapy from an accredited graduate program, I came to the United States in 2009 to attend New York University (NYU) and complete a masters degree in art therapy with great teachers and supervisors. I fulfilled my practicum in three inpatient and outpatient psychiatric units as well as a day program for elderly adults diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. At the same time, I was also an intern in an educational foundation for the blind. Over three years, my formal training experiences in art therapy brought me into contact with the needs of many populations in New York and New Jersey. It was an invaluable experience, and I learned a lot about how to develop my own style of working as an art therapist in preparation for my eventual return to Saudi Arabia.
After graduation, I went back to Saudi Arabia to teach at KSU and practice art therapy with students with special needs while working part time as a counselor with a prison population in a center for counterterrorism. This is a very unique art therapy program that supports the rehabilitation of ex-terrorists through directives and art therapy evaluations that seek to understand and reform the maladaptive social behaviors of the participants. The program undertakes an extensive multi-discipline approach to treatment within a criminal justice population and the resulting work is both pioneering for the field as well as transformative in the lives of those who have graduated.
In Fall 2015, I started my PhD in art therapy at Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU) to complete my education and prepare myself to go back and lead the art therapy field in Saudi Arabia. In my first year of doctoral study I was honored to receive my Art Therapy Registration (ATR) from the Art Therapy Credentials Board. The synergy between doctoral studies and being a registered art therapist brought clarity to me to understand the importance of learning from the process of receiving quality education and credentialing in order to shape my future as a Saudi art therapist. Through the educational and credentialing processes I have realized a pattern of development has evolved that will prepare the profession of art therapy in Saudi Arabia for the future.
Art therapy in Saudi Arabia is at the beginning of the road; there is still a great need for developing new programs, providing Arabic resources, and building standards for art therapy education. Art therapists in Saudi Arabia will benefit from the global advancement of research and shared practices to guide and build basic structures for art therapy. These structures will include a specific niche of practical applications, credentials, and educational areas to build a unique identity for professional art therapists that is different from other mental health professions. Another specific interest for me is to build standardized art therapy assessments administered only by credentialed art therapists that are unique to art therapy and its purpose as well as application. Art therapists need to build and strengthen art therapy assessment tools beyond art elements, projection or subjective observation based techniques for the purpose of research and practice; to do so will strengthen psychological assessment in ways that only art therapy may reveal.
This article was originally published in the ATCB Review Spring 2017, Volume 24, Issue 1