Growing up in Ohio in the 1980s as the daughter of Asian Indian immigrants was challenging. Throughout my middle and high school years I struggled to fit in at school while being expected to be a good Indian daughter at home. I loved my Indian heritage’s long history of spirituality, arts, and value of education but my “American” upbringing created a young girl with spunk, perseverance, and strong desire for independence. Despite the disconnection I often felt when describing my experiences to my parents, the one thing we all felt passionate about was being creative. We built a doll house, a cotton gin replica, sewed clothes, made papier-mâché animals, and more.
Even though creativity was the one place we connected, my brother and I were “not allowed” to pursue our interest in art; our destiny was to become doctors. As the first-born son, my brother did what he was told and completed medical school and has a successful career as an emergency room physician and hospital administrator. I rebelled as much as I could and became a psychologist. Our interest in art went dormant for decades. We both took art classes here and there and I managed to squeeze in a minor in art history when completing my bachelors in psychology.
I graduated with my doctorate in psychology in 2001 and moved to Wisconsin for my first academic job as a psychology professor at Edgewood College. My specializations included counseling and working with immigrants and children of immigrants. Edgewood College has an undergraduate degree in art therapy, which is still run by Janice Havlena, ATR-BC.
At 28 years old, I had my first exposure to art therapy at Edgewood. The art therapy students were required to take my abnormal psychology class and their homework assignments often included art therapy related materials. Having completed thousands of hours of direct client contact hours, I was blown away by the power of art therapy. It would take me 10 sessions to uncover what art therapy would reveal in 1 or 2 sessions. I was sold…but I had a mortgage to pay and did not have the resources to expand my career in a new direction.
After 8 years of living in Wisconsin, I moved back to Ohio to be closer to family and got a job at the University of Cincinnati, Clermont College. I was fortunate to receive a grant to complete a master’s degree in art therapy at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in Terre Haute, Indiana. For once, I was around people who were like me who were bridging the “cultures” of psychology and art; I finally knew art therapy was the place for me.
During my master’s degree I completed my internships at a retirement home and on an adult behavioral health care unit under Janet Kempf, ATR-BC. At both sites, I was able to integrate my knowledge of psychology and art therapy and graduated in 2015. Today, I run art therapy groups with two populations: (1) adults focused on mental health recovery and (2) older adults with dementia. I created and now run the Pre-Art Therapy Certificate program at the University of Cincinnati which prepares students for the requirements for graduate study in art therapy. I continue to be amazed with the rich material obtained through the creative process in a therapeutic setting.
Despite my training and background in psychology and art therapy, I often feel like I did when I was growing up. I feel a love and passion for the field of art therapy but I struggle to describe my experience and knowledge in psychology with art therapists since I do not yet have my ATR. Not having the ATR designation has kept me from being hired for positions, which has felt belittling because of my experience as a licensed psychologist and having a master’s degree in art therapy. I was so pleased when the ATCB offered the provisional designation and applied for this designation right away. My hope is that this provisional status will help speed up my registration process, acknowledge the education and experience I have attained thus far, and help me be seen as more legitimized in the field of art therapy. I look forward to seeing more ways our field can be inclusive and supportive of early-career art therapists and hopeful registration holders like myself. My hope is that the field of art therapy can find ways to appreciate the rich experiences of complementary disciplines that will only enhance and expand the field of art therapy. I believe the ATR-P designation gets us one step closer to this goal.
This article was originally published in the ATCB Review Summer 2017, Volume 24, Issue 2
PhD, MAAT, ATR-Provisional