Art saved my life.  It was the only thing that redirected my rage, changed my life trajectory, and gave me a voice.  Art was my escape, the one thing that I excelled in and the only place where I could express myself freely.  Art calmed me amid the chaos and propelled me to achieve what seemed insurmountable.  I grew up straddling two worlds as a first generation immigrant, balancing the intertwined cultural and subcultural identities that were my daily reality.  At an early age I found myself in negotiation with identity, power, and self-worth. 

Growing up in the disadvantaged neighborhoods of Tijuana, Los Angeles and San Diego, I found myself having to constantly navigate through inequality, violence, internalized racism, and forced assimilation. Unknown to me at the time was the role of historical, intergenerational and complex trauma that contributed to the development of my own identity as a traumatized member of a fragmented community. In this journey, I have fought to retain my cultural identity and have dedicated my life to working with disadvantaged communities in finding their own pathways of healing. 

At the many crossroads of my life, the most pivotal moments have been the times when I was able to see my reflection through the eyes of those who believed that I had something to contribute. Art became my platform; I could reflect onto others this vehicle of movement and change where we could disseminate the stories and struggles of the community on a grand scale. Intuitively, I used art as a tool for diffusion and de-escalation, to unite and to empower.  I refined the skill of organizing, and taught people that they too had something to contribute to their community through art.  I became this movement, traveling to other countries, developing programs, writing grants, using art to protest for social action, to expose injustice, and to provide an outlet to those that society deemed hopeless.  It was through these experiences that I began to see art and its potential to transform society.

“Mural in CHICANA Park” (1997): 42’ x 3,’ on a 72’ pillar, acrylic on concrete.

In 2011, I received my ATR from the ATCB and my Marriage and Family Therapy license from the Board of Behavioral Sciences in California. This is significant, as I used both my clinical and art therapy skills in conjunction with each other since graduating from Loyola Marymount University with my Masters degree. Having the ATR credential was important, as I was never hired specifically for being an art therapist, but rather created my own position by passionately including art therapy wherever I worked. Obtaining my ATR-BC in 2015 further contributed to my professional identity as an art therapist and highlighted the value of being board certified, rather than just stating that I incorporate art in therapy, or simply claiming the title of art therapist. Being board certified allows me to mentor new art therapists so that they can also pave their way into new positions and educate others, completing the circle and ensuring that the high standards of certification continue to other generations of art therapists. 

As an art therapist working in a large bureaucracy, I continually challenge myself to find creative solutions,and bring with me the tenacity, passion and dedication to face the many obstacles inherent in bureaucracies. Art provides a collective platform to explore inequalities, create dialogue, and validate other cultural perspectives not belonging to the dominant society. In this current political climate, art has the ability to create ripples of change by bringing awareness to social issues: challenging the status quo, creating cultural development, and reinforcing a positive identity to marginalized people of color and their communities. While I cannot change my clients’ life conditions, I can work with my clients in ways that validate them, create ownership in their communities and enable them to have a strong voice with which to effect change in their own life conditions. I am committed to this community, as my own life journey is a testament to the ability to heal, my success supported by those who believed in me and took the time to listen. We must respect and treat the client within the framework of his or her community, culture, and belief system.  In the development of social capital, community collaborations, and research, art therapy is a powerful vehicle for social change. My passion continues to grow as I strive to bring more awareness to this discipline of art therapy through academic research and community engagement. I look forward to the continued facilitation of community art therapy and encouraging it to permeate the immediate surroundings, coloring our neighborhoods with the images, thoughts, and the presence of those with whom we work.

Written by:

Berenice Badillo
PhD, ATR-BC