Art-making has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. Since childhood, I made friends and family small art pieces as presents, as a way to share deeply felt emotions of joy and gratitude. Each holiday, I was given art supplies from family as a way to feed my creativity ‘habit.’ Because I valued art in a way that extended to more than just the tangible art piece, by emphasizing emotional content in the meaning behind it, it was only natural that I was led down the professional path to art therapy. This journey has expanded my identity as both a visual artist and an art therapist.
As an artist, a large emphasis of my creative process relies heavily on the exploration and manipulation of the materials used to create meaning. For me, the materials (whether found objects or new), are just as important and conscious as the pictorial quality or line work of the focal point of the image. In addition to the range of materials used, much of my work encompasses interpersonal relationships and the interplay between objects. I capture stories shared between people, animals, objects, spaces, and nature. This process of mixing a world of connection and meaning-making is at the core of my creative process. The communication of the medium, whether marks on the page, the relief image on a linoleum block, or the brush strokes on canvas, guide me toward a new way of seeing. The emergence of wholeness and renewal is revealed in my visual work. Although the content of my work appears somber in nature, the pictorial quality of the forms and colors are nothing less than quirky and playful. The function of my work is to express my inner world, like a visual diary; an inner world that is only exposed through my art.
My identity as an art therapist began as I sought to excavate significance in my own art process as a young adult, igniting my interest in the helping profession of psychotherapy. In my clinical work, clients seek to find deeper meaning in their lives. The visual process can play an integral role in mental health recovery as it unpacks the ‘yuck’ that keeps individuals from experiencing a life worth living. Through a phenomenological theoretical lens, I invite my clients to share what they see in their image, often lifting a veil of the unspoken and moving toward awareness in the present. I firmly believe that the art making process is a window into the soul that becomes visible and exposed in art therapy practice.
The journey toward a doctorate in art therapy seemed like the next step for me in my career. After completing my masters in marriage and family therapy and art therapy, I continued to search for a cohesive relationship within the art therapy profession, thirsty to know more than my education and experience had previously offered. I was exposed to a new world of research, teaching experiences, and scholarly writing. I created the Kaleidoscope Art Therapy curriculum during my doctoral practicum course. The curriculum addresses Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) topics in an academic environment for both novice and credentialed art therapists providing services to this community. Birthed from a needs assessment survey of all graduate art therapy programs in the country, the function of this living curriculum celebrates the LGBTQ community both within multicultural art therapy course curriculum as well as in other learning environments (e.g., continuing education and lectures). This comes at a time when LGBTQ+ topics are becoming more visible in both art therapy research and education.
Becoming a board certified art therapist (ATR-BC) has solidified my reasons for doing art therapy with clients and in my supervision practice. This certification has challenged me to better digest and process the many facets of developmental art and psychology theory and practice. By holding the highest credential in the profession, employers and colleagues feel confident in my clinical practice due to the rigorous standards of the certification process. As an ambassador for the profession of art therapy, it is my hope that other practicing art therapists will seek this certification as a way to deepen their understanding of the creative process while promoting professional accountability.
Missy currently works full time at a hospital in adult psychiatry & continues to teach as an adjunct at Notre Dame De Namur in Belmont.
Melissa (Missy) Satterberg, Ph.D., LMFT, and ATR-BC