Art Therapy in Residential Treatment

Square One:

I announced last week that I have been hired as a full time art therapist in a residential treatment center for children and adolescence.  The center has had art therapy in the past, BUT, all programming was cut and my role will be in program development and providing direct care services. This means I am starting at Square one.  My first task seems simple; set up and develop the art therapy studio space. The Artist and Art Therapist in me gets excited at this thought! This is the place where I foster creativity and growth. It’s a place to nurture clients and provide a safe place for the outlet of emotions.  Oh the ideas I have!

BUT…It’s just not that simple.  This endeavor is twofold:  1. I have to consider how to develop a safe and population appropriate group space,  2. I have consider how to differentiate myself/art therapy from the recreation therapist who has historically offered art as therapy with clients weekly. I also will need to and educate clients, staff and other clinicians as to what are therapy really is, but that’s a topic for another day.

The center offered use of “THE” indentified art space, large windows, lots of wall space…..a sink, and I was immediately hopeful. BUT this space belongs to the ever present recreation department and is a place the kids currently do arts and crafts on the weekends.  I felt a little disappointed, you know in the last 9 years of work I have never had an Art therapy space with a sink….its seems small…but its a big deal.  Unfortunately, I just don’t think I can use that space; I have to define Art therapy and the Art therapy space as its own. It’s important for the clients, who struggle with boundaries – behavioral problems and elevated emotional states, to be able to compartmentalize what happens in art therapy as separate from “free time” and associate the Art Therapy Studio as a safe place for expression. I also would have very little control over what materials are visible and available to the client, as well as very little control over client privacy, and that’s not something I’m willing to compromise.

So, I will be transforming a basic office space into the agency’s new Art Therapy Space. It may not be ideal, there’s no sink, or seem as exciting but it is! The space will be filled with repurposed tables, shelves, art storage etc…isn’t that one of the great things about an artist/art therapist…we are resourceful and see purpose, beauty, and possibilities in everything.  I will get to order materials that are age and population appropriate, and set up space that will encourage expression. I think that maintaining separate space will benefit the clients in the long run. Helping them to feel safe and secure every time they enter the studio. I’m rolling up my sleeves and I can’t wait!

D.

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