What influenced you to become an art therapist? Throughout my life, art has been one of the few constants. Dance and music were there when friends weren't or when family just couldn't understand. Ceramics was there when I felt invisible to the world and got lost in the darkness of my emotions. Painting taught me how to hope and pushed me to make my visions real. Art is my lifelong teacher, my inspiration, and a space where I can just be. I wanted to share that with people who look like me.
Describe your career background. What kinds of experience and training did you have? Which preparation do you think has helped you most? Over the past 10 years, I have worked in various settings including schools, shelters, psychiatric facilities, court programs, community outreach programs, and in private practice. My diverse work and life experiences have taught me the benefits of artistic creativity as an integral part our lives and our world, especially for Black people who may not have access to traditional modes of mental health care.
I received a BA in Psychology with a minor in Art from Spelman College (2008), a historically Black college, and my MA in Art Therapy from The George Washington University (2011). Throughout my education and training in art therapy, much of the content, curriculum, and approaches have been written by white people and about non-BIPOC clients. There has been a lot of unlearning over the past years as I continue to work to decolonize art therapy and removed barriers to therapy for BIPOC people.
What prepared me the most for this work is my personal experiences as a Black woman living in America, and the impact systemic racism had on my mental health over the years. My healing journey helped me move beyond just being able to relate to my clients, but instead helps strengthen the therapeutic relationship knowing - we are in this together.
Describe your current job and responsibilities. I founded Artspiration, LLC, in 2016 to bring art therapy to BIPOC communities – specifically the Black community. Artspiration’s mission is to provide safe spaces and time for creativity and healing to help change the narratives for Black women and families. I currently work in private practice (online and in-office), providing art therapy to clients dealing with depression, anxiety, and family/historical/ancestral trauma
As an art therapist, what part of your job is most satisfying? Most challenging? The most satisfying part of my job is being a change agent in the field and guiding my clients towards healing. Many Black families have carried the wounds of systemic racism for far too long. After slavery, there was no mental health care provided. After the civil rights movement and integration, there was no mental health care provided. And still to this day, limited mental health care is provided for the violence and injustices against Black people everyday. This must change.
The most challenging part of my job is being a Black, female, small business owner in a field that lacks diversity. Being in private practice can be a bit isolating by nature, but as a minority in the field, I lack spaces where I can openly talk about the issues unique to me and my clients. Bringing up issues of race, racial injustice, microagressions, etc in professional spaces operated by non-BIPOC is often not welcome and can make the healing work feel like an uphill battle.
Who would you say has been the most helpful in your career development? Family. They groomed me for this work and have supported me unconditionally all along the way. I owe everything to them and to all my ancestors that came before me.
What is art therapy to you? Art therapy is a creative pathway towards healing and transformation for Black bodies, Black souls, the Black family, the Black community, and the African diaspora. Words are not enough to heal these wounds.
Shawna Scarpitti ATR-BC
1. What influenced you to become an art therapist? Combining an unquenchable love for creating with a desire to be of service to others made art therapy a dream-come-true profession in my book! I have always been an artist and was half-way complete with a fine arts degree in sculpture when I first learned that art therapy even existed. I had decided to take time off from school, applied to go on the road for a year with the international service and musical organization called “Up With People”, and it was during my travels abroad that I heard about art therapy as a career. I started looking into everything I could about graduate level art therapy programs since I had no question this was going to be the career for me, and I have never looked back. I earned my BFA in December of 1992 and started art therapy graduate studies one month later, in January of 1993.
2. Describe your career background. What kinds of experience and training did you have? Which preparation do you think has helped you most? My career spans a quarter of a century, and I have been fortunate to work on both the east and west coasts of the USA with a wide range of populations—I’ve moved more than a few times for professional opportunities. I’ve served on treatment teams in psychiatric hospitals, in long term care settings, community-based programs, and in private behavioral and mental health settings. More recently, I’ve worked in addiction treatment centers in south Florida as a full-time art therapist, designing art therapy programs from the ground up. When I think back to early experiences and people I worked with, I believe rigorous internships with strong supervision (during graduate school at Ursuline College in Cleveland, Ohio, where I earned a Master of Arts in art therapy) prepared me thoroughly for a wide range of populations, issues and situations I would later encounter in various professional settings. I decided to pursue gaining professional experience in Florida and California before taking the board certification exam 10 years after earning my MA in art therapy.
3. Describe your current job and responsibilities. I am currently a candidate for a position as a creative arts therapist in the greater St. Petersburg area. It would bring a new art therapy program to US Veterans of the west coast of Florida. Also, I am creating a new body of mixed media collages with bleeding tissue paper.
4. As an art therapist, what part of your job is most satisfying? Most challenging? It’s not a trite or casual thing for me to say: it is truly my honor to be a part of anyone’s growth and healing through their engagement in the creative process. It’s a total privilege to be trusted to provide an environment where folks feel safe enough to disclose and divulge and to shape space where people become brave enough to make art and heal. In my occupation as an art therapist, I “get to” facilitate connection to oneself and one’s experience of the world; to foster self-expression and self-awareness; to watch joy, pride, pain, or pleasure emerge because of creative endeavors; and, be truly humbled to witness healing happen every day, through art. Since I firmly believe that the “business of life” is all about human connection, I cannot imagine a more rewarding career. One challenging aspect of my profession has been to provide safe and contained space with adequate supplies to meet the mission. In some settings, budgets were limited, and/or an understanding of the key components that make successful delivery of art therapy services even possible was undervalued or underappreciated.
5. Who would you say has been the most helpful in your career development? After graduating, I was struggling to find work (it was summer, 1995). I remember writing a letter to the (then) dean of my graduate program to ask for her insights. She took time to actually pick up the phone and call me to offer support (more effort was required then, as cell phones weren’t yet a thing!). I have stayed in touch with professors from both undergrad and graduate school who continue to be influential and helpful in my career development. I have chosen to stay quite involved in my own artistic pursuits over the years, and I was invited to partake in one fine art professor’s show recently. www.shawnascarpitti.com
5. What is art therapy to you? Art therapy taps into our basic wiring as humans: to be creative or imaginative, to be seen or heard, and to share or, maybe not, if one’s choice is to keep the artwork private. Sometimes the words aren’t there, but art can be! I believe in freedom of expression, and art therapy as my profession allows me a platform to encourage just that, every day! I love art therapy!
Alicia Ballestas, ATR-BC
1. What influenced you to become an art therapist? I have always been fascinated with the mind, and why people respond differently to the same experience. Making art is something that brings peace, its been a way that I have connected with myself and brothers through out our childhood. It is once my youngest brother was diagnosed with Autism when I was 16, that I found that art is beyond creating something, it was the way my family communicated and interacted with my brother. It was by coincidence that as I strolled through my University’s book store during my Sophomore year at the University of West Florida, that I found a book about Art Therapy- combining my love for the art and curiosity of the mind.
2. Describe your career background. What kinds of experience and training did you have? Which preparation do you think has helped you most? I am a bilingual (English and Spanish Speaking) Board-Certified Clinical Art Therapist. Graduated with a Masters of Clinical Art Therapy, from Long Island University, C.W Post, and began my career in New York City, where I worked with Immigrants who were adapting to the United States, as well as children in foster care and their families. I present a diverse range of skills to support individuals of all ages diagnosed with developmental and emotional disorders. My experiences living in Jordan, serving Peace Corps is where I discover my passion on helping people understand how their connection with the arts can bring forth another part of themselves.
3. Describe your current job and responsibilities. I am currently with Miami-Dade County Public Schools, where I provide art therapy services to children and adolescents with developmental and emotional disorders. I collaborate with school administrators, paraprofessionals and teachers to support the student with Individual Education Plan meet their social-emotional goals and achieve their academic potential. In addition, After the Parkland shooting on February 14, 2018, I had a great passion to serve the community that I was once a part of as a teenager. With Shine MSD, I provides art therapy services for their creative arts therapies camp and programs throughout the school year.
5. Who would you say has been the most helpful in your career development? Supervision, both with my supervisors throughout my various settings and as well in a group meeting with my creative art therapy peers. The ability to receive feedback and/or talk through ideas and experiences with an understanding of a creative art therapy perspective has supported me in gaining a sense of assurance and continued growth as an art therapist.
6. What is art therapy to you? My passion is to to ignite the creative healing abilities that allow people to discover a world of expression and a deeper understanding of self. Through the process of art therapy, the experience allows the individual to tell a story using their own imagination and creativity, where they can be themselves and heal the pieces that have been broken.