Originally a practicing artist working in the divided communities of Belfast, it became clear that I needed some further specialist training to meet the complex needs of those I worked and engaged with in community arts studio groups and arts workshops. The master's art therapy training offered by Queen's University, Belfast enabled me to respond therapeutically to emotional and therapeutic needs of those affected by trauma and PTSD whilst also utilising the existing creative and artistic skills, thus combining two fields of expertise. This was a revelatory experience and profoundly impactful on my understanding of what it takes to work in mental health services with people from diverse backgrounds and with complex mental health and emotional needs.
Since then, I’ve gone onto working in a number of services and organsiations as an art therapist. I also sought some further training in dyadic developmental psychotherapy, clinical supervision, solution focused therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy.
I have worked in the University of South Wales (USW) since September 2010 (visiting lecturer, PG Dip Counselling Children and Young People) having completed some consultative and HPL work in 2009-10 and 2010-11. I joined the University full time in January 2011 to establish and manage two counselling services; Primary Schools Counselling Project and Newport University Community Counselling Service (NUCCS) - now part of USW Therapy services. Since September 2013 I have been working full time as a Senior Lecturer and as an Academic Subject Manager in the academic subject area of Therapeutic Studies. Prior to joining University of South Wales, I worked for a number of children and adult mental health services, in both statutory and voluntary organisations. I also work in private practice (art psychotherapy and clinical supervision).
My main areas of interest and research currently is the use of creativity across other professions and pluralism in art psychotherapy practice. I like art-based research methodology, too!
I am a very proud to be an art psychotherapist. The professional role of an art psychotherapist is diverse. Those who train in the field may find work in the NHS (primary, secondary and acute mental health teams, including specialist services), education, charity and third sector organisations such as trauma treatment services, sexual assault referrals centres, arts in health and wellbeing settings, community arts organisations, drug and alcohol recovery settings or palliative care services. Their career development may lead to roles in professional and clinical supervision, research, education and training and private practice.
Put simply, it is a very versatile profession, which continues to grow and develop with the changing needs of the diverse UK populations, across the lifespan, and the many ethnic groups, communities and cultures.
I am from the West coast of Canada, where I grew up with forests, mountains and the Pacific Ocean around me. I developed a love of the outdoors and went camping any opportunity I could get. Since I could hold a pencil, I was always drawing something. Studying Fine Arts in university was a natural direction for me, and I combined this with Museum Studies and an ongoing interest in First Nations cultures, anthropology and biology.
After travelling and teaching in Catalunya I moved to Wales and pursued my Masters in Art Therapy. I have worked with looked after children and foster families, as well as adult mental health in community and inpatient settings.
I bring a deep respect for culture and language to my role. I have learned Welsh, and even though I still have a lot to learn, I try to use it whenever I can. I run mixed language groups bilingually, always opening and closing them bilingually, and translating themes or reflections as they emerge in session. It’s important to maintain a Welsh language presence.
I feel so lucky to be able to combine my love for the outdoors and my love for art by doing art therapy outdoors. I was first introduced to Environmental Arts Therapy (EAT) by Pamela (Pom) Stanley, Art Psychotherapist and Environmental Arts Therapist, who established it in the inpatient unit where I now work. I am looking forward to doing my certificate training in EAT and carrying on this innovative work.
During the pandemic I think the value of green spaces for wellbeing has really been recognised. I was very happy to see the mention of ‘the importance of green spaces and nature … have provided significant therapeutic benefits during the pandemic and will continue to do so’ in the NHS Wales Decarbonisation Strategic Delivery Plan.
My journey as an art therapist began in Sheffied, where I completed my professional training in the year 2000. Then I got a job with the NSPCC and set up an art therapy service at their new Young People’s Centre in the city centre.
I have always wanted to move to North Wales, and I was so excited when I was offered a job working in the community CAMHS team in Bangor. That was in 2001, and involved setting up another art therapy service from scratch. I also worked part time for the NSPCC based in a secondary school, and later on in an NHS adult medium secure forensic unit.
Moving to North Wales was amazing, and for ages, walking to my car each morning felt like being in a film set with all the stunning scenery. The place does put you in touch with the really important things in life, and I love being outside walking, cycling or swimming each week. I‘ve learned to speak fluent Welsh too.
In community CAMHS I learned to do generic assessments and was lucky to get training and experience in different therapeutic models, like DBT, Brief Therapy, Solution Focussed Therapy, and Children’s Accelerated Trauma Therapy (CATT).
I transferred to the North Wales Adolescent Service in 2012, which is a CAMHS inpatient unit serving the whole of North Wales. It was a steep learning curve, but I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to develop my work through Mentalization Based Therapy training and specialist clinical supervision. It has been a real privilege to get to know the young people and hear their individual stories.
There is another aspect to my work, and I realise that I’ve always been involved in project co-ordination, and get easily distracted by side projects! I love meeting people, chatting, having new ideas, and working across disciplines. My supervisor said I am claustrophobic rather than agoraphobic, and I don’t do staying in a box very well. I’m interested in the way that art therapists’ clinical skills can be applied at service level to work with change management.
This fits with my passion about helping people get their voice heard. I was so lucky at NWAS that they let me lead a three year service improvement project based on co-production. It was an amazing opportunity. It felt so refreshing to be able to support people who might otherwise not have had a voice to influence real change within our huge, flagship service. The project was based on what sometimes feels (within the NHS) like a rather novel idea - really listening to people and then actually just doing what they tell us feels useful - instead of doing what, as professionals, we might think is useful, but actually isn’t always.
I see so many areas where art therapists can make a real difference by applying their skills in different areas. I hope the presentations I’ve submitted to this arts therapies awareness week will help others see this too.