I grew up in New York with my two artist parents. They say art runs in the family, and in my case that statement is pretty accurate. I’ve always been exposed to art, and I think that’s why art therapy makes so much sense to me as a career. When I was 11, I started learning how to use a darkroom, and photography—particularly analogue photography—became a hobby of mine. When the time came to choose a college I decided to go to the notoriously liberal Hampshire College in Massachusetts, where I focused mainly on photography and printmaking.
In my junior year of college I was hospitalised with pneumonia and put into a medically induced coma for 10 days. While this near-death experience was understandably terrifying, it was also a turning point for me; my final photography project at university was centred around the incident, and I found that art was a really powerful way of expressing my feelings. That is essentially what art therapy is all about—a nonverbal way of understanding a person’s feelings.
I spent time travelling around Spain in 2009, and stumbled across a programme that helped teach English in public schools over here. I wanted to learn Spanish so it seemed like a good opportunity. I was placed in a school in Madrid and stayed there for two years in the end. Madrid was another critical time for me, as it was there that I first realised that I wanted to go into art therapy. I came to Barcelona with the intention of staying only for a year while I got the necessary experience to enrol in an art therapy course in London. Like so many others though, I caught the Barcelona-bug and decided to do my three-year course here instead, at the small art and art therapy institute Metàfora, the first place in Spain to offer a Master’s in art therapy.
Art therapy is all about creating a triangular relationship between the patient, the therapist and the art. I rely heavily on my psychoanalytical experience to treat each patient case-by-case, so it’s up to them if they want to talk or not. One of my patients doesn’t like to talk because of social phobias. Since verbal communication causes him high levels of anxiety, which I don’t want to exacerbate, instead of talking I let him convey his feelings through his artwork.
My specialities are working with children and mentally ill patients. Last year I worked with a four-year-old boy who was about to be kicked out of school. I helped to implement a behavioural programme to get him back on track, and I found that I was genuinely able to bond with the boy because I could interpret his art and play. I also work a lot with schizophrenic patients. Unfortunately schizophrenia is a chronic illness; I don’t use art therapy to cure them, but rather to help them find the healthiest parts of themselves.
In my field of work you can tell that it has only been 40 years or so since Franco’s death and the end of the dictatorship. Many public institutions here are rule-driven and strict, which limits people’s creativity, and working freelance is very expensive. The country’s society in general focuses on results, which is unlike art therapy, where the objective is to help people express themselves rather than change their inherent behaviours. Sadly, with the current economic situation in Spain, there is also a massive lack of funding for mental health. I find it difficult trying to establish art therapy as a recognised field here like it is in the US, but I also genuinely believe my work can help a great many people to feel better about themselves and to communicate more effectively, so I’ll keep working at it.