How does Dinara Kasko use shape in each of these cakes?

Left to right: Dr. Jackson leads a workshop about empowerment for young women.; Young women made these two works as part of the workshop pictured far left.; How do these women discover their best selves through art?; At the workshop pictured far right, Dr. Jackson worked to empower young women to embrace what makes them unique and fabulous.

Healing Through Art

Dr. Louvenia Jackson talks about her job as an art therapist

Images courtesy of Rebecca Rice.

Dr. Louvenia Jackson

Scholastic Art: What is your job?

LJ: I am an art therapist. Art therapy differs from talk therapy in that we use art, rather than verbal engagement, as the main method for working through therapeutic issues with clients. I’ve worked with clients in residential treatment, schools, prisons, out-patient clinics, domestic violence centers, and other clinical and community-based places. I am also an assistant professor of marital and family therapy with a specialization in art therapy at Loyola Marymount University in California.

SA: What kinds of materials do you use during a therapy session?

LJ: There is no formula that dictates what medium to use and when. It all depends on the client and the work we are doing. Typically, an art therapist will have all the traditional media—such as colored pencils, paints, and modeling clay. But we will use any medium that is helpful to the client. Anything that can be used to express yourself and share your emotions, an art therapist might use in some way.

SA: How do you analyze a client’s art?

LJ: One of the misconceptions about art therapy is that therapists have a magical ability to interpret people’s art, or that a certain type of drawing always means the same thing—such as anger—no matter who draws it. But that’s not how it works. If I were to try to tell a client what their artwork means, I would impede my client from being able to tell their own story. Instead, I am present with the client, and I allow them to tell me what they are creating and what it means to them.

SA: Why did you decide to become an art therapist?

LJ: I have always been a creative person, but I thought I needed to focus on a business path in order to get a job after college. However, I was very unhappy with my studies my freshman year, and after talking to my aunt—who said, “Why aren’t you making art? You’re so good at it!”—I changed my major to fine arts. Eventually, I discovered the field of art therapy, which is a perfect fit for me as it allows me to be creative while also connecting with people and using art in a communal way.

SA: What challenges do you face as an art therapist?

LJ: Working through challenging situations with people and hearing about the trauma they’ve experienced, whether physical, emotional, or both, can be difficult. So it’s important for art therapists to engage in self-care, as well as caring for their clients.

SA: What are the most important skills for an art therapist to have?

LJ: Being a good listener is crucial. You are listening to understand. You are not listening to respond or to dictate someone’s life. You are there to help the person through their own journey. Having cultural humility is also important. I have a Ph.D. in art therapy, but all of my training and knowledge doesn’t make me superior to the person I’m working with. They are the expert of their lived experience.

SA: Do you have advice for students interested in becoming art therapists?

LJ: You don’t have to be a good artist. But you do need to understand the creative process. You should also practice listening to other people and being present for them. I recommend volunteering, which can help build understanding and empathy for others and give you the opportunity to work with people who have different backgrounds and experiences from yours.

SA: What do you love about your job?

LJ: As an art therapist, having people trust me and share their stories with me is a privilege and an honor. I’m on the board of directors for the American Art Therapy Association, and being able to bring about change in my field on a systemic level—to make it more diverse, equitable, and inclusive—is also incredibly rewarding!

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