Denisonians in Health Professions: Art Therapy

A path to health professions: art therapy - michelle-chavez-241x300.png image #0

Michelle Chavez ’07 (Oldford)

Role:  Art Therapist

Graduate School attended: Adler University, 2010 graduate

Fun Fact: I grew up on a horse farm. 

Describe the process you went through to select your career path: what impacted your decision? 
When I graduated from Denison I had no idea what I wanted to do as a career.  I knew that I wanted to work with children, and that I loved art, so I used that as a starting point.  I looked into different career options and stumbled upon art therapy.  Art therapy seemed like a perfect way to combine my interests in psychology and medicine with my love of art.  Even though it was unplanned, I had almost all the courses necessary to pursue the Master’s Degree required to be an art therapist. 

As I moved through my graduate work and narrowed my interest field, I was drawn to working in the medical environment.  Art therapists practice anywhere that psychological services are offered, and I was drawn to the unique needs of pediatric patients undergoing hospitalized treatments. 

What are your favorite aspects of your profession?
Easily, the best part of my job is getting to know patients and families.  People think of children’s hospitals as sad places, and while of course some moments are sad, for the most part kids are just trying to be kids, and I can help build up coping skills, and process difficult moments through art.  The kids and families that I work with are incredibly resilient and I am inspired by their strength on a daily basis.          

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
Art therapy is a greatly misunderstood profession, so it gets tiresome explaining that I’m not doing “crafts” with the patients, that I am a licensed counselor and that we are doing therapy, just using art instead of words.  We are constantly having to justify our services. 

Describe what a typical day looks like for you.
My days never look the same, which is one of the things that I love.  There is no monotony.  But “typically” I do a few hours of administrative work in the morning, answering emails, placing supply orders, etc. I spend late mornings either providing supervision for my intern or providing art therapy to patients in our outpatient hematology/oncology area.  I usually have patient rounds or staff meetings over lunch.  After lunch I have one-on-one bedside sessions with patients, mostly in our Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, Pulmonary unit (seeing patients with cystic fibrosis), Oncology unit, and with post-surgical and trauma patients.  Once a week I have a scrapbooking support group with families with infants in our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.  The end of the day I spend charting on my sessions.  I have to be self-motivated, and I work within a large multi-disciplinary department, collaborating with art and music therapists, child life specialists, school teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers, and chaplains.         

What advice would you give a student interested in pursuing your field?
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in art therapy, as an undergraduate take as many different kinds of art classes as possible.  It never ceases to amaze me how many classes I look back to when patients let their imaginations run, and we end up making giant sculptures, molds, sitting and painting, or drawing together.  I also always think it’s a good idea to attend a professional conference in the field you’re thinking of pursuing.  It’s an easy way to get an idea of what’s going on in the field, clarify any misconceptions, and meet people in the field.