Career Series No. 6- Art Therapy/Social Work

Art Therapy Social Work

Hi guys! Sorry for the delay in getting this post out! I took a real holiday on Monday and did ZERO work, which was kind of awesome. 🙂

I’m so excited to share this Career Series post from Robin with you today. Really sounds like a super fun and rewarding job.

Check it out, and let us know what you think!

What did you want to be when you were growing up and why?

Growing up I always told my Mom I wanted to be someone who got to dress up and wear nice jewelry and makeup to work. Something along the lines of a lawyer or a doctor I saw on television. It was less about the job and more about the status (which is kind of funny to look back on now).

What is your current job?

I am a social work student who runs an art therapy program for people living with cancer.

How did you land that position? (What made you want to pursue that?)

After completing four years of university and dabbling in four different programs (nursing, kinesiology, nutrition and psychology) I was diagnosed with mental illness and had to work with a social worker. Working with the social worker was so inspiring that after I got better, I decided to apply to a social work program!

A few months later I was accepted and moved to a new city to begin school. When I got to the city I started to look for volunteer work immediately (I like to be busy!) and was placed in the cancer center at the local hospital. A few months later I was telling the volunteer coordinator how much I enjoyed art and wanted to use art in my future social work practice and she asked me if I wanted to run the art therapy program at the center.

It all came together really easily! I didn’t go looking for this position, the position found me.

What does a typical day at work look like for you?

A typical day consists of conversation and art! The program is a drop-in program, so I get to see new faces almost every week and I love that because I love meeting new people. The program itself runs for two hours in the afternoon so before anyone arrives I choose an activity (most people enjoy painting so we usually paint) and set up the art supplies! Once everyone arrives I usually let them do their own thing and encourage them to get creative! Once in a while we have difficult conversations, but that is where my social work education comes in and I practice listening, attending, compassion and empathy.

At the end of the session I clean up, record the daily stats and then go visit other areas of the cancer center. I am also responsible for advertising the program and updating our art wall (the place where we show off the patient’s art work.)

And finally, part of the work is to advocate for individuals and groups who are excluded from the program so right now I am in the middle of trying to get the art therapy program on wheels so I can bring art to the patients who are unable to leave their rooms so they too can be included.

What do you love most about it?

My absolute favorite thing about the program is when someone comes in and tells me they don’t know how to make art… and then two hours later they have four or five pictures drying in the corner. I also love watching the patients start with an idea and bring that idea to life on paper. There is something really fascinating about the process of making art.

Another aspect that I really love is having conversations with patients and I guess this is more of my social work side. I enjoy learning about their lives and their diagnosis because of the strength in which they deal with their situations. I always leave the hospital feeling inspired and uplifted. People assume therapy is a one-way street where the counselor helps the client, but that’s not true. The patients teach me a lot in the way in which they face their challenges.

What do you hate most about it?

The clean up! It’s always a little frustrating to come to the end of a session and have to wash out a bunch of paint containers or pick up little paper pieces. It’s worth it though. Life is meant to be a little messy.

What’s the coolest thing that ever happened to you at work?

One of the coolest things that has ever happened was when I had a fifty-year-old man come in and tell me he didn’t like art, couldn’t do art and that he hadn’t touched a crayon or paint brush since he was in elementary school. Two weeks later, he told me that he went out and bought all his own art supplies so he could do art at home! How cool is that!?

EVERYONE can do art. Art is healing.

What strengths do you think are necessary for someone to be successful at this job?

Art therapy, and social work of any kind, requires you to be a good listener. There is nothing more important than knowing how to genuinely listen. I heard a quote once:  “There is a difference between truly listening and waiting for your turn to talk.” – Ralph Waldo and I think it sums up what is needed of someone going into any form of social work or counseling services. To know how to listen is a great challenge but it is essential when working in my field.

While the patients are doing art I simply listen to their stories and that in itself is a form of therapy:

“People start to heal the moment they feel heard.” – Annonymous

I’m an introvert by nature, so listening has always been one of my strengths. There are a lot of extroverts in my program though, genuine listening can be learned but it’s not easy!

What’s the best piece of advice you can give someone who’s looking to pursue this as a career?

I am still very young to the social work profession and have more schooling to do, but I can say that being a social worker requires you to have a passion for people and a desire to connect with them.

Social workers work in all aspects of society: medicine, schools, sports, mental health, child welfare, policy, private practice, corrections, etc (not just art therapy!) but every aspect requires that they care about people first and foremost. Social work isn’t a selfish profession and although there is potential to make money, if you decide to go into private practice, money won’t keep you in the profession. A love for people and the betterment of society is what will keep you in the profession.

That’s why I think it’s so funny to look back on what I wanted to be when I grew up. Social work, the profession I was always meant to do, has nothing to do with status and everything to do with a passion for connecting with and supporting others.

And that’s it! Thanks for checking out Week #6! If you’d like to participate, fill out the contact form HERE and let me know why you’d like to be a part of this adventure!

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  1. Chelsea

    May 28, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    Kayla, I have been following this career series of yours and I just love it. It’s such a fun and creative idea. I think social work with art therapy sounds so fun. I’m going into counseling so this is in my arena. 🙂

  2. Margo

    May 28, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    When I was in college, I wanted to be an art therapist. Psychology has always been interesting to me, and combining that with art would be so rewarding! Loved this post!


  3. Miranda @ Miranda Writes Blog

    May 28, 2015 at 1:42 pm

    This sounds like such a rewarding career. I can only imagine the fulfillment that comes from helping people when they’re in a vulnerable place in life. Kudos to you!

  4. Cheyenne @RosevineCottageGirls

    May 28, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    That would be an amazing job but hard. I am praying for you as you go out and touch others that need you.

  5. Tiara

    May 28, 2015 at 6:22 pm

    This sounds like so much fun and super transformational. I love the combination of art and healing…she’s got a super awesome job!

  6. Lisa @ Strum Simmer Sip

    May 28, 2015 at 8:20 pm

    Wow, this is such an interesting series! It’s really interesting to learn more about what people get into after college and I melted a bit after hearing about the snippet of the old man doing art 🙂 When I was growing up, I wanted to be a Travel Channel TV star like Anthony Bourdain – just travel around the world and EAT! I guess I’m kind of pursuing that dream through blogging now 🙂 In reality? I became a Management Consultant and am now preparing to pursue my MBA in the fall!

  7. Holly Housewife

    May 28, 2015 at 9:17 pm

    first off yay for vacation!

    Secondly loved this interview what an amazing career and so rewarding for both sides.

  8. Channing C

    May 29, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    I think I need a vacation right now, I’m so tired and I’ve been spreading myself a little too thin lately.

  9. Steven A. Branson

    May 30, 2015 at 9:15 am

    Very interesting post, good interview, and I passed along to my daughter.
    Please check out our side hustle series on our blog (for example see
    Good luck

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