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Why I Continue being an Art Therapist: Because there was a time I needed one

I have been asked on several occasions, "Why did you become an art therapist?"

This same conversation was had while I was doing post graduate supervision. It comes up with us art therapist usually because we may question why we continue a career field with all the barriers we face. Usually answers may include the highlights, progress and aha moments our clients are able to experience as a result of art therapy. I usually share I had a desire to to find a helping profession that I can utilize my creative identity and art making. While at a college fair I learned of art therapy and thought this may be the field for me.

Now that I am an art therapist I still do question why do I continue being an art therapist? What is it about this field that keeps me here?

Well I think there is truth to a piece of my own life because when I was 7 years old I wish I had an art therapist. I wish someone told my parents I needed an art therapist. Perhaps there is a piece of me that hopes this field continues to grow and someday someone will say to that person in need, "Have you thought about seeing an art therapist?"

Through my 7 year old eyes:

I wish I had an art therapist.

At 7 I had just moved from Illinois to Michigan and growing up going to a Catholic school my First Communion was this year and a big deal for me. Family who had never visited yet were making their first trips to visit and I was certainly looking forward to the anticipatory celebration ahead of me. With family coming to visit two of my closest cousins are also my Godmothers, and one was due any day with her first child so I knew she wasn't able to come and the other, Nikki was able to come. Nikki was someone that carried characteristics I admired and I was shocked she was coming. Nikki was a traveling nurse and I admired her badassery, kindness, love for others and I thought she was a beautiful person all around. We would send pictures to each other in the mail and I cherish the many play tea parties we had.

I remember a lot of things that day.

A lot of flashes

I remember answering the phone and hearing screaming. I gave my mom the phone so excited that I thought my other Godmother was going into labor.

Next thing I remember is my parents talking to my brother and I in their bedroom where I don't remember anything they said I was too busy starring at a blood stained shirt draped over a tub the white shirt appears to be pink to me.

I remember my Mom saying to my Dad, "I thought I told you to move that."

I remember being asked, "It's up to you, do you want to go to the hospital or your first communion."

I chose the hospital because that's where Nikki was.

I remember watching my Grandma cut up the chocolate raspberry filled cake into segments to be placed in the freezer and I watched the raspberry drip out of the cake that reminded me of the blood from the shirt.

I remember being in the hospital room and seeing Nikki on the news

I remember seeing her Jeep flipped and exclaimed to her Dad that Nikki was on the news

I remember my brother hushing me immediately after that

I remember feeling embarrassed

I remember choking on tears I thought everyone wanted to be on the news

I remember watching my other Godmother race down the hallway in tears with staff behind her with a wheelchair I remember the screams

I remember not understanding why I couldn't see Nikki.

I remember leaving the hospital and a vehicle pulled up and someone came out screaming holding someone covered in blood

I remember it was dark outside

I woke up the next day.

I woke up on the couch and everyone was gone besides my parents.

I remember asking where everyone went and I was told they left

I remember my parents tried to normalize the day. So I put on my first communion dress and went to open my presents.

I remember I opened Nikki's gift first and it was a pink stained glass angel

I remember I held it up and I remember the look on my parent's face

I remember someone came to the door and it was a police officer

I remember when he came into our home he saw me and I shook his hand and he started crying.

He leaned agains the wall where our cross was located and the cross on the wall fell and shattered.

I remember in my first communion dress on my knees picking up the broken pieces and he kept apologizing

I remember not understanding why he was so concerned about finding her purse

The day of my First Communion (above) the day after my First Communion (below)

I don't remember being told Nikki died-my parents shared they told me. I just don't remember being told but I knew.

At 7 this was my third or fourth funeral so I honestly felt I had a pretty decent understanding of what death meant at this time.

I had a friendship bracelet I made to give her.

I remember seeing her in the casket and hearing people say, "she looks so good."

I didn't think she looked like Nikki her skin looked like wax to me with so much make up covering up the bruising and scars.

I remember touching her hand and tying the bracelet on her wrist with my Dad behind me helping me.

I had never touched a dead person before and her hand was so cold.

(This is Nikki)

I remember one day friends of Nikki's showed up at our home when I was playing outside. I ran inside to tell my mom and I remember the confusion on her face. They had a cross to place where the accident occurred, less than 2 miles from our home. To this day that cross is still there.

I remember no one said Nikki's name at least in front of me.

I remember going to my cousin's house and opening up Nikki's bedroom door, I didn't know it was her room and I remember I was sternly told to never open Nikki's room again.

I remember not understanding why nothing was touched.

I remember being told, "You know it's not your fault. She would have died even if she was sitting at home it was her time."

I remember thinking, wait should I be thinking this was my fault?

My parents had me meet my priest and he blest some of my gifts and asked what it was about Nikki that I admired about her so much. I shared her characteristics and that I want to be like her when I grow up. My priest suggested I write down those characteristics and pull one out every day and try and do that action without telling anyone.

Instead of writing, I drew pictures. I started to forget to draw a picture out and so I would make sure to do all the things I had created making sure to do an action of love, kindness, hardworking, helping someone, etc.

I remember painting a lot at home by myself.

I remember making a watercolor painting of an angel in gold and brown with a sun behind her.

I remember the exact spot I sat at my kitchen table.

I remember my family were outside and I was inside.

I remember crying. I remember I didn't understand why I created this painting that resulted in me to cry.

I wish someone told my parents I needed to see an art therapist. The truth is there most likely wasn't an art therapist for me to see around here at least and no one had heard of art therapists that we knew otherwise I would hope someone would have recommended one. Reflecting on my why...perhaps I stick to this field despite the challenges I face daily because I believe an art therapist is exactly what I needed and perhaps may be exactly what someone else needs too I am here.

I wish someone knew what an art therapist was.

I wish I had an art therapist to have guided me through my grief.

I wish someone recommended an art therapist to me.

Author: Leara Glinzak, ATR, MSAT is the owner and art therapist of I Light LLC and you can read more about her on Psychology Today here: More about Leara Glinzak

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