During 2011, Art Therapy Without Borders will be featuring members from the Advisory Council as an opportunity to learn more about their work and some of the art therapy initiatives they are involved in that speak to this community’s vision. We are excited to kick off this series with Dr. Laury Rappaport:
Tell ATWB readers a little about yourself and what your interests are in art therapy: I started practicing art therapy in 1975 after completing my Bachelor’s degree in Art Therapy at the State University of NY at Buffalo. People are often shocked to hear that I actually received a degree in Art Therapy back then. At that time, there were very few art therapy programs in existence. After transferring schools twice and settling on the idea of studying occupational therapy, I overheard someone in the hallway say, “art therapy.” I was shocked and approached the student, inquiring, “Do they have Art Therapy here?” He answered, “No, well sort of.” I replied, “Sort of? What does sort of mean?” It turned out that the university had a program in which students could design their own major by submitting a proposal to a committee. I put together courses in psychology, art, a reading list with the few art therapy books, and a self-designed practicum at a local state hospital with children.
After graduating, I continued this pioneering spirit by looking up all the possible places that had mental health related services, sending letters of interest along with an insert enclosed on “What is Art Therapy” and how it could benefit their program. My first interview was with the Head Master of a residential treatment center for adolescent boys with learning disabilities, DeVeaux School in Niagara Falls, NY. The school administrators had never heard of Art Therapy but they listened to me, and then offered me a position as the first Art Therapist. Over the course of 35 years I have many stories of bringing the use of art to adults, children, couples, families, agencies, and staff.
I share this story as my own personal story and more…it is also a story about the development of Art Therapy. It took “going outside of lines” for me to develop a major in Art Therapy and to create jobs in art therapy. It took bringing my heart, creativity, mind, and courage to invent possible ways of using art for healing. This is the story of art therapy. Art Therapists all over the world have their version of bringing healing through art to people of different ages, with varying needs. This is our creative spirit in action for the benefit of humankind.
What do you believe are important considerations or emerging issues for the international art therapy community to pay attention to? I think it would be helpful for the international art therapy community to have a central database that provides a registry according to location, areas of expertise, populations, etc. I would like to see the international art therapy community organized to deliver specific projects towards promoting peace, emotional healing, and resilience throughout the world. I also think that we need to partner with other organizations that are more developed at bringing these services, as well as evaluating them through evidence-based practices.
What are some special art therapy projects you are working on for and in 2011? My area of specialization is the development of Focusing-Oriented Art Therapy (FOAT). I created FOAT after synthesizing Eugene Gendlin’s Focusing (1981; 1996) with art therapy for 35 years with various clinical populations and in different settings. I see FOAT as a mindfulness practice that helps people to cultivate greater awareness, compassion, listening, emotional healing, and problem-solving with creative expression. To complement my book on Focusing-Oriented Art Therapy, I recently completed a CD, Focusing for Wellbeing: Guided Exercises. In addition to teaching the Focusing and arts process, the CD contains three mindfulness exercises based on the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh.
In 2011 I will continue teaching Art Therapy at Notre Dame de Namur University. One exciting project there is that I bring my students to two homeless shelters where we offer art for stress reduction. This summer I will offer FOAT trainings in Hong Kong and Japan and give a lecture on FOAT with Trauma at several universities. A group from Korea is coming to my Focusing and Expressive Arts Institute in California to train in FOAT (and my book is translated and published in Japanese and currently contracted to be translated into Korean).
How can people contact you or find out more about your work? People can learn more about the Focusing and Expressive Arts Institute and my work through my website, www.focusingarts.com. I can be reached through email: email@example.com
Art Therapy Without Borders thanks Dr. Rappaport for sharing this information with the ATWB community for this interview! We look forward to showcasing more of ATWB’s Advisory Council throughout this year!