That’s a Job! (Expressive Arts Therapist)

We really appreciate all of the feedback we’ve been getting on this feature; feel free to keep it coming. Today we profile Roberto Nascimento, an expressive arts therapist at MukiBaum Treatment Centre. “Art therapist” is actually one of the jobs that inspired this feature because I feel like it’s a career that a lot of people kind of consider, but may not know much about. I appreciate Roberto taking the time to help illuminate us.

Name: Roberto Nascimento
Job Description: Expressive arts therapist at MukiBaum Treatment Centre

Knock Twice: Where do you work?
Roberto Nascimento: I work at the adult day treatment center for MukiBaum. I have an office space, and we also have a treatment space.

KT: Are you freelance or an employee?
RN: I’m a full-time employee

KT: What is MukiBaum?

RN: MukiBaum is an educational treatment centre for adults with dual diagnosis; that means mental delays and psychiatric aspects. Here, our clients range from 18 and up. Depending on the individual needs of the adults that we serve, they are placed in one of the following programs: Sensory Program, Vocational Program, Art Program or Expressive Arts Therapy Program. All of these programs function under one roof, but are divided into separate “campuses”. MukiBaum also has two other sites for children.

KTB: Can you describe your pay structure?
RN: Here it is a full-time position with a salary.

KTB: What background do you have for this job?
RN: I was hired as an expressive arts therapist for the adult day program. Most recently I was promoted to senior therapist, and last February, I was promoted again to clinical supervisor. My official title is Expressive Arts Therapist.

I came from Brazil, where I had a degree in psychology, and worked as a psychologist. Then I decided to change my life and I moved toCanada, and I had to start all over again; because there is no equivalence for my diplomas I had to go back to school. For a while I worked as a drama therapist, I was an assistant director in drama therapy, but it did not suit my needs back then. I stayed for two years helping a director, and then attended the Internationa lSchool for Interdisciplinary Studies, where I accomplished my undergrad as an expressive arts therapist. During that time I was exposed to European graduate school in Switzerland, where I accomplished my masters degree in expressive arts. Prior to my school years even back inBrazil, I used to be a singer, a dancer, and an actor. So everything fell into place as the years went by and here I am as a clinical supervisor for the organization.

KT: Is that a standard path to get here? Does one need a masters’ degree for this job?
RN: A Masters’ degree is preferred, but not required. To call yourself an expressive arts therapist, it’s a three year program, plus an element of supervised clinical practice. Because you are dealing not only with producing art, but dealing also with clients and their issues and concerns about why they are coming for therapy.

KT: Is a bachelors degree in expressive arts therapy a prerequisite for a masters’ program?
RN: If you have a BA you are most likely welcome to go directly to the masters program. But if you don’t have any knowledge of the therapy world, it would be good to have some experience before you jump into that level, because you are dealing with a lot of issues and the BA gives you a foundation for the therapeutic aspect.

KTB: What is an average day for you?
RN: As therapists here, we start our day in the foyer of the building. Three of us are there to greet our clients in the morning, It’s part of their transitions from their van into the building. It’s to check in with how they are when they arrive at the facility. From there we have walkie-talkies to communicate with the other staff and supervisors how they are arriving, for example, if they are in a good mood, or if they are having any difficulties coming in. Things like “good morning” and “welcome back” and “how are you?”… It’s a nice, civilized start to the day, but also a  way for us to check in on how the day is going to go.

From there, in the gym, the clients do exercise based on sensory needs, or games, or dancing. When they finish that activity, they break into smaller groups and go to their home room to start their regular programming for day. Here in the sensory program, we have five home room groups. Parallel to that programming, we as therapists are already going into our schedule for the day; either seeing one-on-one clients, seeing groups, or supporting as we are needed on the floor. It’s very active. In over seven years of working here, there has never, never been one day where I’ve said “Oh my God, I have to go to work…” because it is very rewarding, it’s very challenging, and I can do arts all day long.

KT: So are you assigned a specific case load?
JM: Yes, although under this roof, we should know everyone’s diagnosis, their triggers, what makes them happy, what may set them off. We oversee the entire population, but each therapist is assigned a number of clients for one-on-one and group work. Out of our seventy-seven clients, I personally have a case-load of thirteen clients one-on-one, plus five groups Monday to Friday. My day is a combination of one-on-one meetings, group sessions, and facilitating other things that go on in the building.

KT: What are some important skills for this job?
RN: Flexibility and willingness to learn, and to see life through another pair of eyes. An awareness of what you’re seeing, and not projecting your needs or maybe lack of understanding on others, because in the end it’s not going to be a good fit. Sometimes people think “I’m an artist and everything is possible”, and that may be true for you, but you can’t come into this field with only the knowledge of your skills in painting or sculpting, or whatever, because you’re going to find people with challenges. What’s easy for me can be hard to understand for someone else. This doesn’t mean that they are not able to produce art; they can, but with their limitations. We need to kind of adjust what I can provide, and what they can receive, and be patient to see the development happening throughout the relationship.

KT: So for this job do you think it’s more important to be an artist, or a people person?
RN: You have to find a balance. Some people have the idea that they can do this, but they get frustrated because it’s not going the way they want. And that’s not fair to anyone. Because our clients are very vulnerable, and it’s easy for them to get hurt (both physically and emotionally), and we avoid that happening as much as possible.

KT: What’s the most important tool in your kit?
RN: Passion. And always proving an extra step. On the other hand, self-care is just as important, because it’s very easy to get trapped, burned out, and start showing that in your work. It’s a combination of both. You have to provide, you have to have a passion, but you also have to be aware of self-care. You wear so many hats throughout the day, you need to keep in touch with who you are, and what your purpose is. The emotion is there, but there are also limits to what you can provide without getting off your game.

KT: What’s best thing about your job?
RN: I get to know people. And everything that happens here is 100% real. It’s as close as you can get to people. If they say they love you, they love you; if they say they hate you, they hate you. But you’ll never get “I love you but I don’t love you very much.” It’s the essence of human beings that you can get here. Also, to be a therapist, most of the time when they hate you, it’s not directed to you, but their history. They are giving you the opportunity to be the recipient of their frustration. And you are the only one who can hold that, understand it, and then give that back as understanding and support.

KTB: What should someone considering this kind of work know about the job?
RN: It’s very challenging. You should know yourself before you’re in the position because you could be in a hot spot very easily, in terms of receiving so much material and not knowing what to do. And that’s where the self-care plays a strong role; you can start losing control of the purpose of your job. Here we have on-site training, we have meetings on a constant basis, and there is a very good support team. Sometimes all those unknown issues, or the heaviness of the work, if you don’t address them right away it can translate to something else. It can turn into a serious issue on a personal level.

It doesn’t fit everyone, even if you have a lot of skill as an artist, You can be an extremely good artist, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to be an extremely good therapist, and vice versa. One of the good things about being an expressive arts therapist, there is no requirement to be a top of the line artist, but if you are able to channel yourself and express yourself using arts, no matter what the result might be, and you are ok with that, that’s a good indication you might be a good fit.

Don’t come to the field thinking you’re going to be a millionaire. Because you won’t. You make enough to live, to do your things, but don’t expect you’re going to be rich, because that’s an illusion. If that’s what you’re looking for then you’re in the wrong profession.

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4 Comments

  1. Great article b/c it covered a lot of questions that I wanted to ask. I am considering going back to school for this. I have my HBA degree in Art and Art History.

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  2. Wonderful article! It is also timely as I’m a Foundations student of ISIS and planning to start the 3 Year program this year. You have shed some more light on this for me. Thank you.

    Georgia

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  3. Thank you Roberto for the honesty! Really important things to consider as I look at grad school programs for art, dance, and expressive therapy.

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  4. This is a wonderful, honest, passionate and informative article. It is exciting to hear about your work. I have graduated this summer(2013)from the European Graduate School in Saas Fee, Switzerland, with a Master Degree in Expressive Arts Therapy. I simply love this work too.
    I have taught children for 27 years.I am looking forward to move into the field of Expressive Arts Therapy.
    I am looking as to how to make contacts that will help me build my practice. I am working with seniors, adults, children and families and looking to expand my practice as an Expressive Arts Therapist and are interested in opportunities to work as an Expressive Arts Therapist. I live in Edmonton, Alberta Canada. Looking forward to hear about your suggestions to move forward in this field.

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