Thursday, May 26, 2011

Inside the System or Outside?

How do we decide where to stand in our work for a more just and fair world? When do we walk away from systems that are flawed and when do we stay and work for change from within? The Social Justice Caucus (SJC) invites your stories.
I've had the pleasure and challenge of dialoguing on this topic recently with  a colleague who goes into hospitals that serve wards of the State of Illinois  as a member of an  oversight team of the Department of Psychiatry at University of Illinois The UIC is contracted by DCFS (Dept. of Child and Family Service) to monitor care.
This work is making headlines across the country as reports of rapes and other forms of violence in these settings are uncovered by the UIC team. The team is comprised of multidisciplinary professionals who have the best interests of both the patients and the staff at heart and know what a high functioning psychiatric unit should look like. Still, while the team can point to the flaws, they can't wave a magic wand and make it all better. Some of the institutions they audit are likely to experience even greater chaos in the process of meeting  mandates of safe and appropriate care. Where do the patients in their care go then? How does the staff cope with the added stress of fearing job loss on top of an already stressful workplace?
Do art therapy educators have a role to play in refusing to place students in questionable sites? Should art therapists refuse to work in such settings? Can we begin to publicly issue statements as a professional association advocating for fair and safe working conditions for our members and those we serve? While the direct service art therapists do is the heart of the profession, the advocacy function may be our soul. The Social Justice Caucus was formed as a means to direct, support and channel the energy of art therapists into building capacity for this advocacy function. Let us know what you are doing in your community to stand up for those who are suffering, and how we can help. Changing the world is a collaborative project and one in which we all have a stake. Share your struggles, ask for help, post your images here and let's invent some new ways to put our creativity to use. If you have walked away from a dysfunctional system, tell your story. If you continue to stay tell us how you manage. These stories are how we will create what's next. If you are planning to attend the AATA conference in July, plan to attend the Social Justice Caucus Open Forum and made your views known.
"This is how it looks, my child, the world you were born into...if you do not like this world, then you will have to change it". (Friedl-Dicker-Brandeis from an anti-capitalist poster, circa 1930-34, cited in Kaplan, Art Therapy and Social  Action, 2007, Gerity and Bear p. 235)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Art Therapy Education, Costs and Social Justice

The American Art Therapy Association recently sent out a survey designed to measure the interest in art therapy Ph.D. level education. At a time when the amount that Americans owe on student loans exceeds credit card debt, this gives me pause. I wonder about the intersection of debt payment and the job market.Will art therapists be able to work in the public sector and make a living wage? Will they have time and energy to advocate for clients, make art, foster relationships and families or will they have to hold multiple jobs to pay back their debt? Are graduates of art therapy programs saddled with debt less likely to question their employers about programs and services? How does economic pressure affect an art therapist's creativity?
It is well known that adding another degree often feels preferable to  facing a difficult economy. Often re-enrolling in school stops the payment clock. How do we ethically offer additional training to students who may be already carrying significant debt from a Master's program or even undergraduate loans? Student financial aid expert, Mark Kantrowitz offers a metric for students considering taking on education debt: the total figure of what you borrow should equal your expected entry level salary. So, if your cost for a M.A. in art therapy cost you $60,000, common at a private college or university, and you borrowed half of that, you should be seeking a job that pays you at least $30,000 to start. According to a website for health careers, art therapists can expect to earn between $35,000-40,000. If you've borrowed more, can't find a job and add on debt for a Ph.D. program, is it likely that you will make a greater salary once you are done? I hope art therapy educators make discussion of the impact of debt part of the interview process. From a privacy point of view, you might say its none of their business. A social justice lens provides a different view.
An article last year in the New York Times described a young couple contemplating marriage. The prospective groom broke off the relationship once he learned that the bride would be carrying more than $100,000 in education debt into the marriage, for which they would be  jointly responsible. He might have felt differently had the bride attended medical school (where the more usual debt figure is more like $250,000). The young woman had earned an art degree and was working part time as a photographer. He felt betrayed that she had never disclosed her indebtedness to him.
I am all for pushing the boundaries of and expanding the depth of art therapy. I earned a Ph.D. in 1986 through Union University, a program that many art therapists attended between the 1970's and 1990's. For a variety of reasons, Union no longer supports expressive arts candidates and it is a loss to our profession. Important books in art therapy by authors such as Shaun McNiff, Harriet Wadeson, Bruce Moon and many others began as Ph.D. dissertations in that experimental and learner-centered program.
More art therapy educators will no doubt follow the lead of Mount Mary College and Lesley University and begin to offer art therapy Ph.D. programs. I hope when designing such programs and calculating cost, benefit, and unintended consequences, educators and prospective students apply a social justice lens to decision making that accounts for how to best foster the art therapist as a whole person living in a complex world. I hope schools will embrace online and self-directed learning, seek ways to make education affordable to a wide range of students and resist institutional efforts to focus only on the bottom line. I also hope that art therapists will consider other options besides more degrees when they imagine career development. We are in a time that begs for new models, reviving apprenticeships, or self study models that lead to the self-granted title of independent scholar. Our creativity must be applied in how we shape the world; the ultimate social sculpture. For those who seek conventional degree status, we should  be seeking to create government supported post graduate service opportunities for art therapists willing to work in under served communities or in the increasing sectors where natural devastation wreaks havoc.  Loans could be written off in exchange for providing service. What we expect, dream and vision can come into being. How we resist, how we engage and how we seek justice are key components of what we call success.