Alison Hawtin qualified as an art therapist in 1994. She has worked as an NHS art therapist in Cambridgeshire Learning Disability Partnership Teams, and is a specialist lecturer, mentor supervisor and private practitioner. She is particularly interested in the nonverbal aspects of art therapy, general arts/creativity and wellbeing, bodywork expressions and collaborative work. A big thank you to Alison for taking the time out to speak to Art Nouveau about her work and how she sees Art Therapy functioning in the future. Alison is another working practitioner that reached out to us after posting on the International Art Therapy Facebook page. Here are Alison’s insights:
Tell me a little about your career. How and why did you become involved in art therapy?
I tried nurse training, the teacher training and then did my Art and Social Context Degree where I found out about Art Therapy – Seemed like the perfect amalgam of all I had been seeking
What are your key responsibilities as an art therapist?
To evaluate, assess, plan and implement individual and group art therapy appropriate to the service in which I work.
Are there any particular mediums that you use the most, or is that entirely up to the client?
It is up to the client within reason, because I will invite certain media, retain certain media (on safety of emotionally overwhelming grounds) and direct certain media depending on what we are looking to achieve and what stage of therapy we are at.
How can art therapy improve an individual’s self esteem?
The nature of art making involves implicit decision making, a level of confidence to begin to make a mark/touch a medium, to have an observer in the therapist, to develop trust in the therapist, themselves and the media, being their own observer and artist interchangeably, problem-solving, imagination, all enhance a sense of self – therapy values and holds this self and so it grows esteem.
How do you think art therapy has helped individuals with behavioural or LD issues more specifically?
This is too vast to say – they are all the people I have worked within 18 years so… basically they are people and all people can benefit from Art Therapy. Fundamentally it is the person-centeredness in real meaning of the worlds that holds all change potential. Through this valuing of the person, the triangle of relationships in Art Therapy and the implicit mirroring and practicing of bigger emotional and life events in the small moments of the therapy and art making process, people can grow, literally, new neural pathways.
What has been your greatest success and biggest setback in your career so far?
Interesting questions. Greatest success? Knowing my work has contributed within a multi-disciplinary team to helping people who would otherwise have remained in locked/secure settings or unhappily locked inside themselves. To be heard, express themselves in a non-threatening and emotion-appropriate manner and learn to grow and learn toleration of frustration enough to survive. To evolve into happy independent lives.
Greatest setback? The changes in the organisations I work within (NHS and social services) that mean people are no longer really valued, given the tools to do their jobs really well, or kindness which seem to be a key requirement in us all.
Why is it important for the distinction between art therapy and therapeutic art making to remain clear?
It is on a spectrum from art making/education whereby taught skills and product are key, through to therapeutic artmaking where people gain implicitly from engaging in their own process during art and its healing qualities do its work, through to supported Art Therapy where the triad is key and the person needs the witnessing inherent in the therapist’s presence and their knowledge and skill in seeking/knowing the process of art making and how it is explaining/expressing where the person is at and how best to support/facilitate/accompany them on their internal journey of self-development and awareness.
There is a place for everyone and we should be referring in and out of each other’s specialism. I was a community artist before an art therapist and I know there were areas I would not go or encourage people to go because I was not skilled to deal with it with them, nor was it the purpose of the project. Art Therapy is absolutely about the process not the product. With some people, the product becomes more important and they may even choose to exhibit or go on and train, but this is person specific and therapeutically defined within the therapy.
How do you see art therapy evolving in the future?
Hmmm. I think on the one hand it is being forced to get stricter, more defined, shorter term, and to some degree, more intellectual/cognitive. I also think it is under pressure to be more nameable and to explain the inexplicable.
On the other hand, I think there will be those who will fight for the opposite of these aspects – upholding its inherent healing qualities, the need for spontaneity, person-centered decision making and design of therapy, treasuring the inexplicability.
Art Therapy rooms are few and far between nowadays – it’s all about portability, but this is a price to pay that will show up. The vulnerable and complexly damaged/traumatised need the symbolism and safety implicit in a designated creative space that borrowed rooms and offices cannot convey. It diminishes the breadth of Art Therapy provisions that can be created and offered. This is why I am leaving the big organisations as an employee. I need to be the best clinician I can be within my own parameters and not trying to be a mediocre one within theirs.