During the summer I met with Heather Aberdein who graduated from the MA Art Psychotherapy course at Roehampton University two years ago. Heather works within a private health care company that provides specialist secure hospital and residential services to adults. She replied to an advert for clinical health workers, interviewed well, and after a two-week induction persuaded the company to allow her to pioneer a new art therapy service, paid at the appropriate professional grade. She has now been within the company since October 2012, supporting adults with learning disabilities, associated mental illness, autism and Aspergers, personality disorder and/or challenging behaviour.
Meeting with Heather was a real opportunity to pick her brain about the rigours of working within the field and the hardships of finding work following graduation. As well as discussing her current role she also talks about the rationale for choosing to train as an art therapist in the first place, and offers advice for anyone thinking about Art Psychotherapy as a career. Here’s what she had to say….
Can you briefly tell me a little about your current role as an art therapist (e.g. setting, client group, referrals, assessments….)?
Sure. I pioneered this art therapy service for a private healthcare company which offers support in hospital and residential units to adults who have a dual diagnosis of learning disability and mental health. I currently work part-time between four separate units across North East London offering one-to-one and group work. I receive referrals for support from the managers, clinical services team, social workers, outside agencies and families.
With the group work do you have someone who helps facilitate that work with you?
Well, to begin with I had members of the support staff helping, and so I had to train them up, but I found that it was getting really difficult in terms of adhering to boundaries. This was because the space I had to work with was the patients’ lounge so there were lots of people coming and going. And the group of women I was working with were diagnosed with personality disorder and psychosis so it was a really challenging client group. As a result, I employed a voluntary art therapist, one of my mates, and she worked with me for six months which was invaluable because we would be thinking about things in a similar way and we could hold the space more coherently. So if I were to run groups again I’d definitely want to build in qualified support staff.
How do you conduct assessments for people wanting support?
Depending on the client and their needs, I’ll tend to do a four to six week assessment. I’ll then talk to my team to decide how long we’re going to work together for and then we’ll review it. My basic pattern is to work with patients for six months initially, although many continue, and some I’ve worked with for the whole two years.