Who has influenced your career path as a helping professional? As an art therapist and expressive arts therapist, I am grateful to say that many individuals—mentors, colleagues, and teachers—have impacted my professional path. In some cases, these individuals have also been trailblazers within the realms of art therapy and related fields. Here are four unique trailblazers who, in my opinion, have made significant, yet largely unrecognized contributions. One contributed a distinct theoretical and methodological framework to the fields of art therapy and expressive arts; the second, a science-minded approach that pre-dates the current neuroscience focus in psychology and mental health; the third pioneered the use of art within the medical environment; and the fourth manifested regulations that resulted in recognition of art therapy as a circumscribed professional domain and approach to treatment.
I first came to know of Dr. Graves-Alcorn as “Dr. Sandra Kagin” during my years as a new art therapy professional. Sandra, along with Dr. Vija Lusebrink, conceptualized what has come to be known as the Expressive Therapies Continuum (ETC) in the late 70s. This multilevel model is truly the only arts-based framework for defining and applying art therapy approaches to work with individuals, groups, and families within the fields of creative arts, play, and expressive arts therapy. It has endured for almost four decades now, becoming a standard concept in most graduate level education programs throughout the U.S. and the world. Graves-Alcorn and daughter-in-law Christa Kagin (Graves-Alcorn & Kagin, 2017) recently expanded the ETC model through a publication of practical applications in treatment.
In the past 10 years, there has been a ubiquitous buzz about neuroscience and neurobiology throughout psychology and mental health fields in general; how brain science informs understanding of human behavior and mental health practice is now central to most professional books, publications, and presentations. Art therapy has followed suit and embraced the idea that neuroscience and neurobiology explain many of the beliefs about the value of art-based approaches used in treatment to support health and well-being. But well before art therapists went “brain-crazy,” Frances Kaplan, a former scientist-turned-art-therapist, proposed the idea that practitioners be more “science-minded” in their descriptions of theory, practice, methodology, and research (Kaplan, 2000). In retrospect, this was no easy task within a professional community that leans heavily toward arts-based thinking, creating some inevitable theoretical shockwaves within the field. Kaplan persevered, proposing that indeed science opens important pathways to explaining the reparative characteristics of art expression, setting the stage for the current neuroscience focus in art therapy research and discourse.
Mickie McGraw made it possible for many art therapists throughout the U.S. to be hired within medical settings; I can attest that her trailblazing has made it possible for me to develop medical art therapy programming for almost three decades. She co-founded the Art Therapy Studio with psychiatrist George Streeter in 1967; it was developed out of Streeter’s long-time interest in art and McGraw’s and Streeter’s personal experiences with challenging physical illnesses. Streeter approached McGraw to initiate an art therapy studio for patients in a hospital; the program eventually provided services throughout MetroHealth hospital in Cleveland Ohio including burn, intensive care, addictions, oncology, and other units. Later, this programming expanded to community-based programs to provide art therapy to patients after discharge. Currently, the Art Therapy Studio is a free-standing non-profit organization and has celebrated its 50th year of existence this year.
In 1993 and 1994, Deborah Good did what seemed quite impossible at the time; she successfully led an advocacy effort to achieve the first state art therapy license in the U.S. in her home state of New Mexico. I am privileged to recall Good’s dedication to making art therapy licensure happen when there was little support to be obtained from what was then a very small national organization with few financial resources. But Debbie never gave up, making frequent trips to the state legislature in Santa Fe, writing rules for the eventual regulations, and working closely with other mental health groups to establish a scope of practice for art therapy and make sure that art therapy was successfully included in the mental health license board. Many current art therapy license efforts now have Deborah Good to thank for her vision and tenacious dedication in 1994 and beyond. As a result, many other states have enacted or are in the process of enacting art therapy licenses and regulations.
What is commemorated in a field’s history is often decided by those in power at the time. Sometimes those in power get it right, but they often do favor some voices over others due to politics, context, and subjectivity. They pass over, by accident or otherwise, the impact of a few who really did make a difference in the collective lives of a group or community and broadly influenced a body of knowledge or the trajectory of a profession. I feel fortunate to be able to use the “power of the pen” (or in this case, the keyboard) to spotlight these four individuals who I feel made significant, but yet to be nationally honored contributions that made a significant mark on the field of art therapy. And I extend my personal “lifetime achievement award” to each of them for expanding the terrain of art therapy and making many things possible for this art therapist through their contributions.
Be well and be grateful,
Cathy Malchiodi, Ph.D.
©2017 Cathy Malchiodi, Ph.D.
Good, D. A., & Sly-Linton, K. (1995). The history of art therapy licensure in New Mexico. Art Therapy, 12 (2), 100-103.
Graves-Alcorn, S., & Kagin, C. (2017). Implementing the Expressive Therapies Continuum. New York: Routledge.
Kaplan, F. (2000). Art, science and art therapy: Repainting the picture. London: Jessica Kingsley.
McGraw, M. (1995). The art studio: A studio-based art therapy program. Art Therapy, 12 (3), 167-174.