MPS Art Therapy Student Highlight: Ali Competiello

MPS Art Therapy recently chatted with current student, Ali, about her SVA experience. Read the full conversation below!

MPS Art Therapy: What drew you to Art Therapy?

Ali: My photography senior project professor told me about art therapy because he thought I could be influential in helping others tell their story using art as a medium. My senior project was a series of photographs documenting my life having an autoimmune disease and it helped me process and accept my alopecia.

MPS Art Therapy: How did you decide to come to SVA?

Ali: With College of New Rochelle closing, I interviewed at SVA. I liked the structure, organization, and emphasis on the art process. 

MPS Art Therapy: What is your favorite part of the program?

Ali: The support from not only my fellow students, but also the faculty. The understanding and cohesion within everyone in the program truly makes it feel like a community. 

MPS Art Therapy: Tell us about your internship: where, what population, and what you like about it.

Ali: I work at BronxCare Outpatient Psychiatry. I run individual sessions and I will be starting a group in January called Creative Arts Workshop. I really enjoy working there, I have a supportive and helpful supervisor who also challenges me to be the best art therapy intern I can be.

MPS Art Therapy: What is your advice for those considering a career in Art Therapy?

Ali: If you really enjoy helping people, this is a great way you can do that. Using art can break the barrier of uncomfortability that people feel. I would suggest trying it out for yourself and watch the magic happen! Immerse yourself in the art therapy experience – get educated on what art therapy is through a workshop or something before you jump in. Enjoy the experience and don’t be afraid to really open up to the process. 

MPS Art Therapy: Can you tell us about your image?

Ali: The picture is a drawing of me that was part of an experiential in my Groups class. We each had to draw our heads and our classmates added in our facial features. The goal was to build community and connection. It was a fun experience!

Posted in 2019, Art, In Class, Students

Kinetic Family Drawing Assessment / Embroidery as a Grounding Method

The Kinetic Family Drawing assessment was developed with the aim of gaining insight into familial factors that might influence a child’s behavior. The assessment allows the child to reveal who the important adults in their life, both positively and negatively.

The child is asked to draw their “whole family, including themselves, all doing something.” The kinetic aspect has the potential to give a clearer idea regarding family dynamics. Rating scales have been developed to screen the drawings to differentiate red and yellow flags that deviate from typical drawings.

Although MPS Art Therapy students did not engage in the Kinetic Family Drawing for themselves, they were given embroidery hoops, thread, and fabric to work on during the class. Embroidery can act as a grounding method that many students said helped them to focus better on the class discussion.

Posted in 2019, Art, In Class, Students

Painting on a Reflective Surface

Recently, first-year MPS Art Therapy students had the opportunity to work on reflective surfaces through collaborative painting. The paintings contain the individual expression of each partner, plus implicit aspects of the relationship. Painting on a slick surface is different than painting on porous paper or canvas. The way in which paint sits on the surface may/may not offer the same cathartic release as compared with how paint envelopes other surfaces.

Posted in 2019, Art, In Class, Students

MPS Art Therapy Faculty Highlight: Interview with Susanne Bifano, ATR-BC, LCAT

MPS Art Therapy: Tell us about your background and what brings you to SVA.

Susanne: I’m a mixed media artist and a graduate from Pratt Institute’s art therapy program. In 2005 I started teaching for College of New Rochelle’s Art therapy department and this July I taught my final course there before the college closed. SVA’s Art Therapy program has always been of interest to me for how they bring new and innovative concepts into art therapy education. Therefore when I met with Debi this summer, I was delighted to have the opportunity to teach the first half of clinical topics in trauma workshop for the Fall semester. 

MPS AT: How has teaching influenced your practice as an art therapist?

Susanne: This is a great question. Art Therapy students absorb so much content, and they challenge the application of therapy skills which influences my practice directly. As a result, I take what I do and say in sessions and break them into smaller steps to look deeply at the interaction. This has compelled me to stay focused on intention as an art therapist. 

MPS AT: How does medical art therapy differ from art therapy practiced in other settings?

Susanne: I am frequently asked this question and I usually say, “The environment is the difference, the work is the same.” I realize other art therapists in medical settings might disagree with me, though in my experience, behavior is behavior and symptoms are symptoms.

 The patients admitted into a medical/surgical setting are the same individuals in foster care, attending the NYC public schools, participating in afterschool programs, have been incarcerated, are in residential treatment centers and living in shelters. They are the same individuals seeking therapy in a private practice or a community organization. 

In thinking about the Adverse Childhood Experiences study (ACEs), we know factors such as residing in violent neighborhoods, poverty, abuse, racism, bullying, and other adverse experiences impact the physiological systems in the body which can lead to heart disease, diabetes, respiratory disease as well as substance use and other mental health disorders. When working in the hospital, a patient might be presenting with a medical condition such as pulmonary hypertension or diabetes though there are other contributing factors that underlie the illness that the body is currently expressing.  

I think one of the areas where medical art therapy differs is the trauma is so visceral and present in the session. The trauma is sometimes visible such as how we can see hair loss from the effects of chemotherapy, limb loss, peeling skin on the face and other body parts, deformities, open wounds, bandages and a plethora of tubes and machines connected to the body. Smells from the various medications, wounds and bodily fluids are distinct and can permeate throughout the room. The sounds of alarms coming from IV pumps, ventilators, and machines assisting an individual’s heart to pump are prominent and consistently occupy the space. Touch, such as a handshake and other forms of personal connection can be sometimes shielded by a layer of protective gear such as a glove, mask or gown. 

In medical art therapy, these extensions of the person such as the tubing, oxygen masks and syringes, can be worked into the art making sessions. Sculpting with urinals, tongue depressors and EKG stickers provides another opportunity to transform the experience and for the client to find new meaning in their medical journey. 

I work with acutely ill pediatric patients and therefore a majority of the art therapy sessions are held at the bedside, which is also their temporary bedroom, kitchen, and living room. Some might need assistance physically working with materials, interventions for pain management, or help processing their new diagnosis. 

In a recent study from 2018, Bushroe et al, affirmed that individuals admitted to the hospital for unintentional injury, were more likely to need mental health services and psychotropic medications around 3-6 months after they were discharged. This supports the need for interventions during the hospitalization to hopefully prevent the need for out-patient psychiatric services and/or psychotropic medications afterwards. Creative arts therapy is essential for working with trauma and therefore in the medical/surgical setting (and one could argue in ALL settings) it is a necessary service and can benefit the individual after they have left the hospital. 

Healthcare continues to face cuts and restrictions on their purse strings. Patient satisfaction (those surveys you receive after a visit to your doctor really do count) and pain management are two hot topics for hospitals. Art therapy has been shown to reduce pain as well as many patients report feeling relief from other symptoms associated to their medications and illness while enjoying the process of engaging in art making. This can increase satisfaction scores and help hospitals in their overall ratings.  

Therefore, I think it is an exciting time for medical art therapy. Research on the efficacy of art therapy, education about the practice, and advocacy for creative arts therapists are essential to moving forward. As art therapists, we need to be properly identified in hospitals with ID badges and job descriptions that say ‘Art Therapy’. We need to have our own distinct department where we are identified as a psychological service. There is so much possibility in this field and we can accomplish so much with new ideas and a renewed vision. 

MPS AT: What advice do you have for the students as they finish their schooling and begin to venture out into the professional world?

Susanne: I am usually not big on giving advice, though I do love this question!

Educate everyone, everywhere, at all times about art therapy. 

Practice how to explain and describe art therapy. This is so essential. Practice your “elevator speech”. This is when you get on the elevator on the 2nd floor and the CEO enters on the 3rd floor and she asks you, “What is art therapy?” You have 8 floors to explain what you do and why they need you (and probably more creative arts therapists!).  Time yourself, practice with your peers, make it fun, and anytime you are asked about what you are in school for, try out a different version until you have a few that feel right. 

Art must be an essential component in your life. Whether it is making art, looking at art, talking about art, dancing, singing, playing an instrument, acting…immerse yourself in art. It is vital for sustaining fresh eyes and ears. Art therapists can learn so much from keeping their fingers on the pulse of art in our world.  

Prepare for your job interviews now, by capturing vignettes, recreate client art, and create a portfolio that includes goals and your interventions. In my experience, not many employers ask for portfolios so this is a great way to leave an impression with your interviewer and show them what is possible.

Apply for jobs that do and do not have art therapy in the title. There is so much possibility out there, and it doesn’t always say ‘Art Therapy’.  Our training is so unique and we have such an amazing opportunity to help others see and experience the world in a different way. 

Provide all of the information your potential new employer will need regarding your limited permit. Familiarize yourself with the New York State Office of Professions website and be ready to explain what would be required. Have all possible answers ready and solutions to any potential ‘barriers’. 

Follow up all interviews with a thank you note that is personalized and describes your work with more depth, answer any unresolved questions lingering from the interview and speak to how the partnership would be mutually beneficial. The professional world of art therapy is so small. Practice good interviewing skills before, during and after the interview. 

Join a supervision group. I think this is so important for any graduate, even if you are able to receive supervision at your j

Posted in 2019, Faculty

Watch Online! Fall 2019 Community Lecture Series

Our recent Community Lecture: Digital Media Ethical Use and Consideration for Therapists is available to watch on our youtube channel! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEtUYf_IuXo

Posted in 2019, Professional Development

The Draw-a-Bridge Assessment

The Draw-a-Bridge assessment evaluates where a client is in life. A bridge can represent various aspects of one’s life and provide insight into the individual. There are 12 variables that are typically used to interpret the Draw-a-Bridge assessment:

  1. Directionality
  2. Placement of Self
  3. Solidarity
  4. Emphasis by Elaboration
  5. Bridge Construction
  6. Type of Bridge
  7. Places Drawn on Either Side of the Bridge
  8. Matter Under the Bridge
  9. Vantage Point of Viewer
  10. Axis of Paper
  11. Consistency of Gestalt
  12. Written Associations of Drawing

The assessment is given by asking the client to draw a bridge. Once drawn, they are asked to place themselves on the bridge and identify the direction they are traveling in. It is important to consider all aspects of the drawing because they can help to identify things that the client may be struggling with. For example, a bridge that appears fragile may allude to instability in a client’s life.

MPS Art Therapy students each made their own bridge in class, with the thought of representing the academic year. Many students depicted the two sides of the bridge as being very different places, while others focused heavily on the structure of the bridge itself.

Posted in 2019, Art, In Class, Students

Recent Exhibition by MPS Art Therapy Alumnus, Peter Buotte

Congratulations to MPS Art Therapy Alumnus, Peter Buotte, on his recent exhibit, “Invisible Wounds” at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, TX!

Peter is featured on the American Art Therapy Association blog, where you can learn more about his work and the exhibition. Peter is a veteran, art therapist, and sculptor, whose sculptures and digital photos “act as a starting point to understand post-traumatic stress and brain injury.”

Read more here: https://arttherapy.org/blog-invisible-wounds-exhibit-texas-state-capitol/

Posted in 2019, Alumni, Art, art galleries, Exhibition, Galleries

You’re Invited!

Interested in learning more about SVA’s MPS Art Therapy program? Join us at an upcoming event! All events are FREE and open to the public.

Friday, December 6, 2019
Online National Portfolio Day
11 am – 1 pm, 2-4 pm


MPS Art Therapy representatives will be online and available to answer your questions about the program and application process. Get information on your schedule, from any location!
Register here.
Monday, December 9, 2019
“What if…” A Collaborative Public Event
132 West 21st Street, 5th Floor
5-7 pm

“What if…?” is a community-based art therapy mural project in collaboration with the A&E program of Artistic Noise and SVA MPS Art Therapy. Artistic Noise is a private nonprofit “that exists to bring the freedom and power of artistic practice to young people who are incarcerated, on probation, or otherwise involved in the justice system.” Please join us to answer the question “What if…?” by following the leadership of the A&E artists. 

MPS Art Therapy faculty will be available to answer prospective student questions.
Saturday, December 14, 2019
Collective Craftivism: Information Session and Workshop
132 West 21st Street, 5th Floor
12 – 3 pm

Join our craftivism gathering to imagine a world that is more loving, creative, and connected. Craftivism is a thoughtful approach to activism. It reminds us to slow down, think, and create. As a collective, we can unite in a critical and careful way about our world’s challenges and creatively respond to them. Through the process and product of craftivism, we can hold honest spaces for authentic discussion and change.

This workshop will be facilitated by SVA Alumna, Ayde Rayas, ATR-BC, LCAT.

MPS Art Therapy faculty will be available to answer prospective student questions.

Please RSVP to arttherapy@sva.edu.
Posted in 2019, Art, Students, Workshops

Art Therapy and Occupational Therapy: Cotreating in Cases of Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injury can result in many challenges: physical, cognitive, psychological, behavioral, and communicative. In order to look at how that can manifest, MPS Art Therapy students in the Clinical Topics in Trauma class were asked to draw a clock face showing the time 8:20. Drawing a clock face is used to assess someone’s cognition because there are quite a few aspects that go into the formation of a clock face. For example, spatial awareness, motor skills, and attention. A clock face drawn by a person with a traumatic brain injury might have the numbers clustered together, the hands showing a different time, the order of the numbers inaccurate, etc.

An occupational therapist came into the class to discuss cotreating with art therapy and using prosthetic adaptations. Occupational therapy aims to help people rehabilitate their injuries as close to their previous abilities as possible. Cotreating with art therapy tends to help patients improve quicker, rather than two therapies not working together.

Later, students were shown a variety of prosthetics, which they were able to examine and try on. They were encouraged to wear them and draw with them on to get an idea for what it might be like to have to wear a brace in order for one’s hand to function as it did before injury.

Posted in 2019, In Class, Students

In-Class Experiential: Medical Isolation

When working in an inpatient hospital setting, it is very likely that an Art Therapist will encounter a patient who is in isolation. When a patient is in isolation, all those entering their room must wear protective clothing. Medical isolation can exist for many reasons, though in the second-year Clinical Topics in Trauma class, MPS Art Therapy students specifically discussed patients who have tuberculosis. In this case, the protective gear required is a face mask, preventing them from breathing in any airborne germs.

Instructor Irene Rosner David, ATR-BC, LCAT, PhD, brought in face masks that are used in hospitals so that the students could get an idea for what it could be like to conduct an art therapy session while wearing a mask. The students paired up and role-played an art therapy session with the “art therapist” wearing the mask and the “patient” making art as if they were in the hospital. The pairs then switched roles so that all the students could experience the mask.

This experiential enabled students to get a sense of what it is like to work with a patient and needing to wear the mask, as well as what it might be like for a patient to be working with an art therapist who has to wear a mask. The mask acts as a barrier between the patient and art therapist and creates feelings of unequal power dynamics, (un)safety, and inability to mirror and fully see one’s face. This is something many art therapists and patients in hospitals have to navigate, and this in-class experiential helps prepare future art therapists for those situations.

Posted in 2019, Art, In Class, Students