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Working at the London Art Therapy Centre – an intern from the USA

Working at the London Art Therapy Centre was an era of firsts for me, you might say. It was the first time I had an internship, the first time I actually worked for a business that relied on me to keep things organized, the first time I helped put together an art exhibit, the first time I performed for an audience of Brits, the first time I attended a clinical meeting and created art with art therapists, and in fact the first time I think I have even met an art therapist. Do not even get me started on the firsts I have conquered outside of the internship. With so many firsts, it is hard to decide where to begin.

When I was told I would be working at an art therapy centre, I thought about the things that I do on my own time that one could call art therapy. Last spring I would often create these sketches of song lyrics and the images that I associated with them. By May, the sketches had become a full mural in a way, covering the corner of my dorm room.

Siliato_imageSeeing them displayed in order across my wall helped me to understand myself. I was able to notice how my feelings changed over the semester, and to remember what triggered those changes. The lyrics came mostly from songs that a friend and I had written for our band, The Supertourists. I thought about this, about how musical composition is another form of art therapy, how these different art forms helped me to better understand myself and become a better person, and how I could use this to relate to the centre. I was excited to be working in a place that I would be able to relate to so well. I almost brought the sketches with me, but decided against it. For some reason, I wanted to keep that hidden from the therapists, to simply be the intern. I did not want to reveal myself too much.

Like anything in life, the centre was not exactly what I expected. I was surprised by the different feel of the area, the small building, the realization that I would be doing mostly admin work in the office, and the fact that only a few people would be in the building at a time. It did not seem like what EUSA had suggested and I was a little disappointed. I soon realized, however, that the office certainly had its charms. I can always find an opportunity to work or volunteer directly with people, but I will not always have the opportunity to be in the office of an art therapy centre and essentially learn the basics of running the place. I gained some very important knowledge about the environment of the workplace, which will prove helpful, especially if I eventually decide to run a music or art therapy centre of my own.

I feel like I have been an important member of the London Art Therapy Centre team, as the place has only been running for a few years so there were a good amount of files to go through and organize. I think that, although there were admittedly some dull moments, I was overall very productive and contributed a lot. I also thought it was great to be able to work in the same office as the director; it provided me with more opportunities to ask questions and learn about the centre, and I had a more direct experience than some of the other students in the program.

I am also very grateful for the times that I was able to get out of the office and participate in the clinical meetings. Some of my favorite moments, in all of my time at the centre, were those in the studio when even the art therapists themselves could not figure out what they had created, or needed that creation to help them acknowledge certain troubles. It was here, in the studio during these meetings, that I began to let myself go a little more. When we were asked to create art, I drew out ideas that had grown from those old lyric-sketches, and I explained a little bit of their meaning to the group. At the time, though, I did not realize how much I was revealing about myself. I was too distracted by the other therapists, baffled by how this one meeting could reveal so much about them. I felt like we were in such a safe space, we were all on the same level, and I could see their emotions, their insecurities, and more. It made me realize how truly important art can be, not simply for the individual, but for humans as a whole. Expressing ourselves is not simply a hobby; it helps us to better understand each other, and to me, understanding is key.

For much of my time at the centre, the director and I were planning and preparing for an upcoming art exhibit. The night after my internship period ended would be the opening night, the private view of a collection of paintings by Harli Tree. In the end, it proved to be a beautiful evening with what I thought was a perfect amount of guests. The artwork was absolutely lovely, the decorations and refreshments all worked out quite well, and my band-mate and I had a lovely time playing some music after the speeches. Cleaning up that night felt like the end of a great journey, and performing with one of my band-mates for the first time in a long time made us realize how excited we are to return to the rest of our group. As I put my keys away it hit me. I was finished. I had served my purpose here and I would soon be going home to the USA, where everything I had left behind would become a reality. What a dream this semester has been. I am sure that I will go home and wonder if any of it was even real.

One last favorite moment at the centre is the time that one of the therapists did some construction, stabilizing a table in a studio, and the director, an admin, and me put together an official certificate of achievement and safety recognition and presented it to him. We had a great laugh. Looking back on this made me realize my one regret: I wish we had set aside more time to relax and laugh together. Perhaps we could have gone out to lunch once every couple of weeks. It might have made our time more lively, more personal. But it would have been difficult, seeing as the therapists all work at different times and have families to go home to. On the bright side, I will be going out to lunch soon with a few of them. I will also be attending the centre’s Christmas party on the 14th, which should prove to be a wonderful way to spend my final evening in London.

All in all, the internship was definitely an important learning experience and I appreciate it greatly. I am so glad to have had the opportunity to be a part of Boston University’s London Internship Program and excited to see where the influence of this experience will lead me in the future.

Elizabeth Siliato
Intern from Boston University
September-December 2012

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