Deepening Art Therapy Understanding in Mexico

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Broadening student experience has always been a vital component of LMU’s Marital and Family Therapy (MFTH) graduate program. In 2004, department chair Debra Linesch, a longtime advocate for informing clinical skills with social justice and cultural awareness, launched the Art Therapy in Mexico summer program. This two-week long summer program teams LMU art therapy students with students from the Mexican Institute of Art and Psychotherapy (IMPA) on the beautiful grounds of the Instituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. Now headed by MFTH Assistant Professor Einat Metzl and Professor Ana-Laura Trevino from IMPA, this innovative program invites LMU students to immerse themselves in the arts, language and culture of Mexico, as well as to support the development of art therapy education for Mexican psychotherapists and Mexican mental health agencies.

The MFTH graduate program prepares students to become marital and family therapists, integrating traditional MFTH coursework with an art therapy specialization. The Master’s degree allows graduates to pursue both licensure as an MFT in the state of California and a registration as an Art Therapist with the Art Therapy Credential Board. This workshop experience is tailored to allow participants the opportunity to consider cultural aspects of therapy with new populations, strengthening their clinical skills, and working with individuals and families in rural villages around San Miguel de Allende, whom would otherwise not be able to receive art therapy services. “Exposure to different settings in which art making and therapy take place across cultures is a particularly enriching process, and allows us to challenge and reframe many of the assumptions we have about art and therapy,” said Professor Metzl. “This serves our graduates particularly well given LMU’s commitment to social justice, and our location in the diverse area of Southern California, with its large Latino population.”

Three classes are offered as part of the workshop – a family therapy class, a cultural issues class, and a week-long supervised field study component. The courses offer IMPA students, who are normally based in Mexico City, participation certificates, which are included as part of their art therapy training. LMU students receive a unit for each of the summer courses, which fulfill part of their requirements toward their graduate degree. The courses are always voluntary for students, but both the LMU and IMPA programs work diligently to incentivize and support all students who are interested in going.

The first class focuses on family therapy issues, and is taught by Paige Asawa, a MFTH Clinical Associate Professor and Director of the Helen B. Landgarten Art Therapy Clinic, along with Professor Trevino, who co-facilitates each course offered as part of the workshop. According to Professor Metzl, “This portion of the workshop is intended to open up another perspective of what family means for our students. How we raise our children, our rituals, the rules and norms under which families operate, these differ so much across cultures and settings. How families engage in art making, their intentions, use of color, and use of space in the process of creating art are all informed by their personal, cultural, and contextual circumstances.” The course also invites students to enter a deeper dialogue about the way societal and political realities pose challenges on families from both sides of the border, and the myriad ways that families respond to these challenges.

The second course, also offered in the first week, focuses on cultural issues, and is facilitated by MFTH Assistant Professor Anthony Bodlovic along with Professor Trevino. This portion of the week concentrates on art making to explore students’ cultural identity, awareness, and skills. Through art making and skillful facilitation of intercultural dialogue, students from LMU and IMPA explore their own cultural assumptions, limitations and abilities. Students also engage in meaningful dialogue about their personal and collective cultural narratives, opening up new way of thinking about their unique and shared histories.

The final class, which takes place during the second week, is the field study course. This class is essentially an art therapy workshop that is offered to community members in the San Miguel de Allende region. It gives the students an incredible opportunity to engage in hands-on application of the skills acquired the previous week. Students work together in teams to offer three hours of therapy each day, followed by two hours of supervision guided by Professor Metzl and Professor Trevino. For the last five years, the workshop was offered to local participants through the municipality’s women’s clinic, serving diverse clients coming from adjacent low income rural communities.

When using art for therapeutic purposes, clients are invited to engage in new art making processes, ones in which the art materials and products focus on communication of needs and wants, rather than a set standard of aesthetics. The women’s clinic, together with Trevino and Metzl, set the group topics every year based on needs identified by the clinic. In recent years, clients have included groups focused on children and adolescent issues, domestic violence processing, loss and grief, and life transitions, to name a few. The workshop allows participants the opportunity to normalize and support healing with others who have endured similar challenges. Art pieces are discussed in a supportive and confidential setting of the intimate group dialogue, and the week culminates in a presentation of group pieces, which are then displayed at the women’s clinic for the following year, reminding participants of their shared voyage. Below are some examples of this year’s culminating pieces.

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