As mental health comes into the fore of mainstream conversation, unique methods of dealing with it are starting to gain recognition. Art therapy is one of these modalities. What does it entail and what potential does it hold for the future of mental health? Join Dr. Richard Marn and art therapist Vicky Linnane as they delve into the ins and outs of a career in art therapy. Vicky shares how she started her career, an overview of art therapy as a profession and the future outlook for art therapists. She talks about the best parts of her career and the highlights that people should know. She also cites examples of stories of the patients she took care of and how she helped them.
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Exploring The Immense Benefits Of Art Therapy To Mental Health With Vicky Linnane
Welcome. Thanks for joining me. I’m glad you’re here. In this episode, we’re going to talk with another wonderful guest who loves her job and you can see she also has a profound impact on the patients she’s serving. In this profession, you get to use art without having to be an artist. You get to work in different spaces. In other words, it’s not the same space unless you want it to be. Also, it’s almost like going back to school but all for the best reasons. She feels like she’s learning almost every day something new about the craft and her patients. That’s awesome. It doesn’t get mundane. If you’re reading, we’re going to learn about being an art therapist.
I’m talking with Vicky Linnane. She is an Art Therapist in Ireland. For me, that was awesome to connect with someone across the pond. We’re going to learn how she’s having an impact on other people’s lives and how this profession can be helpful to a lot of people, both young and old. Before we jump into this episode, if you like it or love this episode and other episodes, please smash that like button on your podcast app. Leave a wonderful comment in the comment section. It helps bring attention and awareness to this show to other people that are interested in this content and information so help me out there. Otherwise, let’s jump into this episode.
Thanks for joining me, Vicky. I’m glad you’re here.
Thank you very much, Richard. It’s such a pleasure to be here.
From Ireland, that’s where Vicky is to the readers. Why don’t we jump into it, Vicky? Can you please give us a quick bio of yourself?
My name is Vicky Linnane. I’m based in Maynooth, which is a small little village in Kildare, Ireland. I’m an art therapist. I’m working privately since 2019 as an art therapist. Before that, I would have worked in nursing homes, psychiatric hospitals and schools. Going out on my own has been fun. I qualified in 2015 as an Art Therapist. I have a Master’s level. Before that, I would’ve got a postgraduate diploma and a General Arts degree. It’s been a nice broad way of getting into art therapy. I’ve been traveling around Ireland as an art therapist between four different counties as a private practitioner. In 2021, I have found the most perfect space so worth projects, it’s on a farm and I love it. It’s nice to include nature in this work.
As an art therapist, let’s go through some questions. How does an art therapist help people in the healthcare field?
Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy for anyone who doesn’t know. I suppose the primary mode of communication than as an art therapist would be art. You can sit and talk with me but we use the art as well to express ourselves in the space. As an art therapist, I create a space that is confidential and safe. We explore feelings and any issues that are happening for you.
We’ll dive into a little bit more in detail but what are the usual steps to achieve your degree starting from secondary school?
For me, it was a bit longer but generally speaking, for someone who goes into this area, they might want to go down a healthcare profession. They might want to be a nurse or a teacher first. It depends on the individual. For me, I took a General Arts Degree and one of the subjects I chose was Psychoanalysis. That was an introduction to me to that therapy world. Some people go dance like a therapy way and then include the art. There were some people that start out as artists and come into the roots of art therapy. It’s very broad.
You have people that come from different degrees whether it’s Nursing, a General Arts degree, like yourself, a Psychotherapy degree or Psychology degree. What happens after that degree? Do they go into graduate school to become an art therapist?
It’s a Master’s level so they have to meet certain criteria. For me, I had to be in personal therapy and show and prove that I had been engaging in therapy myself. Also, I had to have an art portfolio to show that I engage with art processes.
Do you have to be in therapy yourself?
Yeah. I’m sure there are some people that have brought in without it but it definitely was a help.Being open to reading more books will make huge impact on your life. Every day is an opportunity to grow and flourish. Click To Tweet
I didn’t know that they required you to receive therapy yourself as a prerequisite to enter into the Master’s program.
It definitely helps that you’ve already looked in every nook and cranny of yourself.
What is the best part of being an art therapist?
For me, at the moment, I mostly got children that I’m working with. I get to play all day, which is fun. I love around children. I’m lucky that I get to do that and love the job that I’m doing. Also, before, I did work with adults in a psychiatric hospital and that was great too. There’s a lot of variety to the work and I suppose that’s probably the best thing, is to have various everything can be. You can be working with adults one day then you can be working with older adults and then with four-year-olds. I think that’s wonderful.
What’s your least favorite part of the career?
I’d have to say there’s a lot of overheads so there’s going to be a lot of rent. You have to negotiate a lot of insurance and then you have to be registered with an association for ethics and moral reasons. They have to make sure that you’re doing everything well and by the book. A lot of the time, that costs money too so a lot of membership fees. I suppose the overheads would be the pain. It’s a bit annoying to have many overheads. You have to be in personal therapy and in supervision consistently. That’s another expense too.
What are three highlights about your profession that people should know?
For me, every day is a school day because every day I learn something new from an individual. You may think you know everything about your job and then you’d go in and then somebody does something. You’re like, “I wasn’t expecting that.” Every day’s a different day. You’re not going to get to the same. I get to use art every day and explore different materials. I constantly push that limit as well. It’s changing different materials and then the space itself. You can change the space. You can move around. You don’t have to be in the same place all the time because you are at your job.
What you mean is you could be in a bedroom, at someone’s house, in an auditorium and in a school?
You can do corporate stuff like Facebook and Google. I’ve done a lot of corporate gigs like that. Going in and doing team wellness workshops, there’s a lot of scope with this career.
Thank you. Those questions hopefully provide some of the quick overviews of your profession so that’s the intent of that. I want to dive into what is your typical day like, start to finish. I know as you mentioned, every day’s a little different but to give a sense, a flavor to someone who has no idea what it is to be art therapy. For example, I didn’t know much about this profession until we talked the first time. If you could give a sense of what a typical day is like for you working in this field.
I have a bit of a ritual. When I get into the space, I always light a candle. I get myself comfortable in this space and that’s what I do. I like to have little rituals. I make sure that everything’s clean because with COVID, I have to make sure everything’s sterilized and clean. That would be the first thing that I would do. After that, I decide on what I’m going to do with each individual. That might be put aside when they come because I do go with the client. I might have something in my back pocket that I might use if they don’t know what to do that day. I have the art materials, making sure that everything like that is ready. I have a sand tray that I use as well, making sure there’s nothing in the sand tray. A sand tray is a form of therapy as well. It’s a particular-sized wooden tray. It has blue on the inside. It’s to create a small world that you can engage with figures. It’s like a dreamscape. It’s amazing what it can do.
You have to bring all the materials with you because you are working as a private practitioner and you have to bring all the materials with you in each of these spaces. What typical materials are you usually bringing, if you don’t mind, without going into too heavy detail?
Initially, when I started it, I had to bring everything with me. I had one of those shopping trolleys with wheels, the little canvas bags and a picnic basket or sometimes a suitcase. It would be stuffed full of things. Now because I’ve found a space that I love and I rent that room, I leave everything there. I come in and bring myself. Every day is the same in that way but before when I was doing my work experience then I would have definitely been looking around things. I would bring all the art materials so that would have been maybe paper, paints, some clay, a variety of sensory things. If I was working with someone who’s on the autistic spectrum, I might have to bring some sensory things. I might have to bring some rice, lentils or some fidget toys or something maybe that has a bit of weight on it for them because you have to cater for each individual. There’s a lot to bring. I have a permanent place.
They come there. You meet them there. What is a typical session like when you’re with them? How does it unfold?
There are three parts to a typical session. Overall, the sessions are 50 minutes long. The ten minutes afterward gives me time to clean up and write clinical notes. During the session, we have the beginning, the middle and the end. The beginning is usually the same and the end is usually the same. Each week, you’ll know the beginning and the end are going to be similar. The middle part is the ambiguous part. You have no idea what’s going to happen. That’s where the creative part comes in. You might be engaging in art materials or you might be at the sand tray but every middle of the session is going to be very different depending on yourself and what you’re bringing up that day. We could be sitting and chatting that day.
It could be very much that. The beginning for me, I always start the same. It would be a checking in like, “How are you doing?” It might include some icebreaker exercise. That might be a quick game if it’s for the kids or it might involve a mindful grounding exercise to bring you back into the space if it was an adult. It can again be different at the start but you know yourself with each individual, what you’re going to be doing at the beginning and the end of a session.
How many patients do you usually see a day?
Six would be the most. My preference would be four because depending on who you’re seeing, the work can be heavy. The work can be hard going depending on what clients you’re seeing. Four would be ideal because that’s four hours of working with individuals and then sometimes you might have a group as well. During 2020 I haven’t had groups. I only online when I’ve been having groups. I suppose the most I have is six and that’s a full-on day. I’d have three in the morning and then I’d have like good 1.5-hour lunch and then I’d have three in the afternoon.
You can work with individuals and groups and obviously, there are different goals for each of those. How does someone get referred to an art therapist? It sounds like you’re a therapist but you have this unique niche component of art therapy to add to that psychotherapy. How does someone get referred to an art therapist? How does that referral take place?
Most of the time, it can be a suggestion by another colleague to them. Let’s say they are going through a tough time and they might go to a center. That might be a center for wellness or it could be a general practitioner or in some cases, it could be an occupational therapist as well. Someone like that might suggest what would suit you would be an art therapist. Alternatively, you can look me up. You can look up in the art therapy, you’ll find me and you can self-referral. Most of the time, right now, it’s through certain centers. I do one day and it’s like a therapy center. I would get a lot of referrals in there. There’s a long waiting list there at the moment. I suppose the main protocol for referrals would be like a psychotherapy center.
Why would someone refer someone to you versus a general therapist? What are the benefits?
I can give a few different examples of why, one might be, let’s say a child who’s particularly anxious. Every day they can’t get to the school gates without having an anxiety or panic attack. They get into floods of tears and they don’t know what’s going on. They can’t express themselves. They don’t have the words. They don’t have that awareness. That might be a case where arts or play or dance or music, these expressive arts therapies, can help those people find a way to express themselves. They make some other sense of their inner self than in that way. As an adult, a lot of the time, people have tried maybe other forms of therapy and it didn’t work for them. It didn’t fit for them.
They got too anxious in the talking part or maybe it’s a body trauma. Maybe there’s some PTSD there and talking about it is too triggering. It gives you an extra bit of distance as well. I suppose it’s not one shoe fits all. Everybody has different ways of working. At the moment, a lot of the adults that see me, need that extra bit of help and encouragement to figure out what’s going on for them. They’re stuck and they don’t know what to do. This stops the stuckness. There’s a creative flow that happens.
Can you share a story of a patient that you took care of that you help get unstuck?
Yeah. I suppose if I was to stick with an adult, there have been a few that I have seen for a couple of months and maybe it’s a case of they’ve been in therapy for many years, got going from different types of therapy. This one particular person I suppose was finding that they didn’t click well with personalities. Certain personalities, maybe they weren’t feeling safe with them and they clicked with me. It is a lot to do with the person that you’re with as well so you can build up trust. For this particular client and I, we got on, hit it off straight away and that encouraged them to feel quite safe.
They divulged quite a lot of things in the first six sessions. My reaction of not being shocked in any way but more empathetic and there and present with them, with whatever they were bringing up meant that they felt safe and heard for the first time, even though they’ve been twenty years between different therapists. I think it is that. A lot of the time it is personality but the art definitely shook something as well. It got them in touch with a deeper level of themselves that they didn’t allow themselves to get in touch with. I can’t explain it. The unconscious is a very broad thing but it’s like getting in touch with dreams or something. It’s a very different space. Once you can externalize it, you can make sense of it.
What are some misconceptions that people have about your profession?One shoe couldn’t fit all because everybody has different circumstances and ways of lifting themselves up. Click To Tweet
A lot of the time, people don’t realize that it’s psychotherapy. A lot of the time, people think about coloring books. They’re like, “The art therapy coloring books.” It’s something like that. They have a place in the world. They’re good for distressing, being mindful and present and sitting still for a while. What I do is very different. I help people make sense of themselves. I suppose stretch things out a little bit and look at a different perspective and bring on emotional intelligence. It’s very different but people definitely have that misconception that it’s a bit hippy-dippy.
It’s a real understood profession and there’s a lot of research in it.
There’s so much with neuroscience and the brain. It’s unbelievable the amount of research that promotes it and the neuroscience that instills it and even polyvagal theory and things like that. It’s supported by a lot of different theories right now. It’s very valid.
Vicky, how would you describe your work-life balance?
As a self-employed practitioner, it’s good. I get to decide when I work so right now, I have my Sundays on my Mondays off. I choose to work Saturdays because they’re the busiest day. You have to be flexible for people’s lifestyles. Children are in school from 9:00 to 4:00 and they’re too tired a lot of the time during the week. I do see some adolescents in the afternoon after school but Saturday morning is definitely a time for 7 up to 11-year-olds. They engage a little bit more on a Saturday. My work life is good. It’s very balanced.
Do you have to be an artist to be an art therapist?
You don’t because I never did any training. For me, it was like, I love doodling and I love having a space to be creative. I suppose for myself being creative, that would be maybe dancing, singing or a bit of drama. The art for me is that play space. You don’t need to be an artist. You don’t need to have any experience at all. It’s very sensory so anybody can pick up a crayon. You can use both hands and go to town on a piece of paper. That doesn’t have to be any beautiful picture at the end. That’s what is so different about our therapy. It’s about the process, the doing more than the finished product.
Looking at the profession, Vicky, what do you think the future outlook is like for art therapists?
In Ireland, it’s probably going to be a bit different than in the United States but in Ireland at the moment, we are still fighting for professional recognition and registration. I know from another colleague of mine in Miami, Florida, that it’s the same that you can find some states in America like California, you can be fully registered with the American Art Therapy Alliance. A lot of different places, it varies. For me, as an art therapist, I hope that in the future, it will be a normal everyday way of being well. You would go to a hygienist or an orthodontist that you could be like, “I’m good to my art therapist or a yoga teacher.” It’s all the same. It’s about keeping yourself well so mental hygiene.
What type of students do you think best flourish in this career, Vicky?
I think anyone with life experience that might be your background and it could be something that you went through. You were resilient enough to come through it. Anybody can do this career to get into college. Let’s say to do the masters. Someone who does psychotherapy already would definitely flourish. Somebody who’s already keeping a visual journal or a diary or doodling is already finding that useful. Whether it’s a way for them to soothe and regulate then they’re going to flourish in this because they already use it themselves.
Let’s change gears and talk a little bit about Vicky Linnane. When did this career come on your radar for you?
I was doing work experience on a radio show and funny enough, it would have been 2008. I would have been halfway through my degree and it’s a General Arts degree so I would have done psychoanalysis philosophy and media studies. I decided to do some time on a radio show. One of the hosts was telling me, “Did you ever hear about play therapy?” We got talking about that and I picked up a book called Dibs in Search of Self and read the book and I fell in love with the idea. The career guidance counselor tried to talk me out of it. I went to her and she was like, “I don’t think there’s a career right there in that thing,” because I suppose she had never heard of anyone doing it herself but I did the homework myself. In Ireland, there’s a lot of creative arts therapists. There are probably about 400 of us working in the state of Ireland. It’s quite a loss. It’s developed a lot since even 2008 when I heard of it first.
What other careers were you thinking about doing?
I wanted to be a primary school teacher. I wanted to work in my local school. I had an idea that I would get a job there one day. I even went down the road of doing Montessori and I did the entrance exam for that, got in and then turned it down. I knew I wanted to be facilitating change in some way. That was my aim is to go into that area.
Reflecting back, would you have done anything differently?
I might have read a little bit more in college. I think I didn’t read enough in college. I’m reading the most beautiful books at the moment and I find every week I’m buying at least three books. When you’re in college, you’re still young and you want to go out after college. You don’t want to stay in and read. I regret not reading enough during those times but the experiential part, the work experience part was such good learning. I encourage anyone to do more than they can. For me, in the work experience, we were only told to do three work placements but I did four. I threw myself into that area and I find that helpful. I wouldn’t change that side of things. I would be open to reading more.
Let’s jump it to these rapid-fire questions that I have for you. Who’s your favorite artist?
Frida Kahlo or Georgia O’Keeffe.
Your least favorite holiday?
Why is that?
I love chocolate but I hate the idea of people being pushed into chocolate.
That’s the reason?
I’m going to stick with that as my reason. Yeah, if I think too much about it.
What’s your ideal outside temperature?
For me, 24 degrees Celsius is perfect. I don’t know what that is in Fahrenheit.
I have no idea what that is in Fahrenheit. We’ll take the answer as you say it. What’s a meal you could eat and only eat for seven days straight?
It would have to be great so halloumi, hummus, falafel, something like that.Keeping a visual journal or a diary, or just doodling is art therapy itself and will help you achieve inner peace. Click To Tweet
Do you love Greek food?
Are there a lot of Greek restaurants in Ireland?
There are two and that’s it.
Speaking of food, what did you eat for breakfast?
I had porridge and a bagel with peanut butter, banana and honey.
If you could only keep three possessions, what would they be, Vicky?
I think something to play music on so maybe a record player or even my Alexa, definitely music, my wedding ring and I think something like art materials-wise, maybe a watercolor set and some paper.
What is one thing that you do that people marvel at?
I do playback theater, which is a form of improv theater. I started maybe in 2020. People do marvel at that idea, “What you do improv?” I’m like, “I love it. It’s so good.” Playback theater, people marvel at that.
Do you have a video of yourself online that people can check out?
I don’t. They’ll have to come to the show. Full circle at Playback Theater Group and you can come on because we do Zoom performances all the time so come check us out.
Thank you very much. Those are my quick rapid-fire questions. Thanks for sharing. Since we’re talking about what you’re doing, where can people find out more about you, what you’re doing if they want to get ahold of you and learn more about you?
My website is EnrichArtTherapy.com. You can find out anything and everything about me on that website. Also, I have a podcast. It’s the Embrace Therapy podcast. You can get that on Acast or Spotify or Apple Podcasts, anywhere, even YouTube. I’m on Facebook and Instagram, it’s @EnrichArtTherapy.
Are you on any other social media or just Facebook?
Instagram would be the main one that I’m on. Instagram is @EnrichArtTherapy. I’m on Twitter. I’m everywhere.
Vicky, thank you so much for joining me. I appreciate it. This has been awesome, insightful and wonderful.
Thank you so much. I suppose, as an art therapist, it’s a pleasure to be on a healthcare professional show. Thank you for having me.
That’s our episode. Thanks for tuning in. To learn more about ‘s guests or other past guests, just check out my website HealthCareersWithDrMarn.com or HCWithDrMarn.com. If you like what you have read then please go to my website, add your name and email to my email list. That way you can get the latest announcements and news as they arise. You can also find me on Instagram @DrRichardMarn. Thank you so much for reading. I’ll catch you on the next episode.
- Vicky Linnane
- Dibs in Search of Self
- Acast – Embrace Therapy podcast
- Spotify – Embrace Therapy podcast
- Apple Podcasts – Embrace Therapy podcast
- YouTube – Embrace Therapy podcast
- Facebook – Enrich Art Therapy
- @EnrichArtTherapy – Instagram
- Twitter – Vicky Linnane
- @DrRichardMarn – Instagram
About Vicky Linnane
Vicky Linnane is a registered Art Therapist with IACAT – Irish Association of Creative Arts Therapists.
Vicky currently provides Art Therapy Sessions online via Zoom. All you need is the basic art supplies to join.
Alongside her work online, Vicky also offers community-based art as therapy workshops for all ages, in the ACRE Project Center. The project occupies a site adjacent to Salesian College, on the Maynooth Road in Celbridge, Co. Kildare.
Before this, she was a creative facilitator within the Twilight Programme, St. Patrick’s Mental Health Services for over two years. The program provides social, creative and therapeutic opportunities for individuals and groups to engage in activities that stimulate, add meaning and restore balance to life. See for further details on their services at https://www.stpatricks.ie
Vicky also worked with MyLife Solutions renamed, SuperMe, Ireland’s not-for-profit anti-bullying organization. “Super Me” assertiveness workshops work with children who are targeted by bullying and their families to teach real-life skills to empower and enable them to stand up for themselves. See for further details on their services at http://www.superme.ie.
Vicky began her studies in DBS majoring in Psychoanalysis, Philosophy and Media Studies. Following this, she studied in NUI Maynooth a Postgraduate Certificate in Arts in Healthcare Settings, the first accredited course in Arts and Health in Ireland. The role of the arts in healthcare began her vocation and she obtained her Masters in Art Therapy from CIT/Crawford College of Art and Design in 2015. For her final thesis, she focused on ‘The Use of Art Therapy as an Educational and Therapeutic Resource in the Prevention of Bullying Behaviour within Preschool and Primary School Settings’.