Words of Wisdom
by Dr. Cathy Malchiodi
On 22 May 2016, the President of Art Therapy Association Singapore (ATAS), Rosita Lui, met up with Dr. Cathy Malchiodi in Hong Kong and the two chatted up a storm, sharing some personal stories and gaining insights into the profession of art therapy. Cathy Malchiodi is a well-known American art therapist, mental health counselor, artist, and educator with over 25 years of experience in the areas of trauma intervention, arts and expressive therapies and arts in healthcare. She is the author and editor of 14 books and has written over 100 articles and chapters for journals, internet media and books. She has also given hundreds of keynote presentations, courses and workshops throughout the US and internationally.
Art therapy is a very young profession worldwide. This is even more so in Singapore which is still at the nascent stage of establishing its identity.Being a multi-cultural cosmopolitan city-state, Singapore attracts more than its fair share of art therapists who come from different schools of thought, culture and languages. It will take time to build a cohesive identity for the profession. According to Dr. Malchiodi, it took a number of years for the field of counseling in the US to come up with a definition that all members could agree on with a unified definition and scope of practice that can be presented to the government.
Cathy was one of the first graduates from the inaugural art therapy graduate program by the College of Notre Dame in the late 1970's. Her first job after graduation was working with children who had gone through or witnessed domestic violence. It was a challenging job at that time as not much was known about the subject and how to help those children with her art therapy training. Cathy overcame these difficulties by working with the staff to put together ideas about what would be helpful for them to be able to express what was going on without talking. She had never stopped since then, likening the art therapy journey as going on bungee jumps - keep going on the bungee jump, keep leaping, taking risks, walking to the edge and trust that it doesn't break. When asked about what keeps her going, Cathy used the metaphor of an 'art-based Sherlock Holmes' that keeps detecting new stories when she meets different clients and to bear witness to their unfolding stories. She also mentioned Mother Theresa as a superhero - resilient in the face of trauma, compassionate and altruistic. Cathy also tries to see the superhero in the children or adults who turn up for art therapy sessions, by calling it an act of bravery and courage. Besides art therapy, Cathy says that she is thankful for the relationship she shares with her husband, who is in the same profession as her. He is a constant source of support and strength through the daily struggles. She also stresses that one needs to have humor in this profession. That and some cats to keep her company - both she and her husband are keen cat lovers!