INTERVIEW WITH CHAN SHU YIN
In simple terms, can you explain what art therapy is about to those who might not know what it is?
Art therapy is a form of healing process that combines the use of art and the art therapist’s guidance, to bring about better well-being for the client. The long term benefits may be mental, emotional and sometimes physical.
What does art therapy mean to you?
To me, art therapy combines both art-as-therapy and insight-oriented art therapy. Art-as-therapy is the therapeutic benefit of simply immersing in the creative flow of the art-making. We can get this from making art on our own. For insight-oriented art therapy, meaning-making is facilitated through the interaction with the art therapist who encourages the client to reflect on their process and artwork. The presence of the art therapist is an important aspect of art therapy, as the client builds a therapeutic alliance with the therapist which can have reparative effects on relational trauma, in addition to emotional support.
When did you first realize that you wanted to be an art therapist? Was being an art therapist your first career choice?
No, it was not my first career choice. I feel that learning does not stop when we enter a profession. I was curious about art therapy when I was working in the film industry as a visual effects artist. After several years, I desired a more meaningful career, and art therapy seemed to combine my passion for art with the helping profession. I then transitioned to the social service industry where I worked as an executive in a disability organisation. I later sought to further my studies in art therapy so that I could work directly with clients in their mental well-being.
What is the greatest joy about being an art therapist?
The greatest joy about being an art therapist is connecting with my clients on a deeper level and sharing the joy of art-making with them. To me, focusing on the therapeutic relationship and art-making, is the foundation for embodying positive growth and self-discovery.
What are some of the challenges you have experienced as an art therapist?
Navigating the role of an art therapist has its challenges, being a very intuitive, visual (and less verbal) profession in a conventional world that is heavily reliant on the concrete, tangible, and verbal. However, these can also be its strengths. As we are also a part of the larger system, we are exposed to the same systemic challenges, which can have implications for a small and not-yet-viewed-as-mainstream profession in the field of mental health. We build upon the good work done by our predecessors and pioneers in art therapy to continue growing the profession.
“To me, focusing on the therapeutic relationship and art-making, is the foundation for embodying positive growth and self-discovery."
What do you think are some common misconceptions about art therapy?
That going for a few sessions can make a problem go away, or that the art therapist is able to tell the client the solution. Art therapy focuses a lot on the process and relationship, and this takes time. It is also about sitting with the unknown and learning to be comfortable with not having an immediate or concrete answer, and for some this can be a challenge.
Do you have any advice for budding art therapists out there who want to start this profession?
I would say to be kind and compassionate to yourself, as the journey can be really challenging at times. Others are also struggling more than they may be willing to let on. Don’t self-flagellate for not having all the answers or immediate successes. Count and celebrate the small achievements and remember to take a break when tired.
From your experience, how do you think art therapy impacted the lives of your clients?
I think that it has helped my clients expand their capacity for handling challenges in life, as well as their ability to experience joy and love. Through art therapy, they have learned to embody new ways of being, perceiving, and doing. They have developed greater flexibility, self-esteem, self-love and resilience.
How does being an art therapist affect your life?
It has further increased my sensitivity and appreciation towards others, and also taught me the importance of self-care. Overall, I feel that being an art therapist has helped me grow and become more authentic and aligned within myself. As I have constantly been making art, becoming an art therapist has also helped me deepen my artistic practice.
You have experience as a visual effects artist in the film industry. How do you think has your background in film played a part in your art therapy practice?
Having worked intensely with the digital art medium for several years has made me realise the importance of being in touch with our bodies. By extension, I also realised the value of physical sensory media in grounding ourselves. Many of today’s jobs rely a lot on brain-power, working people like machines, resulting in the disconnect from sensing their bodies. This can result in dissociative behaviours or symptoms like anxiety or chronic stress-related illnesses. To further my art therapy practice, I am undergoing training in Somatic Experiencing, to learn how to use the body to ground and regulate in trauma work. Apart from that, working as a visual effects artist also developed in me an eye for detail and aesthetic sensitivity and appreciation.
How did you find out about The Red Pencil?
I found out about The Red Pencil when researching on art therapy, before I decided to begin the journey to be an art therapist. Before beginning and during my study, I volunteered at a few fund-raising events for the organisation.
Can you share with us more about the greatest moment or most unforgettable experience you have had thus far working with The Red Pencil?
I wouldn’t say there is one particular greatest or most unforgettable moment. I’m more of an ‘appreciate the little things’ person. I think one of the rewarding experiences I’ve had is seeing a group of elderly clients grow from being unsure with art-making, to becoming confident to create and express their originality and authenticity through their art. Having professional supervision from Dr Daphna Kehila has also been very helpful in my growth as an art therapist working with The Red Pencil.