In this Featured Member series, AATA celebrates the work of our members. During the coronavirus pandemic, we are inviting members to share their experiences about how their professional and personal lives have changed.
May 6, 2020
What has changed (or remained the same) in your job/studies during the COVID-19 global crisis?
Many parts of my job have stayed the same while some parts have changed; the tasks actually shifted from new tasks that I needed to adjust to the situation to tasks that I was already accustomed to doing at the schools.
I continue providing art therapy and mental health services to the students in my caseload. For me, time has passed-by so fast. It has nearly been two months since our school went into emergency school closure. My main focus is to support the students’ social-emotional needs and providing the consistency of being there for them. I also make sure they have their basic needs met and are able to attend school.
As of mid-April I have shifted to video sessions from telephoning which has expanded the possibilities of creativity on how to interact with my students. Aligning with the student’s Individualized Educational Plan, I focus on achieving their goals — such goals may include frustration tolerance, on-task and/or self-advocacy.
How are you juggling adjusted schedules and new work from home/living spaces?
In my regular schedule I was working at schools with an open campus, so I was constantly outside. Now I am confined to a corner of my living room. It is like I created a bubble in between two windows for myself and my students.
I spread out my time between the three schools where I provide services, instead of reserving certain days for a particular school. The access to serve students has probably been the change with the biggest impact to my work. I am accustomed to having a pre-arranged schedule with the teachers, whereas now I am scheduling through parents whose environments are constantly changing. Students and families are experiencing many changes including moving, losing a job, and attending to household needs. Because I contact my students every week through their parent, those relationships have deepened. Parents feel more comfortable sharing their frustrations and their moments of creativity with their student.
One benefit has been saving the commute time from the schools. I was driving for about an hour to get to work, that hour is now my exercise time!
In what ways have your clients been impacted by this crisis? Have you been able to continue care? How are you managing your own stress related to their experiences?
The impact that the crisis has had upon my student ranges. There are students that miss school, their classmates and need the structure of being in the classroom. There are also the students that like virtual education because they do not have to confront the social and academic pressures of being in school. The family’s home environment has shifted: college-age siblings returning home, siblings sharing electronic devices, parents overwhelmed with the technology demands and navigating new platforms. In addition, parents may be working full-time at home, balancing between their responsibilities and those of their student.
I must admit, there have been times that have become overwhelming in balancing my time between all three schools, providing services, providing support to the parents, teachers, staff meetings and recently attending Individualized Educational Plan meetings. While I am not required to be at the meetings, I feel it is significant that I attend, particularly for my students that are transitioning to middle or high school.
Going for a run and having a work-out routine in the morning before I start my day with my schools helps prepare my mind for overwhelming moments. In addition, I make time for a moment of creativity every day for myself, drawing a small sketch.
How do you view your role as an art therapist during this crisis?
An essential, supportive and consistent person in the student’s school life, who can remind them of their resilience. That consistent presence is more important now than ever. Students will initiate a breathing exercise, show a drawing/painting they have made or simply share their favorite toy with me. This is how they show their trust.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the community during these uncertain times?
Let yourself ride the many feelings, have patience with yourself, take a breath and give yourself a hug.
“Octopus Balance” by Alicia Ballestas. Pen and Color Pencils. April 2, 2020.
Artist Statement: “The Octopus is known to symbolize complexity and deep emotions. Here the octopus is attempting to balance the scale without knowing the depth or complexity of what it has.”
Alicia Ballestas, ATR-BC
Alicia is currently with Miami-Dade County Public Schools, where she provides art therapy services to children and adolescents, helping children reduce chaos and stress, and also works with individuals of all ages diagnosed with developmental and emotional disorders. Alicia believes that going through the process of art therapy allows the children to tell a story using their own imagination and creativity which allows them to be themselves and heal the pieces that have been broken. After the Parkland shooting on February 14, 2018, she has had a great passion to serve the community that she was a part of as an adolescent. With Shine MSD, Alicia provides art therapy services for their creative arts therapies camp and programs throughout the school year.
Alicia advocates for the understanding of creative arts therapy in the community. She has taken an active role in educating the community about art therapy through her participation in, “The Real Art Therapists of New York,” a coloring book about art therapy and the significance of creativity as a contribution to one’s well-being.