The American Art Therapy Association represents a diversity of professionals, students, and organizations across the nation. We recognize and celebrate the work of our members at all levels through our Featured Member series.

July 14, 2022

You are considered a trailblazer in the field of art therapy. Can you tell us about the challenges you faced in your journey into the profession? 

There were no jobs in the early stages [of art therapy]. To earn a living, I had to make my own jobs, and the only way to do that was to present to some facility on how art therapy could benefit their practice. However, I learned along the way that you couldn’t just open the door and say, “I’m an art therapist” because in the 1970s, there was no Art Therapy License in California. To be validated as an art therapy, the only option was to obtain a Marriage and Family therapy license. I didn’t care what I had to do as long as it legitimized my practice and opened doors. So, with few colleagues and against the objections of numerous related professionals, I single-handedly established equivalency of all the courses in the Clinical Art Therapy Masters degree from Immaculate Heart College to obtain acceptance by the State Board of Behavioral Science to take the examination for licensing as a Marriage and Family Therapist. In every class, I had to write the tests we took, the papers we wrote, the lectures we had, who gave them, etc. Then I had to put everything together and take it to the college to be authorized and approved by the dean. Then it was sent to the Licensing Board in California. The irony is that about three-quarters of my classes were in the same group as psychiatrists, psychologists, marriage and family therapists, and social workers whose transcripts would be considered legitimate for their licenses. It was a whole different horse for me. I was asked to chair the 1978 AATA conference where I gave a luncheon for California legislators to show them the legitimacy of art therapy. It was a success, and it helped me to go on and gain the first license as an art therapist from California’s Licensing Board in 1979.

What is the most inspiring thing about being an art therapist?

Art therapy just has a magical component. When I couldn’t get a patient to open up the way they needed to, the art was able to. I started working with sexually abused children and adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse who experienced post-traumatic stress. It’s hard because they don’t want to talk about their sexual abuse, yet it’s what they most need to do to confront it and heal. The art would help them open it; It would come out on paper when it wouldn’t come out on words.

What advice would you give someone interested in pursuing a career in art therapy?

Creativity and innovation have driven the field of art therapy and gotten it to where it is today. Don’t lose that creativity! There are many challenges art therapists face, such as licensing, but you shouldn’t let that stop you. Keep getting your hands dirty—it would be a shame to see that creativity diminished.  

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Check out my website! I am going blind, so when I moved to a retirement community ten years ago, it was very difficult for me to draw. I retired all of my sketchbooks, but what I still do is collage. The collage section of the website has work I’ve made in the past 10 years. 

Featured Member: Bobbi Stoll, MFT, CTS, CT, ATR-BC