May 1, 2023
“Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by everything I want for our world. I’m only one person. I cannot provide therapy for everyone nor address all of the various mental health needs and systemic injustices of our communities. When I see the work of my fellow art therapists who are creating private practices, developing businesses, starting non-profits, designing programs, experimenting with new ideas, collaborating with institutions, and doing other innovative work, it fills me with hope for our future. None of us can singularly resolve systemic injustices and mental health needs, but our collective and collaborative work can.”
What excites you most about your job right now?
I’m an art therapist in private practice. I love the flexibility that affords me. I’ve been able to experiment with EVERYTHING … from my ideal work hours to the number of clients to my niche. I’ve been able to tailor everything about my work to fit the needs of my clients and myself. Want an extra large canvas for that particular client? Great, go get it. Something doesn’t feel good about the intake paperwork? Fine, change the wording. Need more time to rest? Ok, choose to work four days instead of five. I love that I get to make these decisions.
Has working with a particular client group shaped your professional focus or specialty? What have you learned from working with these clients?
I specialize in late-identified autism. When I graduated from my masters program, I did not know I was autistic. The reality is that most therapists know very little about autism. The little I learned about autism was what is stated in the DSM-5, which focuses on external behaviors and does not accurately reflect how autism feels internally or how it presents in women or non-binary folx.
It was only when my own art therapist suggested that I might be autistic that I began to explore it for myself. The more I learned about autism from a neurodivergent lens, the more I saw myself. I was later officially diagnosed as autistic and ADHD.
Many therapists still see autism from the lens of the medical model that describes autism as a disorder. I see autism as a different neurotype that does not need to be fixed. Yes, I need unique strategies and approaches tailored to my autistic mind, but I do not need to be cured. Furthermore, many therapeutic approaches are designed with neurotypicals in mind and are ineffective or counterproductive for autistics.
I now help newly identified autistics understand their autistic characteristics and how to work with their unique minds. I do this through providing art therapy, writing daily on my blog, presenting at conferences, and being a guest speaker for graduate programs.
Untitled. By Jackie Schuld
Acrylic paint, 2022
How have race, diversity, and/or social justice impacted your work as an art therapist?
I completed my graduate education at Prescott College, which is rooted in social justice work. I received an excellent education in how to examine race, diversity, and social justice in my therapeutic work as an art therapist.
What I didn’t realize until after I graduated and started my own private practice is that social justice work begins with how we treat ourselves. If the art therapy profession is not emotionally, mentally, and financially sustainable and safe for art therapists, how can we call ourselves socially just? What does it mean to have graduate programs that can only be accessed through wealth privilege or enormous amounts of student loan debt? What does it mean to enter a profession where it is normal to be saddled with an excessive caseload that is not emotionally or mentally sustainable? What does it say about our profession when most art therapists have to choose between paying their bills, saving for emergencies, paying off their student debt, or investing in retirement?
I could go on and on with my observations and questions. It’s why I write extensively about the unhealthy cultural norms of the mental health profession on my blog, as well as ideas of what we can do to change.
What advice would you give someone interested in pursuing a career in art therapy?
Start therapy with an art therapist! I make this recommendation for two reasons:
First, it’s an opportunity to learn firsthand about the profession. Your experience with an art therapist can also inform your future therapeutic work: How does their intake process feel? How does their approach feel? What aspects inspire you? What aspects would you change?
Second, being an art therapist will bring all of your personal issues to the surface. We need to invest time in our own healing and sustenance. Furthermore, art therapists ask their clients to do deep work. We need to know what it feels like to do that work and to walk the talk.
What keeps you excited about the AATA community?
Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by everything I want for our world. I’m only one person. I cannot provide therapy for everyone nor address all of the various mental health needs and systemic injustices of our communities. When I see the work of my fellow art therapists who are creating private practices, developing businesses, starting non-profits, designing programs, experimenting with new ideas, collaborating with institutions, and doing other innovative work, it fills me with hope for our future. None of us can singularly resolve systemic injustices and mental health needs, but our collective and collaborative work can.
About Jackie Schuld, LPC, ATR-BC, REAT
I’m an autistic human and art therapist. I find writing a professional biography to be difficult because I am uncomfortable with the inherent cultural norms and expectations. I don’t want to present myself as having all the answers or as an “expert.” I’m doing the best I can to live a sustainable, enjoyable life – and I’m still figuring out what that means for me. I run a private practice and structure my day so that I have creative time for myself in the mornings and see clients in the afternoons. I specialize in late-identified autism, working with newly diagnosed autistic adults and those who suspect they might be autistic. In my creative time, I write essays and create all sorts of art. Outside of my daily structure, I like to have absolutely no plans. I want to be present to my friends, family, and the life around me. I want to enjoy life and not just be holding my breath until I can get a break.