April 18, 2023


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.


What excites you most about your job right now? 

I am the most excited about my new role as the Family Program Manager and Art Therapist at Project Create, a multidisciplinary arts education non-profit organization that serves underserved children, youth, and families in Washington, DC. I have the opportunity to oversee and expand HeART Space art therapy programs, the newest branch of programming at Project Create. In response to the mental health crises brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, I along with several art therapists developed and implemented HeART Space, an intentional art therapy program for families to increase emotional wellness, decrease anxiety, and build resilience. I have also managed and expanded art therapy groups and workshops, and therapeutic arts classes for children and youth at the studio center location and at community partner sites throughout Washington, DC. I am honored to be a part of this amazing community-based organization that values trauma-informed and strength-based approaches, and seeks to cultivate safe and therapeutic space that allows for authentic expression, healing, and growth.

Has working with a particular client group shaped your professional focus or specialty? What have you learned from working with these clients?

Prior to my work as an art therapist, I worked in community-based non-profit organizations serving children, youth, and families. As a new art therapist, I wanted to continue working in these communities where affordable and accessible mental health services and resources, and particularly art therapy were limited. Through my work as an intern and a professional, I have learned the value of commitment, consistency, humility, and openness as the keys to building trust and therapeutic alliance with children, youth, and families in this community. The reality of these lessons has been especially true with my work with the youth at Project Create.

By showing up every day as my authentic self, showing unconditional positive regard, and aiming to cultivate a safe and warm therapeutic environment, I have witnessed the youth let go of guardedness and have freedom to explore their feelings and experiences through art and processing. It is rewarding to watch them discover new coping tools, find their creative voice, tap into their resiliency, and own their brilliance.

What are your hopes for the future of the art therapy profession?

I hope more art therapists will join the group of art therapists and mental health specialists committed to working in community-based organizations serving underserved children, youth, and families, and marginalized populations. Art therapy and therapeutic arts programs can provide a healing container to promote emotional safety, resiliency, social inclusion, and empowerment.

“Held” by Melissa Muttiah
Acrylic on wood, 2018


How have race, diversity, and/or social justice impacted your work as an art therapist?

I am constantly assessing my multicultural and diversity competency in my role as an art therapist. As a white, female art therapist working predominately with children, youth, and families of color, I acknowledge my white privilege. I know I have many advantages and recognize that I have blind spots to address. I acknowledge my white supremacy, and I seek to own my racist attitudes, beliefs, and microaggressions that hinder and harm therapeutic alliance and growth. I intend to have an attitude of humility, listen more than offer solutions, and try to deepen self-awareness. I know without a doubt that I still have lots to learn, and I recognize that becoming culturally competent is a lifelong journey and requires constant learning about the community I serve, addressing my biases, being committed to anti-racism work, and being intentional about my change.

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

The art therapy profession is an ideal career choice for someone who has an earnest desire to help and serve others, and has a strong appreciation for the creative arts. This career can be hugely rewarding as the art therapist has the privilege to join their client on their journey of healing, growth and discovery. The art therapy is powerful, intuitive, non-verbal, and therapeutic, and through the process so much can emerge. It can be exciting, challenging, and dynamic.

I encourage anyone considering the field to prioritize their own healing journey, work with a therapist, and engage in their own art therapy process. Personal experience can be such a wonderful teacher and healer.

“Safety” by Melissa Muttiah
Textiles on Canvas, 2020

About Melissa Muttiah, ATR, MA in Art Therapy

I am a registered art therapist from Virginia with a master of arts degree from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in Indiana. For the last 20 years, I have worked in the DC-metro area in youth development serving in a variety of roles including teacher, education coordinator, mentor, artist, program manager, and art therapist. I have worked at Project Create for eight years and have developed, managed, and led therapeutic programs and art therapy groups, workshops, and trainings.

I have also worked as an art therapist at Dominion Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Falls Church, Virginia for six years. At Dominion, I  facilitated art therapy groups for children, adolescents, adults, and families experiencing depression, anxiety, trauma, eating disorders, and thought disorders in the in-patient, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient levels of care.