August 21 | By Meredith McMackin, MFA, MS, PhD, LMHCA
Tell us about yourself
I earned my undergraduate and MFA degrees in Studio art and taught art in high school and college for many years before entering the field of art therapy. With the death of my son in the war in Iraq, I became drawn to work with veterans and to use my background in art towards the goal of bringing peace and healing to others impacted by the trauma of war. I earned my MS in Art Therapy and Ph.D. in Art Education from Florida State University. Inspired by my work with veterans, I focused my dissertation research on papermaking with student veterans in transition. I now live in Vancouver, Washington, working as an art therapist and mental health counselor.
I have been an AATA member since 2010 and am a member of Evergreen Art Therapy Association. I was a presenter at the AATA national conference in 2015 and am scheduled for a paper presentation at national conference in fall 2019.
What excites (or inspires) you most about your job right now?
I am inspired by the human connections I have formed with my clients. Through their sharing, I have gained insight into their challenges as well as the strength of the human spirit to survive and thrive. I love using art as a tool for healing and am fascinated with the inner discoveries revealed through the creative process.
Has working with a particular client group shaped your professional focus or specialty? What have you learned from working with these clients?
I was inspired to enter the field of art therapy to work with veterans. Through my connection with the Peace Paper Project, I became involved with hand papermaking with veterans, transforming their uniforms or other cloth of significance into paper works of art. Through this physical and symbolic transformation, participants were able to process memories and feelings from their military experience, gaining new perspectives and insights. I have learned more about the multiple injuries this population has endured, both seen and unseen, but I have also witnessed their ability to heal and grow stronger through their traumatic experiences.
What advice would you give someone interested in pursuing a career in art therapy?
I think it is crucial to find a balance between work and personal life. It is important to nurture your own creativity and self-care, so that you can give your best to your clients and also have a fulfilling and rich life experience.
What are your hopes for the future of the art therapy profession?
I hope that art therapy will continue to gain respect as a therapeutic field and that research will continue to explore the therapeutic benefits for all populations.
“Release” by Meredith McMackin. Handmade paper with pulp printing. 2012.
Artist’s statement: “This image was from the memorial service for my son who was killed in Iraq in 2007. It was created during a Peace Paper Project workshop at Florida State University sponsored by the FSU Veteran’s Center. The paper was made from the cloth of the dress I bought for his service, which I could never wear again. Cutting the dress into small squares, I released them into water which fed into a machine that slowly ground the fibers down to pulp. I felt a sense of ease and release watching the fibers dissolve the tightness of painful memories and float freely in the cleansing water. The image was created by ‘pulp printing’, spraying fine dyed cotton pulp through a photo stencil; his flag-draped coffin representing the personal cost of war. The finished piece symbolizes my son’s release into spirit as well as my own transformation inspired by his self-less gift of life.”