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.

This week, we asked Michael Galarraga to share with us his experiences about what Hispanic Heritage Month means to him, as a Latino bilingual art therapist. We previously highlighted Michael as a Featured Member in 2018. Michael, along with Nadia Paredes, MA, LMFT, ATR, will be presenting a virtual session Art Therapy: ¿Cómo se dice? on Thursday, October 13 at 7 PM ET. Register here.

September 21, 2022

“I have been able to see how individuals represent the richness of their own cultural heritage through the process of art making, different mediums, and approaches to art making.” 

How does your Hispanic heritage intersect with your work as an art therapist? 

My heritage informs me of a sliver of my own identity and marginalization in society. When we talk about cultural humility in art therapy, it is important to consider an individual’s identity as a whole and as parts. Using this conceptualization and applying it to my work with individuals is important and allows them to be the authors of their own narrative. I have worked with many individuals from the Latinx LGBTQIA+ community and I do my best to understand how heritage and cultural values become part of how they are processing through personal challenges in therapy. 

How have you used art to honor your culture or heritage? 

I have used art to process parts of my culture and heritage through printmaking, mask making, and painting. I notice that my use of vibrant colors comes from a place of wanting to capture the richness of my cultural communities. I find it helpful to use art to process through my own experiences as a bilingual art therapist especially when exploring countertransference to my patients and places of work. 

What have your experiences been like providing art therapy services to Spanish-speaking populations? 

Providing art therapy to Spanish-speaking people has been rewarding on many levels. I came into the field of art therapy wanting to give back to my community and that is what it has been! I am able to bridge the gaps through more than the Spanish language. Through art therapy, I have been able to see how individuals represent the richness of their own cultural heritage through the process of art making, different mediums, and approaches to art making. When providing art therapy to Spanish-speaking people, I am conscious of the type of art mediums being used and how these may play into the person’s overall identity to help them tell their story.

Sin título, no hay paraíso by Michael Galarraga. Plaster and acrylic paint. August 2022

Sin título, no hay paraíso

Artist Statement

I am a gay, Latino male. 

I speak Spanish.

I am an advocate. 

I can see the shape of water. 

I can feel the temporariness of plaster. 

I cannot fill your gaps, your lacking, your “self.”

I put the mask on—can you take yours off?

I am an art therapist.

I am human.

This mask is a reflection on the arts-based supervision received as a pre-licensed clinician. This mask represents the intersectionality that I have come to own and represents all of the seats I bring to the table. The materials used to create this mask led me to reflect on the factors that impacted my own clinical experience working in a system where I often placed different masks on without fair compensation. Being expected to perform in a world where one’s identity is tokenized plays into one’s professional development. It is important to speak up and speak out for ourselves and not lose sight of who we are and who we can become. This mask serves as a reminder to never leave your seat at home, ask your worth, and advocate, advocate, advocate!

Michael Galarraga, MS, LPC, ATR-BC, CSAC, CSOTP

Michael Galarraga (he/him) is a practicing art therapist and an AATA Board Member. He has previously served on both Virginia and Georgia Art Therapy chapters to promote community engagement projects supporting advocacy for the profession of art therapy. Michael’s work has more recently been centered on advocating for People of Color in the LGBTQIA+ community and Spanish speaking/Latinx individuals in need of therapeutic services. He is the proud owner of Intersection Therapy, LLC, a private practice in Philadelphia, PA and an adjunct professor at Thomas Jefferson University.