In this Featured Member series, AATA celebrates the work of our members. During the coronavirus pandemic, we are inviting members to share their experiences about how their professional and personal lives have changed.


June 17, 2020

What has changed (or remained the same) in your studies during the COVID-19 global crisis?

What has changed is the recognition of systemic issues of how the state of California runs/operates the state hospitals. I have been a member of the local Trauma Informed Care workgroup and committee. I want to say we started utilizing T.I.C. over the past five years. I and many other clinicians especially in the RT department have been a part of that process since the beginning which is about five years at this point.

In the past two years, I became a part of the statewide steering committee as the Special Point of Contact for my job placement in Coalinga, CA. These committees serve to bring Trauma Informed Care practices to the masses at all the facilities in the State Hospital system. There are currently five hospitals under the Department of State Hospitals. This month also marks my 25th year as a working Art Therapist.

In what ways have your clients been impacted by COVID-19? Have you been able to continue care? How are you managing your own stress related to their experiences?

Programs have been halted due to COVID-19 regulations and putting social distancing into place. So, all facilitators have not been able to run the groups we are normally assigned to. This has impacted the therapeutic milieu to some degree but has opened up other avenues for exploration of how to best support those under our care. Their reaction has been multifaceted and what we would normally expect verbal and physical aggression has been mainly verbal. There are some increases in other areas such as harm to self or others but it has been very minimal as opposed to the increase in verbal aggression, which has surprisingly been only a slight increase. There are the occasional other outbursts or behaviors displayed but oddly enough, I think they are using their coping skills more and staff are utilizing their coping skills as well.

Since the killing of George Floyd, the topic of race has once again been brought to the forefront of national dialogue. How have race related issues, social justice, and racism informed or impacted your work as an art therapist?

The murder of George Floyd has impacted everyone at the job in some way. The discussions with patients, with other staff members and amongst the patients, the statewide Steering Committee to every worker at the hospital. It has even affected a Facebook group I am a part of for art therapists. The name of the group was recently changed which was to provide a wider space for conversation and the art making process. I am a cis-gender male, Puerto Rican, Gay and suffer from anxiety. Issues of privilege are not strangers to me. I also work with sex offenders. Getting my patients to talk about it is an ongoing task. Racism, sexism and homophobia are on a parallel vibration for me. It is something I have been battling since childhood.

In what ways has your living or work space changed?

My workspace has moved from the unit and my office on the unit to my residence. Working remotely has enabled me to keep my anxiety in check and detach from the work place. I am home one week working remotely and on site one week. The extra precautions include the mask wearing, washing clothes, cleaning doorknobs etc. and mopping etc. I am grateful for the time at home currently.

How do you view your role as an art therapist or student during COVID-19?

The best way to answer this has been to take a Trauma Informed approach, and ask patients to share how they are doing with it all. This has taken place in a support group setting or even a one to one conversation. Giving them permission to not watch the news or to talk about things with peers/family etc. to preserve sanity has been paramount. Many were terrified and some acted like they could care less. Many have been very concerned with how treatment will be handled after they allow groups to happen once more.


COVID-19 response artwork by Ori Cruz. Colored pencil, markers, stickers and metallic gold marker on construction paper. May 2020. 8×10.


Ori Cruz, MPS, LCAT

Ori has over 20 years of experience as an art therapist working in inpatient clinical hospital settings in various therapeutic capacities, including offering art therapy and supervising other therapeutic activities like cooking and exercise based groups. He currently works as an Art/Rehabilitation therapist with the department of state hospitals in Coalinga, California. Here, Ori has created and facilitated groups including a men’s group for childhood trauma and abuse and a sex offender treatment program.

Ori continues his commitment to trauma informed care (T.I.C) while working as  part of a T.I.C workgroup and as a special point of contact and member for the statewide T.I.C. committee. Ori holds an MPS in Creative Arts Therapy from Pratt Institute and currently lives in Lemoore, California.