Feb. 6, 2024

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.

Join Starr March 5th for her presentation, “Exploring Art Therapy Groups Among African American/ Black women from Research to Program Implementation.” Register here.

“I understood the positive impact of my creative endeavors, long before I had ever heard of art therapy. It wasn’t until I completed my training and worked with different populations that I discovered I had unknowingly started on a path towards becoming an art therapist. Although I did not take the most direct route, I have learned to appreciate all of the personal challenges, professional opportunities and creative lessons I have experienced along the way.”

— Michelle “Starr” Starling, M.Ed., MA, LPC, ATR-P

“Sitting in Friendship”
Ceramic & glass tiles on fiber board

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

There are two populations which have shaped my professional focus, school children and African American women. As a former teacher, I dreamt of connecting my local school district students with art therapy services. I achieved that goal and had the honor of actually facilitating the art therapy groups during a Fellowship.

Currently, I am working with African American women. I dedicated my thesis work towards learning more about their relationship with the mental health community and how to remove their help-seeking barriers in order to introduce them to art therapy. As I help these women, I feel like I’m helping their entire family. This makes me want to learn more and I can sense my specialty starting to emerge.

What excites you most about your job right now?

My job is exciting because I have so many direct interactions with community/church leaders, city officials and potential clients. I am exploring new settings and introducing art therapy to new groups of people every day. I listen to their stories and explain how their wellbeing can be supported through engaging in art therapy. I witness their opinions change in real time, then I actually get to do the work. It’s very inspiring and I feel like I’m making a difference.

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

I completed my art therapy graduate program during the pandemic and civil unrest across the country. It was a very stressful time for everyone. However, a few courageous women of diverse races/ethnicities were willing to push past their fears, in order to engage in art therapy. They knew nothing about art therapy and I was still in the process of learning. What we endured together during those challenging times had a huge impact on my career. Ultimately, I helped relieve their stress and anxiety and they provided me with a deeper sense of purpose as a professional art therapist.

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

I am an optimist, so I have great hopes for art therapy as a profession. I hope that art therapists around the world continue to increase awareness through their good work and innovative ideas. I hope that the profession continues to expand and provide access to all those willing to explore their well-being through creative experiences. Finally, I hope that more professional art therapists continue to establish a presence or voice as mental health professionals within their communities, cities or states. There are so many people in the world in need of emotional support and art therapy may be a good fit.

How did you get involved with AATA and what keeps you excited about the AATA community? 

I joined AATA as a graduate student. The annual conferences keep me excited about being a member. The friendships and connections I formed during my very first conference seem to pick up just where they left off each time I attend. Each year provides me with the opportunity to speak with authors of art therapy textbooks and I’ve met a few pioneers in the field. Last year, my friend hosted a private practice meet-up, while another presented research findings to other art therapists from all over the world. It was like witnessing history in the making! I really enjoy the conferences because the event is filled with resource materials and new ideas associated with art therapy.

Ceramic & glass tiles on fiber board

My artwork celebrates the beauty, femininity and inner strength of African American women. I draw my inspiration from witnessing the graceful resilience of Black women and my lived experiences. Through my artwork I create a respectful space of honor for these women and encourage myself. I was drawn to mixed-media artwork due to my love for texture, textiles and its limitless creative freedom.

Roma is captured staying attuned to a client who is looking through fabrics during art therapy.



About Michelle “Starr” Starling, M.Ed., MA, LPC, ATR-P

Michelle “Starr” Starling is a self-taught painter and mixed-media/ mosaic artist from Cleveland, Ohio. Starr is the founder of Supportive Optimistic Sisterhood (S.O.S), which is an art therapy and wellness group designed to introduce African American Women to the healing benefits of art therapy. Starr was selected as the first recipient of the Mickie McGraw Fellowship Towards Diversity in Art Therapy at Art Therapy Studio. During this Fellowship, she assisted in negotiations with the local school district and facilitated art therapy groups with inner-city students. Starr worked as a Behavioral Health Specialist and counselor within a community-based agency.

Starr completed her Masters in Counseling and Art Therapy (LPC-ATR-P) from Ursuline College, where she was awarded the St. Hildegard of Bingen: Excellence in Therapeutic Creativity Award. Starr worked as a teacher within the Cleveland Metropolitan School district for over 15 years and holds a Master’s degree in Education (M. Ed) from John Carroll University. Starr earned her B.A. in Political Science/Pre-Law from Wilberforce University (HBCU).

Starr utilizes her artistic abilities to help reduce the cultural stigma associated with mental health services within her community. Starr’s long-term goal is to assist in supporting the emotional needs of African American women by providing access to art therapy/ therapeutic art services within traditional and nontraditional settings across the city of Cleveland.