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.

November 30, 2022

“Through a lengthy hospital stay with my daughter who was in a near-fatal car wreck, I experienced and witnessed the challenges, isolation, and devastations. This began my desire to work in the hospital setting.”


“Perspectives.” by Valerie Hanks. Colored pencils, chalk, and stitching on brown paper bag. 2020. Artist Statement: “This self-portrait image was created as part of an altered book and during a process of learning about my own self-care journey, leaning in to new perspectives, gaining awareness, and being curious to look at my life from different views.”

What excites (or inspires) you most about your job right now?

If I can help bring a small bit of joy and curiosity through art into a part of a patient’s life, that is truly powerful. We all have a story and our story matters. Each person matters. Visual art helps give choices back to the patients who have lost the ability to make many of the choices in their care and empowering the patient to make decisions in art, to do things in art, to observe things in art, is important to their ability to cope with their circumstances. 

I also love collaborating with other professionals to help patients reach their goals, gain insight, and increase resiliency and awareness. What a privilege it is to offer art therapy to patients and families and know that this gift has the potential to continue to benefit them emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and physically for the rest of their lives. I love helping patients learn to express themselves and begin to feel safe in their body! Witnessing patients restore and rekindle their hearts and souls is truly beautiful and rewarding.

Has working with a particular client group shaped your professional focus or specialty? 

Through a lengthy hospital stay with my daughter who was in a near-fatal car wreck, I experienced and witnessed the challenges, isolation, and devastations. This began my desire to work in the hospital setting. My passion to work with patients and families in the hospital setting has shaped my professional focus to learn more trauma-informed art therapy as well as a wide-range of techniques and interventions so that I can attempt to meet patients where they are, offer choices in their areas of interest, build rapport in the therapeutic relationship, and help support a patient’s physiological and emotional growth and healing through their own self-care. I learn from each patient and gain insight into the many miracles that happen in the art therapy process.   

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

I am inspired by the diversity and wide range of interests, backgrounds, and experiences of patients and families I work with in the hospital setting. It is such an honor to share space with patients who are at some of the most vulnerable times of their lives. To bring the gift of creativity, time, honor, and respect into a room and in groups benefits all of us and further emphasizes each person’s unique qualities and gifts.

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

I would love to see art therapists throughout all areas of every hospital. Art therapy works and when words cannot be found, the art speaks for patients. Art therapy encourages curiosity and is continuing to be recognized as a valuable therapy that is much needed in the healthcare setting. If we can help encourage the beautiful and natural way God created our bodies, minds, and souls to create and in the process learn the transformative power of healing, repairing, restoring, reducing anxiety and depression, and gaining strengths in a body-centered approach, we all benefit!

What advice would you give someone interested in pursuing a career in art therapy? Or, is there something you would like to share about your journey thus far as an art therapist?

The benefits of personal growth emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically in the journey as an art therapist as well as practical self-care practices are like no other career I know. Patients are experiencing transformation and as an art therapist, we have the privilege of witnessing that. I would advise anyone interested in art therapy to explore the many options, shadow another art therapist, and don’t let any fears hold you back.

About Valerie Hanks, ATR-P

Valerie Hanks received her Master of Arts for Art Therapy at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College, IN and is presently an Art Therapist serving adults and children throughout UAB Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Alabama. She also leads art therapy groups with special needs adults in the Birmingham community. Valerie received her Associates of Applied Arts Degree in Graphic Design from the Art Institute of Houston and her Bachelor of Science in Psychology with a minor in Art Studio from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

In addition to working as a graphic designer and art director for over 20 years, she was involved in humanitarian work stateside and with orphanages in Ukraine, and has seven internationally adopted children from Ukraine as well as a Ukrainian son-in-law. Valerie is a member of the Alabama Art Therapy Association and the American Art Therapy Association. She and her husband enjoy hiking, mountain biking, and coffee shops and feel very blessed with 15 children and 12 grandchildren and are expecting 3 more in the next few months.