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.

 

July 27, 2021

Tell us about yourself

My education background includes a Bachelor of Science in Studio Art from Chowan University, Murfreesboro, NC, and a dual Master of Science in Art Therapy and Counseling and a specialization in Trauma Informed Therapy from Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS), Norfolk, VA. At EVMS, I completed three semesters worth of experience as an art therapy intern facilitating both individual and group art therapy.

Settings I served in include a substance abuse program and PTSD outpatient clinic with military veterans and schools. I also received certification in Conducting Therapy in Spanish and Working with the Latino Population through the APA approved program of Spanish for Counselors. Lastly, I am nationally registered through the Art Therapy Credentials Board as a Provisionally Registered Art Therapist (ATR-P) and licensed as an Associate Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHCA) through the North Carolina Board of Licensed Mental Health Counselors.

Since graduate school, I have run groups, worked as team lead for an intensive in-home therapy program, and am now in private practice using art therapy to treat an array of mental health needs including anxiety, depression, ADHD, and trauma. 

What has changed in your job during the COVID-19 pandemic?

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, I was working as team lead in an intensive in-home therapy program. The agency I worked for required that my team and I still complete our daily home visits. It was very difficult navigating the unknown while still remaining safe and keeping our clients and their families safe as well. Because of such a position and the pandemic, the art therapy services I could offer was very limited. In August of 2020, I decided to leave the agency and join an already established private practice in the community. At this practice. I do both telehealth and in-person sessions. Safety is a priority in my practice and, therefore, I require masks and keep the area sanitized and clean. 

In what ways have your clients been impacted by COVID-19? How are you managing your own stress during this time?

Due to the pandemic, I have seen a rise in anxiety and depression amongst school-aged kids and those individuals who have been directly impacted in whatever way. This sparked a need in me to provide support however I can. Being on screens all day long strains us mentally, physically, and emotionally. That is why I offer in-person sessions. Additionally, I ran art therapy groups at the local hospital to offer support for healthcare workers who are on the front lines of this pandemic.

In terms of managing my own stress, I see a therapist myself and having her in my corner has been such a blessing. I openly talk about seeing a therapist to normalize mental health and help others (especially children) understand that mental wellness is important and should be addressed at every stage of life. I also try my best to continuously create and recently have been joining online groups that create together. I am an introvert at heart, but this pandemic has taught me to value community. 

How have race related issues, social justice, and racism informed or impacted your work as an art therapist or studies as a student?

I am of Hispanic race; Colombian-American to be specific. I have encountered racism whether it be receiving ignorant comments about my Colombian parents when I was a child or hearing second hand about the way people talk to and about my family. In the school system, it was very difficult being the only person of color in my classes for some time. And even when there were other individuals of color, it was still difficult. I have always felt that I had to assimilate to the American community while still trying to grip on to my heritage. I even went as far as letting everyone say my name incorrectly all my life. It wasn’t until graduate school when someone heard my brother say my name that I realized I couldn’t let it go on. I now make an effort to correct people.

As an artist and art therapist, I have strived to change the idea that because I was born in America, I can’t be proud of my roots. And I strive to encourage my clients and their families to do the same. But I also strive to accept that others are different too and whether or not we have the same beliefs and ideas, we can still live at peace and in harmony. It is important to also add the other side, the Hispanic side. At first, it was difficult being accepted as an art therapist in the Hispanic community and even in my family. In Hispanic culture, therapy is for the “locos” (the crazy) or the rich. It took a lot of conversations for my family to see the value in mental health treatment. But I am grateful for those conversations. It helped me understand how my family was raised, how they were treated as individuals, and how that all impacted who they are now. It also sparked the conversation of empowerment; that they have what it takes to change the course of our mental health history. 

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

I view my role as an art therapist as essential. I currently am treating an individual who is traveling about 4 hours total to be treated for depression after having COVID. They travel to me because I am the closest Spanish-speaking art therapist to them. I feel honored that I can serve in this role, but I will say that sometimes it puts a lot of pressure on me. I have had to remind myself constantly in this past year that “if I’m not okay, they won’t be okay.” While our work as mental health providers is essential and important, we have to check in with ourselves constantly and make sure we are addressing our well-being too (mental, emotional, spiritual, physical).

Is there anything else you would like to share?

It has been such an honor to be a part of the art therapy field. I hope to continue to grow as an art therapist and be a part of what helps bring art therapy to the forefront of the mental health conversation. 

One With the Butterfly,” by Zulay Romero. Digital Collage. November 1, 2020.

Artist Statement: Last year, I decided to start exploring with digital collage. Collage, in general, has been home base for me for the past few years. When the pandemic hit, I didn’t know who I was anymore as an artist. I gave up art for some time and instead immersed myself in TV shows and artists on social media to keep myself distracted from the chaos that was going on outside my door. Procreate videos kept popping up on my social media and it really piqued my interest. This piece was one of the very firsts that I created. Using a site called Unsplash (website that has all sorts of free images that one can download), I chose different images that captured my eye and my heart.

Butterflies hold so much meaning. If one were to search the meaning of butterflies, one might find that it symbolizes hope, creativity, our souls, change, endurance, etc. I find it to be so true. 2020 changed everyone’s lives, whether it be for good or bad. For me, it was a year of finding my voice, finding what matters to me, and advocating for my needs (spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically). While I feel that year after year, that has been the common theme, finding my voice, I value that each year I have become stronger. While the world seems to pass us by, may we continue to find new beginnings, new strengths, and our voices.

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