Throughout the academic year, graduate students in Pratt Institute’s Creative Arts Therapy (CAT) department have been traveling to sites across the New York area to harness the healing power of art and dance and learn to care for individuals facing difficult and traumatic situations.
Practiced under the supervision of licensed mental health professionals, creative arts therapy is a form of psychotherapy that seeks to heal through creative processes. Every year, Pratt’s creative arts therapy students participate in internships at a variety of locations, including senior centers, hospitals, and schools for the blind, among others. Interns facilitate group and individual creative arts therapy experiences and learn to navigate complex situations with care and compassion.
“Clinical experience is at the core of our training, and we value the learning opportunities that prepare students for the field. The Pratt Creative Arts Therapy department has historically had excellent working relationships with our internship affiliations,” says Dr. Linda Siegel, CAT program faculty supervisor and full-time assistant professor.
Among the internships offered are placements at Rikers Island in partnership with the Department of Corrections, and Providence House, a transitional facility in Brooklyn that provides a safe space for women who have faced adversities, such as homelessness or incarceration, as they rebuild their lives. Every site introduces students to diverse communities and environments. At Rikers Island, internships teach creative arts therapy graduate students to compassionately conduct art therapy sessions with incarcerated people and their families at various stages of the process, some of whom then enter Providence House.
Therapy sessions can take on many different forms of art-making and dance, and can even include interdisciplinary practices, like a recent series of rap sessions at Rikers Island that was facilitated by music therapists. Therapy group sizes vary, as do those who attend the sessions, allowing interns to meet people from many different backgrounds. Interns also gain important training through weekly clinical instruction.
The internships help graduate students understand what therapy can look like in the real world. Tyisha Nedd, the on-site supervisor at Providence House, explained, “Students can have an idealized, fragmented, and sometimes unrealistic concept of what it means to hold the title Creative Arts Therapist, I certainly did.” Nedd is a Pratt alumna (MS Dance/Movement Therapy ’20), and established the first ever creative arts therapy position at Providence House after completing her own internship at the facility. “CAT internships give students the opportunity to create a holistic idea of what their career might look like by offering the opportunity to integrate knowledge of the field through observation and practice,” she said. “Internship experience propels theory out of the textbook and into living and adaptable concepts that are suitable for the dynamic and diverse work that we do.”
Through the therapy sessions, graduate students develop self-awareness and learn how privilege, power, and oppression relate to health care. Felicia Moholland is a second-year art therapy graduate student who began interning at Rikers Island in September 2021. “Throughout the internship, I have learned my own personal biases and how to navigate those biases to be an effective clinician,” she said.
Moholland was the only Pratt Creative Arts Therapy intern on site this year, and was joined by an intern from another school, as well as on-site creative arts therapists and social workers. During her year-long internship, she facilitated group sessions with three-to-twelve patients and individual sessions with three different patients. “This internship has helped me grow as a person and has helped me become more open minded and more empathetic towards people regardless of their situation,” she said. “It also provided me with a lot of creative freedom, and I have been able to start finding my own approach as an art therapist.”