Reflecting on Experience – Tanya Park

As I sit boarded by the four walls that I like to call my art room, with the prominent scent of turpentine from a painting on the easel; it is difficult to remember a time when making artwork wasn’t important to me. Not only was art something I enjoyed; people seemed to like the work I was making. Giving out praise wasn’t something that came easily to my parents, however, they were fully supportive; giving me freedom to follow the career path of my choosing. When I received an A* for my Art & Design GCSE, they were not only pleased for me; but extremely proud.

It was unforeseeable that at the age of 17; my class portfolio would be full of works created by an unsettled adolescent, who found an outlet in making artwork to overlook her mental health issues. I was blissfully unaware of the way I was communicating my feelings and wondered why the head of sixth was calling me into the office to talk.

I pursued art in education with no intentions of using the qualifications after a degree in Fine Art. After completing the three-year bachelors course, I had considered nothing other than being a self-employed artist.

In order to financially support myself; I began applying for suitable part time work and planned to make artwork alongside a guaranteed monthly income. I received a phone call from the manager at a care home in Suffolk and after pleasantries the manager asked; ‘Why have you applied for the cleaning position?’ I gave her the answer I assumed she wanted, stating that I enjoyed cleaning and am looking for part time work alongside making art.

‘Have you thought about being an activities coordinator’ She asked. Truthfully, at the time, I had no knowledge of an activities coordinator position existing, nor what they might be expected to perform. However, not wanting to miss the opportunity, I went to the interview.

After being offered the job I embraced the role. Staff were given the freedom to be themselves and provide activities for the residents that reflected their own skill set. Of course, this led me to offer residents art groups and craft making sessions; but the residents own personal wants and goals became intensely important to me. I would spend my time looking for creative ways to make these opportunities happen.

Taking the step to become an activities coordinator was essentially the beginning of me considering realistic and preferred career options. When I left the care home I was asked to paint the walls of the dementia resident’s bathroom; promoting a cold and unwelcoming room to one which featured seascapes, sand dunes and beach huts. This project made it clear that I could use my art to make a difference and it would always have a fundamental role in my career.

Since this time, I have increased my experience in the healthcare industry working with individuals with learning and physical disabilities. Some of my greatest achievements come from on the job experience; seeing those I support overcome barriers and access art activity in creative and accessible ways. With all this in mind I have been accepted onto a master’s course in Art Psychotherapy. The course will allow me to become a registered Art Therapist and use the skills that I have developed; both in my own art practice and whilst working in healthcare.

Ultimately, what has led me to pursue a career in Art Psychotherapy is experience. Not only taking an interview to become an activities coordinator; but embracing the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. There have been overwhelming barriers that I have had to face, like having my own mental health problems and financial issues. Being able to overcome these barriers gives me the experience I need to be the individual that embraces a career in Art Psychotherapy.

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