Samara, a newly hired Clinical Counselor in the Project Contact Outpatient Program, talks about her work as an art therapist and why it is a unique tool to support those in recovery.  

Samara, how long have you been working for the Center for Recovery and Wellness (CRW)?  

I started working at CRW at the end of September so close to the beginning of October. So it’s only been two months so far. 

What is your background as an art therapist and as a counselor? 

 I have degrees in both clinical counseling and art therapy, so I have an understanding of counseling and how to incorporate art therapy into the counseling. Sometimes for some people, art therapy in its own way is the counseling component. It brings in that therapeutic space and that difference in understanding how the client relates to the traumas or things that they’re trying to process and work through. 

To clarify, is art therapy a specialty within becoming a clinical counselor? 

Yes, it’s like a specialty. If I’m an art therapist, I could definitely have a role as a clinical counselor, which I do currently. I could support the person that I’m working with to process things in a non-threatening way. Let’s say for instance they’re working on some kind of art, or they’re just being more creative in their way of thinking. This allows them to really understand the complexities of things that they don’t know how to talk about or verbalize otherwise. 

How has your experience been working in the Project Contact Outpatient program? 

I’m feeling very blessed, I think people have been responding quite well. What I do in terms of the art therapy component more specifically, is that I open up the opportunity to use art therapy in some of the counseling groups that we’re running here in PCO. We are creating an opportunity to use art not just as a hobby, but also as a new way to go about their everyday routine. I run a group called Creative Solutions and Resolutions where participants learn to apply art therapy as a solution to problems in their everyday life. Art therapy can be especially helpful in addressing more complex problems in a creative way and finding that resolution of things that someone is really struggling with.  

How do you view art therapy as a unique approach to behavioral health counseling, and what can it achieve that other types of counseling might not be able to? 

So being creative is a very unique skill. It allows people to look at things very differently than how they’re used to doing. I say that vaguely, because in a lot of ways, just using creative modalities, expressing yourself in a way that resonates with people more openly, is something that people are starting to really take advantage of and learn how to do. I think that art therapy enables someone to form a better understanding of themself individually, but also as a whole, how they could relate to the person next to them. It gives people the opportunity to think about things differently and change their whole perspective of that thing that they were at one point so negatively associated with or drawn to. 

What has gone well so far and what if anything has been challenging?  

My approaches as an art therapist are going well, in the sense that I could approach some of our clients in a way where they have an opportunity to look at things differently and to do something outside of their norm while they’re maintaining their recovery. In terms of challenges, I just say that I’m open to approaching things as they are and seeing how the person responds. If the person doesn’t respond I just roll with it. I see where I can meet with them and what their needs are. Some people don’t even want to do art, sometimes they just really want to talk and look at things differently through that perspective, you know? 

I think it’s really important that there is this understanding of how to just connect to the person individually. And then when it comes to groups, you offer that reassurance that they’re all in it together rather than like just pinpointing that individual within the group setting. So art therapy is really great in the way that you find a lot of that flexibility with certain situations that may feel like a little more tense and stressful otherwise.  

What are your impressions of the Project Contact Outpatient program and CRW in general? 

I love it here. I think that CRW has a really good method to everything in the way that we run things. The support here has been really great. The services that we have at CRW are really nice. It’s also a blessing that we have the opportunity and the resources to provide some services to the outside community within the Lower East Side (such as the Community Food Program, Re-Start Academy, and Peer Services).  

Do you have any closing thoughts? 

I really appreciate CRW hiring me and allowing me to not just be a clinical counselor, but to also allow me to come in with my specialty as an art therapist. if anyone’s seeing this, and want to learn more about our therapy, they’re always able to contact me if they want to just pick my brain. 

I think what’s really great about this is that we’re expanding mental health and everyone’s wellbeing in ways that could be really productive. Not everything is standard or by the book. There’s a lot of ways that we can support people that come into CRW in a hands-on, approachable and person-centered way, and I’m all for it. I love the work that I’m doing here so far and I look forward to doing more of it.