Gretchen’s Story

 

As I sit at the art table with children and their parents, they often ask how i came about this work. Initially the questions will center around art therapy; its role, purpose, and education. After those questions the parents often want to know my personal story. Why did I choose to work in this profession? One where the outcome can be heartbreaking.

The truth is, i did not initially want to work with children. I wanted to work with adults, to help them regain the joy of childhood. 20 years ago in undergrad as a anthropology/sociology student i took an expressive therapies class. While the music and the dance were not enjoyable to me, the art was. I realized i was using art as an emotional release for myself most of my life. I even chose not to take art classes because my creations were too close to my heart and my feelings.

After graduation i traveled the country with a friend and met a woman in California studying art therapy. As we lay in our tent on the side of the road talking about our futures i had an epiphany. I wanted to become an art therapist and work with adults who were HIV positive and/or suffering from AIDS. I had a purpose and a plan. I rounded up a few friends to move out to California so i could get residency and go back to school. Ah the best laid plans…

Ten years later I find myself as a single mother in Maryland with the chance to go back to school. As The George Washington University was right in D.C. and had the oldest Art Therapy program in the U.S., I knew the time was right. I had talked with Tracy at Georgetown to get a feel for the program and the profession and decided to take the plunge. I still wanted to work with adults, until my internships exposed me to the joys of working with children. By the time the Children’s clinic in Falls Church had an opening I had gotten my Masters in Art Therapy and my Graduate Counseling Licensure. I was ready for Tracy’s Kids. What i love best about this program is the whole family work I am able to do. Helping adults and children brings me joy at the end of each day.

Six Days A Week

I joined Tracy’s Kids Art Therapy Program at Children’s National Medical Center (CNMC) in May of 2008.  I worked Monday through Friday during traditional daytime 9-5 hours.  Then in January of this year I had a baby.  I transitioned into working part time after my return from maternity leave and requested that one of the days I work be Saturdays.  I knew that this would make it possible for a family member to watch my son, but what I didn’t know was how different, and wonderful, it would be to work at the hospital on a Saturday.

 During the weekdays at CNMC there is an incredible wealth of services and activities available to patients and their families.  When I came in to work on my first Saturday I was shocked at how incredibly quiet the unit was.  There were no activities for the kids to participate in and most of the children spent the weekends sitting bored in their rooms.  When I first started going into patients’ rooms on Saturdays they would become incredibly excited and almost always one of their first questions to me was, “is the art room open?!!”  Now the children are frequently waiting at the art room door for me when I arrive on Saturday morning.  I even had one child who, upon entering her room at 8:45 in the morning, greeted me by saying, “you’re here! Finally! I’ve been waiting.  These are the things I need for my project.” 

 Another especially rewarding aspect of having the art room open on Saturdays has been that it has enabled so many more families to be together in the art room.  Many children only get to see their siblings in the evenings and on weekends.  Being present on Saturdays has enabled the art therapy program to really reach more children who are in need of services.  And shockingly, Saturdays have actually become my favorite day to work.  I did not previously realize that there was such a void on the weekends, but I’m so happy to get to be able to bring a little more enjoyment to our patients outside of the usual weekday hours.