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10 Minutes, 10 Questions with art therapist Susy Langsdale

We spoke to Susy about being an art therapist, the biggest challenge they've faced and their LQBTQ+ hero.

1. What did you want to be when you were 16?

I was torn between wanting to be an artist and wanting to be something in the medical profession, because I knew I wanted to help people. Looking back on this now, it makes me smile because I had an intuitive understanding of how much art had helped me, but didn't know that using art to support people was an option. It's a relief to be in the profession I am in now, and I'm so glad I knew about it.

2. What do you do now?

I am an art psychotherapist. This means I work in mental health settings as a therapist but that my therapeutic practice centres the healing potential of art making. For the people I work with, this means that they can make images in our sessions and then I spend time supporting them to make sense of what they are communicating in their image. Sometimes it can be really difficult to talk about things that are bothering us and, in my experience, the art work can help to express some of these difficult things in a safer, more gentle way.

3. What do you like most about your work?

I like so much about my work! I like getting to work so closely with people. It feels like an honour to be able to support people to make sense of their experiences and to encounter their creative inner selves at such close proximity. Often the people I work with teach me new ways to see the world and think about mental health. I also enjoy learning how to really listen to what people are saying when you work with them, never making assumptions about their lives and helping them to understand their lives in all the rich complexity that we each carry within us.

4. What advice would you give to someone who wants to do what you do?

The work can be upsetting because people share very traumatic experiences and you often encounter the sheer violence of our political system. In order to manage this I rely on my support network and self care practice, and would advise you to as well. I would recommend learning to ask your friends for support, having art therapy yourself and also having a self-care practice that you try your best not to neglect. For me, self care looks like doing kickboxing, reading in bed, going out into nature and spending time laughing and feeling light with friends.

5. How would your friends describe you in 3 words?

Big Virgo energy

6. What has been your biggest challenge so far?

I think for a lot of art therapists, we neglect our own creative practice. A lot of us tend to go into this profession because we have experiences of art helping us with emotional pain and are also good at taking care of other people. It can be easier to help someone else with their own emotional lives, rather than trying to make space for our own. I still struggle to make time for my own creative practice, but I am working on it. I try to remind myself to spend time with my creative self.

7. What are you most proud of?

I have learnt to say no! I think for people who work in the caring professions, we can put other people first all the time. Learning that I can centre my own needs, and say no when things feel too much is something I am really proud of. Sometimes you will let people down, and that's ok.

8. What’s the weirdest thing that has ever happened to you?

Perhaps that I recently made a life size fabric doll called Maggie who lives in my flat? She’s not at all creepy...

9. What do you know now, that you would tell your younger self?

Don't stop making art! You are good enough at it! I'd time travel them a copy of the book "Your Art Will Save Your Life" by Beth Pickens.

10. If you were stuck on an island, what three things would you take with you?

My cats, my books and an a permanently charged speaker linked to my Spotify account.

Bonus! Who is your LGBTQ+ Hero?

This is a nice question to end with. I am queer, and my queerness has really shaped my practice as an art therapist. It has made me more open to solidarity with the people I work with and more thoughtful about how power manifests in the work. I love the work of artist Dolly Sen. She describes herself as a "professional mad person" and is really critical of mental health services and austerity. I adore how she uses creativity. I recommend everyone follows her (@dollydollysen on twitter) and looks at Recovery in the Bin which she is involved in.