Alex was first introduced to Sheena’s Place while completing a practicum, as an art therapy student at the Toronto Art Therapy Institute. Two years after her practicum ended, she was recommended for a facilitator role by Debbie Anderson, who had been running expressive groups at the house for many years. Since 2018, Alex has been facilitating expressive arts groups that feature textile arts and mindfulness.
Alex believes that art therapy is a flexible medium that can be used when people don’t have the language skills and tools to explain how they feel about what is going on in their bodies. She says that it can be incredible when talking about trauma and that it “has an ability to project how we’re feeling and externalize it.” She firmly believes that art doesn’t have to look like anything and that the purpose is expression.
When working in these spaces, however, Alex sees few BIPOC folks and because of this, there isn’t room to talk about issues of race that might come up in their art. For example, Alex has rarely seen hijabi women in spaces that provide support , leading her and folks who look like her to “sometimes feel erased.” She has also noticed stigma and lack of acknowledgement of mental health issues within the Arab community.
Curious about how the art therapy model compared to a traditional support group setting, Alex began facilitating the BIPOC Support group with Ary. She recognizes the need for more BIPOC groups in general but believes that in order to provide more safe spaces for folks of colour, skill-based and art-based groups would be really beneficial. “There really aren’t enough spaces for them and they don’t feel comfortable in many other spaces. Many try other groups and end up dropping out.”
A four-part “BIPOC Art Therapy Mini-Series” will pilot in the spring of 2021.