Follow Your Heart: Advice From a Graduate of Southwestern College
I am a professional art therapist and clinical mental health counselor in private practice in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I have also worked as a counseling aide, a home-based family therapist, and an outpatient therapist at a children’s behavioral health agency. These many valuable experiences have informed my professional identity and given me the foundation to open my own private practice.
I love private practice — I have the flexibility to set my own hours, the freedom to create my own space in the location of my choice, the authority to establish my own fees and office policies, and the autonomy to create my own professional network of trusted colleagues and peer consultants who share my value of authenticity, creativity, and ethical client-centered practices.
But the best part about being an art therapist / counselor is not my private practice. The best part the deep knowing I have every time I co-create a therapeutic space with another, every time I’m able to attune to a client experiencing inner conflict, emotional upset, or self-judgment, every time I have the honor of bearing witness to the magnificent resilience of humanity, and every time I can, in some way, facilitate a greater self-awareness or empowerment, that I’m fulfilling (in part) the work I’m here to do.
This was not always the case.
I used to work as a forensic firearms technician for the Federal Bureau of Investigations Crime Laboratory in Washington, DC. Working for the FBI was challenging, exciting, adventurous, and at times really quite fun. I had amazing colleagues and supervisors who were dedicated to and believed in their work, yet for me, something was missing. I didn’t feel the same passion, dedication, or vision. The job was just a job, even though it paid well and carried an esteemed reputation. Something was missing, and that haunted my dreams, impacted my mood, and left me the perpetual uneasy feeling that required more work, more activity, and more distraction to fend off.
In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus is quoted to have said: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you” (Pagles, 1979).
In a different tradition, Angeles Arrien, a renowned and well loved cultural anthropologist and wisdom teacher said, “Where we don’t bring our gifts and talents into the world is where the Earth becomes sicker” (Arrien, 2007).
Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, pay attention if the above messages give you chills, or goose bumps, or resonate with your own inner knowing. Pay attention, and ask yourself: “What am I not bringing forward?” For me, the quotes above speak to the urge I felt many years ago (and despite all reason) to follow my heart. Forensic science is a necessary field and a worthy discipline, but alas it was not my “soul work.”
Yet I was stubborn. My career shift was necessitated by a family tragedy, followed by what I can only see now as a series of clearly synchronistic and painfully significant events. What might feel like death to the caterpillar is actually profound transformation, resulting in rebirth, freedom, beauty, and flight.
Today, I am grateful for the synchronicities that brought me to Southwestern College. I am grateful for the soul work that I call my “career.”
As Ray Bradbury advises, “Sometimes you just have to take the leap and build your wings on the way down!”
Arrien, A. (2007). The second half of life: Opening the eight gates of wisdom. Sounds True.
Pagels, E. H. (1979). The gnostic gospels. Random House LLC.
By Laura L. Lansrud-López, M.S., M.A., LPCC, LPAT, ATR-BC, ATCS, ACS
Laura is the Clinical Director of Southwestern College’s Tierra Nueva Counseling Center. As an educator, Laura embraces a transformative learning approach that honors our lived experience and inner wisdom while cultivating practical skills, knowledge, critical thinking, creativity, and above all curiosity. She has over 10 years’ experience teaching graduate level courses in art therapy and counseling, both online and in person, offers continuing education and workshops for licensed professionals, and provides clinical supervision in both art therapy and counseling across the country.
Laura has held positions of Secretary and President of the New Mexico Art Therapy Association and was a member of the Nominations Board for the Art Therapy Credentials Board. She can be reached at www.ArtTherapySantaFe.com