Hello! My name is Beth Lykins, and I am a current student at SWC. I am starting my final quarter of my first year in the Art Therapy and Counseling program, and I wanted to share a student’s perspective of life at SWC. I am attending part-time, so I generally take two courses per term. I am on program planner 4, which is a 3.5 year plan of study. I chose it because I wanted to make sure I have time to process and integrate what I am learning instead of rushing through in a whirlwind, forgetting half of what I learned and never having time for myself.
As I researched art therapy and counseling programs, I was looking for the right balance between introspection and intellectual rigor. I transferred here from a different art therapy program on the other side of the country after one semester. I fell in love with art therapy during my time at the other school, but the sterile, clinical approach of their program left me feeling as though something was missing. I wanted the holistic approach that SWC seemed to offer, and it has proven to be the right choice for me.
I was a college professor for a decade before leaving that life behind to move to Santa Fe to attend SWC. Had this been a program dedicated to naval gazing and wishful thinking I would not have chosen to come here. I was drawn here because of the mixture of spiritual exploration/expression and academic study pertinent to the field of art therapy and counseling. I was also attracted to the idea that we have the Tierra Nueva Counseling Center where students have an opportunity to work directly with people in Santa Fe. Due to the location of the school and counseling center in the Agua Fria area of Santa Fe’s south side, and the fact that there is a sliding scale for services, a large number of the clients served are under-represented people who might not otherwise have access to mental health services. That was extremely attractive to me because I believe that mental health services are not just the purview of the wealthy, and the chance to work with diverse populations as a student is very important to me.
I love that SWC acknowledges that humans are more than just specimens to be studied, diagnosed, and “cured,” but rather are living, breathing, thinking, and feeling people who are complex and multifaceted. My experiences at SWC have fostered an understanding of people and the issues they encounter in life through a lens of compassion and empathy, with a healthy dose of neuroscience and theory to help me understand why people feel the way they do and various ways I might go about being of assistance.
I also have a deep interest in social justice issues, and feminist perspectives. I would like to work with underserved populations, especially in the areas of grief and trauma. Socio-economic inequity is also something I care very much about and being a member of the LGBTQ community, I am particularly interested in helping the world shift its view of the “other.”
When I was a professor, I developed a course called “Seeing Sideways” and I love to bring alternative perspectives into the situations I encounter. SWC has been a really good place to do this and I have been thrilled to discover that some of the exact same techniques I developed on my own are very similar to some of the processes being taught here at SWC. I had no idea this would be the case, but it was a beautiful case of synchronicity for me. That is how I can tell this is the exact place I am supposed to be.
Two professors I have taken classes with are Heather Leigh, core art therapy faculty, and Kate Cook, who is a legend in the field of neurobiology and psychodrama. I have had two courses with each of them and I feel that the issues I care about are very much at the forefront of their pedagogy. Heather is very interested in feminist studies and integrating a multicultural approach to art therapy, and Kate is very sensitive to issues of intergenerational trauma and working with people who are different from others. She spent many years working with male inmates and she speaks of it in her classes often, sharing pertinent stories from the field, and how it shifted her perspective on many things. Heather and Kate are the two best professors I have ever worked with, and having already been through graduate school for a different discipline, I have worked with many, many educators. I can honestly say that they changed my life.
I have also had a class with Katherine Ninos, and she is another exemplary instructor. Her approach is different from Heather’s and Kate’s with much more of a spiritual focus, but that does not mean it is any less useful. In fact, it is useful on both an intellectual and a soul level. With Katherine, I learned to critically examine myself and my motives, while at the same time, start practicing some core techniques of counseling and human relationship, centering on the self. Self-compassion was a core concept of the course I took with her.
I have learned a lot here, and I must admit, I came in thinking the classes would be a breeze. After all, I had been a professor myself, so how hard could it possibly be? I was in for an awakening. My experiences have been that the courses are not easy, even if they might seem to be at first glance. There is a wonderful balance between personal and professional, spiritual and scientific, as well as emotional and intellectual. I have grown so much as a person and also as a budding professional art therapist in my short time here. The professors are experienced in shepherding students through this process of transformation and more than willing to work with students individually. Not only have I learned about myself, I have learned about the field in general, and how attachment patterns ripple out into every aspect of our lives. I have learned to critically examine my motives for helping others, I have learned about how the brain functions, and I have learned about how other cultures view art, just to name a few things.
I am also a member of the newly founded student diversity group, headed by fellow art therapy and counseling student, Brittnee Page. She is an assistant to Heather Leigh and also runs the Art Hive, which is an open art studio. Unfortunately I have not been able to attend the open studio, but I do try to attend all of the diversity group meetings, where the group is currently working on a mission statement and very much in the process of discovering its direction. There is a fierce commitment among the students to addressing diversity in a myriad of ways, so I am excited to see how this group evolves.
The other thing I am heavily involved with is a writing group that meets each week. It is a free-writing experience based on the work of Natalie Goldberg and is facilitated by Ann Filemyr, who is, among many other things, a published poet. While it is not a place for critique, it is a place to come together with others and share the experience of writing. It is not affiliated with any course and is very open as far as attendance. Students, faculty, and staff all attend, which makes for a really rich experience. People come and go each week as they want, and it adds to the spontaneity of the sessions because you never know who will add their words to the collective energy. I enjoy writing and I have found it to be a place where I can explore ideas and share (or not; sharing is completely optional) my words with other writers. It has been a wonderful ancillary activity to balance the formal writing from class, and I have processed a great deal of what has come up for me from the classes through these exercises.
As with any academic experience, you get as much from your time at SWC as you are willing to put in to it, but I have discovered that if you are willing to go the extra mile, the faculty is very supportive. I discovered and fell in love with Jungian and Existential theories of art therapy, and Heather Leigh has been more than willing to help me research it beyond the requirements of the course. In fact, she has shared information with me about her doctoral studies at Mount Mary, and I am seriously considering pursuing a doctorate in art therapy (DAT, which is a brand new credential) when I am finished at SWC and been in the field for a while.
SWC might not be the right place for everyone, and I believe that every student should make the choice that is right for them, but if you are interested in a balance of spirituality and academics, I urge you to check us out. Graduate school is not a decision to make lightly. Explore the options. I did, and I am grateful for my time at the other school, too, because it helped me understand what I was really looking for. Holistic studies are very important to me and I knew SWC was the right place for me after I visited! I gave up a very successful teaching career to become a very poor grad student again. Believe me, that was not something I did lightly! I was positive of my decision when I applied, but my experiences here, thus far, have far exceeded my expectations.
My hope for you is that you can find a school that clicks for you in the way this one has for me. Best of luck in your search, and please feel free to reach out if you decide to look into SWC as an option.