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Why I became an art coach

As a toddler I always wanted to draw, and because of my new found passion, my mom started drawing with me. She discovered she could express herself through drawing and painting and started to draw regularly, also when I wasn’t around.

When I was five years old my mom got admitted to the hospital, she was seriously ill and had to undergo major surgery. I was very serious about bringing her drawings. I brought her a drawing with each visit and made sure those drawings were visible from her bed.


When I was around five years old a friend from kindergarten stayed with us every Wednesday. She spent the night and didn’t see her mom until the next day, and saying goodbye to her mom was a big deal for her. She cried her eyes out every time her mom left. I remember making up games and plays to ease the transition.

When I was eleven my dad got a burn-out. He suffered from hyperventilation and attacks of balance disorder. He believed he was going to die every time such an episode occurred. I remember staying in a vacation home with my family. My mom was taking a hike and my dad couldn’t even join her, because he was too tired and afraid. He was just sitting there at the table. He just bought a digital high-8 video camera, which made him really enthusiastic. I proposed to make a film. He said he was too tired. I persisted. My dad likes good comedy, and I decided we were going to make a comedy detective in which I played a thief that took my dad’s car keys while he was asleep. We even constructed a scene in which I got inside of his car, then we switched places, and he drove off while I was filming, so it seemed that I, an eleven year old, drove off.

I could tell that during the whole process of thinking about the film and making it my dad seemed worry free. A few months later, when my dad was feeling better, he admitted that making that film that day was the only thing he liked about the holiday. He felt like he had control over something during a time when he lost control of his own body.

When I was about twenty my best friend suffered from an eating disorder. She seemed depressed and obsessed with losing weight and looking thin. I got invited by her family to join them on a summer vacation to France. I was studying photography at that time and I almost obsessively took portraits of her during the whole week. I have tons of pictures of her under beautiful trees, on rocks, in rivers. I wanted to show her how beautiful she was, that she already was a model and she didn’t need to lose any weight to become one. I could tell she was proud every time I took a picture and she found joy in posing and getting attention.



During my years as an art student, I decided to take a summer job at a children's camp for children whose families didn’t go on holiday. You can imagine most children there weren’t in the best mood; their friends went to summery places while their own parents had to work or didn’t have the financial needs to travel. I gave music lessons to children aged 4 to 13. Most people who worked there were very experienced primary school teachers. I worked together with a strict music teacher of fifty years old.

One day a girl of four years old didn’t want to cooperate in class. She was one of the youngest children there, and she was feeling homesick. She had to vomit and cry, but her parents didn’t want to pick her up. In an attempt to calm her down, we read her a story about the always hungry caterpillar. Every time the story ended, she started crying again. I could tell the other teachers were losing their patience, there was a whole class full of children waiting for them and the little girl was a handful at that moment. I said that I would take her apart. They all looked confused, a young student that wasn’t even a certified teacher was going to take the most ‘difficult’ child? But they all agreed because they were tired of the crying and had thirty kids waiting for them.



So I took the girl to the janitor's office. I noticed that everyone had asked her tons of questions like ‘shall we do this?’ and ‘how are you feeling now?’ and all those questions seemed to overwhelm her. So I decided to stop solving the problem. I asked the janitor for some pieces of paper and pencils. I asked the girl if she wanted to draw. She shook her head and continued crying. I sat next to her and started to draw the butterfly from the story we just read. She was still silently crying next to me, but I could tell she was interested in the drawing. After a while I started talking about the drawing, I said things like ‘hmmm, should I paint this wing red or pink’. ‘Pink!’, said a little voice next to me. I felt like the little girl felt overwhelmed in the camp full of older children without her parents, so she needed some autonomy back. By deciding about something small like the color of the butterflies’ wings, she got that autonomy. Slowly but surely she started to talk. Apparently the police had been at her house one night and asked something about passports. From the incoherent story of a four year old I couldn’t tell what was going on exactly, but it sounded like her home situation was chaotic and it was all too much for her.

When the music class ended the teachers came to check up on us. They couldn’t believe what they saw: the little girl was happily drawing a butterfly of her own. Of course her situation wasn’t solved, but in that moment the girl felt at ease again and that was all I wanted for her. The janitor had tears in her eyes and told the other teachers ‘she is an amazing teacher’. I realized she was talking about me. It was a very sweet thing to say of her, but it wasn’t true. Later on I started teaching film and acting to large groups of children. I have a lot of respect for teachers who can maintain an overview in a crowded classroom, because it is not something I’m good at. I’m good at talking to kids after class ends. Children always want to stick around and tell me they get bullied, or their parents are getting a divorce or something else that is going on in their lives.

The last example of a kid that helped me realize I needed to become an art therapist was in one of my theater groups.


He stuttered heavily, had anger issues that were so bad that he got kicked out of four schools. During one of my classes he threatened to punch another kid in the face. He was just two inches away from the other boy's face. I decided not to get mad at the boy. I just said ‘we’re not going to punch him’ and took him apart. He was very angry and I let him be angry. Actually I did not do much, because I realized the boy had been punished a lot for being angry and maybe he just needed to be angry. He had a lot of reasons to, because he told me later on, his dad was an alcoholic and left him. During the next class I let him move tables together with the boy he got angry at. They became best friends. I gave him a huge monologue. He said he couldn’t do it, because he stuttered. I said I didn’t care, everyone had flaws and he could do the monologue stuttering.

At the end of the class the children performed a play, and the angry boy did that monologue in front of a whole audience. He honestly was the best actor in the group. With a big voice and lots of humor he performed his part and got dozens of compliments from the audience. Of course this is an example of a huge transformation and it’s rare. Also it is not due to me, but it’s all the boy: he had immense talent and the will to change. The only thing I did was trust him. I believe not many people did that at that point and I believe that’s what he needed.

Everyone needs something else. Maybe one person needs to scream, where another needs to be silent. Maybe someone is helped by making a painting while another just wants to listen to music and do nothing. Maybe one person needs to be in a group to overcome the fear of socializing, while another needs to be alone. The great thing about art is that all those things are possible. While teaching I realized I wasn’t interested in teaching people techniques or skills. I just wanted to bring them closer to themselves and I like to use art to make that happen.

I tried really hard to be an artist and I still want to make films and plays, but I don’t like that to be my only life purpose. I guess I like art to be my friend, my home, my piece of mind. I don’t like it to be a brand, a goal, I don’t need recognition for my artistry. Right now I am working on a musical comedy piece about the first year of motherhood.

That’s something I like to make, because it helped me feel like I had something that was just for me during that first year of motherhood in which you can lose yourself a little. I feverishly started writing at night when I couldn’t sleep and composed songs about placentas and sleep deprivation while my baby was playing next to me on the ground. It saved me from going insane when I was alone with my baby for twelve hours in a row, when my day consisted of feeding, changing diapers and trying to get my baby to sleep.



But I like to make this musical comedy piece foremost, because I want it to be a huge relief to hundreds of other moms who might recognize themselves in my story. I want to make them feel that we all lose ourselves as new moms and we don’t need to feel happy all the time.

If creations of mine help other people feel connected to themselves, then it’s great. I continue to make art, but I can only do it if I can also be an art coach. These two closely intertwined professions make my work life complete.

What I really love is to facilitate those little and big transitions in one-to-one sessions, webinars, through e-books and group workshops. Check out my sessions to see how I can facilitate you.



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