Today we’d like to introduce you to Pamela Hayes.
Pamela, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I consider myself an artist and always have. I was first introduced to the idea of Art Therapy when my high school art teacher, Mr. Hoffman, took our entire class on a field trip to a gallery exhibit of artwork, not by artists, but by people suffering from migraine headaches. I was entranced by the creative representation of their suffering. They clearly expressed their pain through the use of color and shapes. It never before occurred to me that art and medicine could be so interwoven.
Although I continued my artistic path to Parsons School of Design in NYC, where I had dreams of a career as a graphic designer, I remained interested in the idea of “art as therapeutic”. By my second year of college, I fell in love with painting, drawing and sculpting, so I abandoned my commercial art pursuit, and completed my studies as a fine artist. I just wanted to express my feelings and experiences through art.
After graduating with a BFA, it occurred to me that I had set myself up to live the life of a “starving artist” – something that made me a little nervous. For many years I worked in galleries – in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco. For a few years, I even worked in art restoration.
While living in San Francisco, as a Christmas gift one year, my roommate, Dmitri, gave me a new calendar from Napa State Psychiatric Hospital. That 1990 calendar displayed the artwork created by the psychiatric patients. This simple appointment book reignited my original interest in art as therapy – even though, at this point, I had no idea this was an actual field of study or a feasible career. On the back of this calendar was a name and a number. I took a risk, and called, I said to her, “I want to do what you do. How do I do that?”
She graciously introduced to me the world of Art Therapy. Within a month, I quit my gallery job, applied to Notre Dame de Namur University’s Art Therapy graduate program, and after more than 25 years in this field, I have never been disappointed with that choice. I love using a creative language to guide my clients through the journey of self-discovery and self-improvement.
I am so grateful, and still quite amazed, that I get payed to make art with people. Over the course of my career I have worked in hospitals, schools, residential and foster care, in-patient and out-patient treatment centers, private practice and elderly day care. My patients have spanned the whole gamete from 5-year-old sexual abuse victims, suicidal teenagers, families in crisis, and couples struggling in their relationships. I have found that Art Therapy is applicable to all life’s struggles, including addictions, depression, anxiety, OCD, Autism, gender and sexuality, dementia and relationships.
Today, I am implementing Art Therapy in multiple different venues. I run Art Therapy groups at many of the drug treatment centers in Los Angeles and Malibu, I see individuals and couples at The Goodlife Academy Wellness Center, in Reseda. I do not even have to be in the same room with my clients for the art process to be therapeutic: recently I have found that Art Therapy is even possible in an online format. For the past two years I have been working with the online therapy app, Talkspace, which is a company that provides lower cost therapy through text and live video. As a therapist on Talkspace, I will give my client an art directive and they will draw or paint at home, send me a photograph of what they made, and then we will discuss the relevance and what their art ultimately reveals.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Being an Art Therapist isn’t always easy, because most people either have not heard of Art Therapy or they have a misconception of what it is. I am always explaining and defending the merits of my own career. Often times on an airplane or at an event, I am asked “So, what do you do?” I hesitate because I know this is not going to be a short and simple answer like “I am an accountant” (everyone knows what an accountant is). When I say, “I am an Art Therapist”, I usually get a smile and then a look of confusion, and a “What is that?” People have asked me if I do therapy just for artists. (Nope, not necessarily) People have asked if I take my clients to the museum. (Nope, never). What I tell them is, “I have my clients draw, paint, sculpt and collage as another language”.
I have had to prove again and again that Art Therapy has effective and qualitative results. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) refuses to recognize the importance of Art Therapy, and has denied any Art Therapy classes, seminars or lectures as continuing education units for PhDs. Only a few states have licensure for Art Therapists, so many of us must have a license in another area, such as Social Work or Marriage and Family Therapy.
When searching for a job way back when I was fresh out of graduate school in 1992, potential employers would say “Art Therapy, we don’t do that here. Can you just do regular therapy with our patients?” Many of my jobs over the years have employed me as a Marriage and Family Therapist (which I am also licensed as), but I would start including Art Therapy techniques, and my employers would often be amazed with the therapeutic value of the art.
BUT, that challenge is also what makes me LOVE being an Art Therapist so much. I get to be a pioneer in the field. Art Therapy provides me with something significantly unique that sets me apart from all other Marriage and Family Therapist, Social Workers and other therapists and counselors.
We’d love to hear more about your business.
Hayes Art Therapy is a one woman operation. I have been creating my own work opportunities for over 25 years. I have been promoting the therapeutic healing value of art throughout the world. I have been lecturing on the merits of having my clients make art to express themselves, to understand their subconscious and to create a better life.
Besides being licensed as a Marriage Family Therapist, I am also a Board Certified as an Art Therapist. With traditional talk therapy, words are our primary method of communication, but often words cannot express the complexity of our internal and emotional lives. The process of art-making provides my patients with a means to their subconscious world that is unrefined and uncensored. I have my clients draw, paint, collage and sculpt as another means of communication. Often times, at first, my clients may feel scared or intimidated that they are not “artistic”, so I tell them that “You don’t have to be good, you just have to be willing.” I have found this allows my clients to go deeper with their therapeutic work and ultimately bring them greater insight and growth.
In addition to the Art Therapy, I also specialize in working with LGBTQ clients as well as anyone struggling with sexuality, shame/acceptance and alternative lifestyle, such as polyamory, open relationships, BDSM and kink. Many clients may not feel comfortable confronting these issues just using words. Art is a safe place for this populations. In fact, drawing, painting, collaging and sculpting allows my patients be honest and express themselves without having to look me in the eye. Often, they will get honest and genuine much faster than in traditional face to face therapy.
Providing Art Therapy as an independent contractor, under the name of Hayes Art Therapy, allows me to work in many different agencies and to reach so many different people. Everyone needs to be heard, and therapy has always been a catalyst to allow people to tell their stories; whether it is be about a relationship, anxiety and fears, or about goals in life.
We all have the same job during our lifetime, and that is to share with others. We each have a unique mission of sharing, some share their money, some share their innovations and some share their empathy. I feel what I do as an Art Therapist is to share by guiding people to tap into their own creativity and gain a deeper understanding of themselves and how they relate to others. And in that way, my clients can get past their own fears and find their true way of giving back to others – to discover their own true mission in life.
I am really proud that I have been able to create a career that has sustained me – it has not made me rich by any means. It has allowed me to do what I love – make art. I have worked really hard to pioneer the field of Art Therapy and make it known to the larger population, I do that by creating a free video podcast, “3 Minute Art Therapy”, by providing free and low-cost workshops throughout the Los Angeles and San Fernando Valley area, and lecturing throughout the world on the merits of Art Therapy. You may even find me at Coffee Bean or LAX with my sketchbook, asking strangers to participate in the creativity. Somethings Sketchy is my social project of random acts of art.
Strangers are asked to draw anything. They don’t have to be creative, just willing. I get to share how we are all drawn together (Instagram: SomethingsSketchy)
I think back on when I called the phone number from the Napa State Hospital calendar. I don’t even recall the name of the woman who answered my call, but I am grateful that she did and she lead me to this career path.
I am so honored to be able to pay it forward by responding to each email or phone call that I receive on a weekly basis from young people who are just discovering Art Therapy and want to know “How do I do what you do?”
I am also really proud that I was featured on the Soul Pancake show “The Science of Happiness” in which we proved that making art can make you happier (https://youtu.be/BN2rTaFUlxs)
What were you like growing up?
I grew up as a middle child, older sister/younger brother, in Youngstown, OH, which in the 1970’s was a typical midwestern suburban city. I was always a creative, artsy kid spending my Saturday mornings taking extra art classes. As a 9-year-old, I thought I had the perfect life: I had a brand new purple 10 speed bike, my mom worked part time as a nurse, dad was a dentist, and we lived in a house with a pool in the back yard.
When my parents divorced I was embarrassed, shocked and devastated. I was 13-year-old when my mom moved with my brother and me to a suburb of Cleveland, where I struggled to fit in. I went from living upper middle class to being the poor kid on the block. I struggled with my sexuality and lost my virginity way too early. Art comforted me. I always carried a sketchbook with me as a friend and a distraction.
As a teenager, I wore only thrift store clothes, cut my hair short and spikey, and fully embraced my persona as the artist, In the summer of 1985 I escaped to NYC, having earned a scholarship to attend a summer art program at Parsons School of Design. By the time I graduated high school in 1986, I had smoked a lot of weed, had a lot of sex (with both males and females), ran off to NYC several times, filled up at least a dozen sketchbooks, and knew that I had to get myself back to New York City as quickly as possible.
- Art Therapy session – In office/ Face to face: $175 per session
- Online Art Therapy video session: $125 per session
- Online Art Therapy consultation (for therapist): $100 per session
- Art and Sexuality Group: $140 for 4 weeks
- Address: The Goodlife Academy
18719 Calvert Street, Reseda, CA 91335
- Website: HayesArtTherapy.com
- Phone: 818-836-1239
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: SomethingsSketcky
- Facebook: HayesArtTherapy
- Twitter: @HayesArtTherapy
- Yelp: Hayes Art Therapy
- Other: YouTube: 3 Minute Art Therapy