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Finding Your Niche: Graduate Discovers Calling in Parent and Infant Art Therapy

Stories | 08.26.19

Rachel Ackerman, M.A. ’17, a graduate of the Master of Arts in Counseling: Art Therapy program in Chicago, has blended three of her life’s greatest passions together in a unique career that is both fulfilling and socially impactful. She shares how she leveraged her degree from Adler University to meet a crucial community need: infant mental health and perinatal family development.

Since I was very young, I had three seemingly unrelated passions in life: art, psychology, and babies.

I come from a long family history of creative people, so my artistic drive runs deeply through my blood. As a toddler, I struggled greatly with various anxiety disorders, including selective mutism. And as for babies, my mother ran a daycare in our house for more than ten years, so I was heavily involved in caring for the babies and very much enjoyed watching them grow up.

By the time I got to Adler University, I already knew I wanted to become an art therapist, combining two of my three passions. Adler stuck out to me because the counseling and art therapy program focused more heavily on clinical mental health and psychology as fundamental building than other schools. However, I still yearned to somehow incorporate infant interaction.

Eventually I stumbled upon a book by counselor and art therapist Kate King called The Authentic Mother: Creative Art Engagement to Support the New Parent. This book deeply inspired me and opened my eyes to infant mental health and the world of art therapy with perinatal families. From there, I researched this field as much as I could and completed my school projects on the subject whenever possible.

After graduating, I stubbornly Googled career openings that strictly fit my niche interests and found Kate Taylor, music therapist, doula, and owner of Creative Childbirth Concepts. She quickly took me under her wing and together, we collaborated to bring music and art therapy to educate families on preparing for birth and postpartum.

All the while, I continued to broaden my knowledge, became trained as a birth and labor doula through DONA International, and eventually transitioned to another practice, where I have developed Parent-Infant-Dyad Art Psychotherapy sessions to enhance bonding and effective emotional communication using art directives.

America has the highest maternal and infant death rates of any developed country, which is continuing to rise while other countries’ rates decline. To make matters worse, black women and babies are over four times more likely to die of perinatal complications than white women. Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) are also the most common mental health disorders after childbirth, yet are the least diagnosed and properly treated.

It is my goal as counselor, art therapist, and doula to fill a need for this underserved population by educating families and other professionals about preventable mental health disorders and sharing creative and evidence-based ways to support our most vulnerable populations. It is also my goal to continue mental health support postpartum to ensure healthy infant bonding to end the cycle of abuse, neglect, and other serious attachment disorders whose effects linger into adulthood.

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