Chicago Campus Master of Arts in Counseling: Art Therapy student Zachary D. Van Den Berg (he/him/they/them) recently created a video project, titled Invisible Histories: The Lives & Works of LGBTQ+ Art Therapists. Van Den Berg shares why he wanted to combat the “historical erasure of our community’s presence and contributions to the field of art therapy” by archiving the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ art therapists.
The creative process has, throughout my life, been a respite from a heterosexist world which regularly marks my presence as unnatural, deviant, and insignificant. Early on in my art career, I created mostly self-portraits. I didn’t realize this until recently, but I was actively challenging both distal and proximal stressors by witnessing and grounding myself despite the disorientation concerning hetero-cis normative stigma through paint on a canvas.
The creative process enabled me to foster self-esteem and coping strategies to guide me through that temporary discomfort. It wasn’t until my undergraduate years at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago that I was introduced to the field of art therapy and began to contextualize my experience within the theory and practice of the profession.
I was immediately captivated by the integration of the arts in healing—a process that I had intimately known to be effective. Now, as I achieve my Master of Arts in counseling and art therapy, I strive to create spaces that affirm the value of diversity, both in the art therapy community and its various applications.
Invisible Histories: The Lives & Works of LGBTQ+ Art Therapists brings visibility to brave practitioners courageously voicing their lived experiences, reclaiming their space within art therapy discourse, and promoting resistance against heterosexist assumptions within arts-based mental health care. The LGBTQ+ participants in this initiative represent the vast potential opportunities and spaces we as a community can embody and occupy.
Presented with a scarcity of models that reflected my lived experience in the field of art therapy, I knew I had to start curating such representations on my own. The implicit subjectivity of queer lived experiences underlying each interview gestures towards forgotten memories and wisdom due to the heterosexism within mental health care. I hope these videos inspire others to transform the field as we know it into something beyond our wildest dreams.
This collection aims to cultivate an ongoing documentation of future possibilities that can inspire those who may not hold the privilege to be “out” in the workplace, at home, at school, or even totally to themselves. Invisible Histories counters the historical invisibility and silence of LGBTQ+ practitioners in and outside the field of art therapy.
The most exciting part of this process has been witnessing the spectrum of differences these practitioners represent. Through hearing these stories, I hope others will be inspired to challenge the tendency toward uniformity within art therapy discourse. Such silent governance of queer bodies within professional spaces must be named and contextualized within the mental health professions’ history of marginalization. Opening possibilities to mobilize our unique positioning inscribes us with the power to reinsert ourselves into landscapes that have rendered our impact and our lives invisible.
Van Den Berg is the current president of the Adler Art Therapy Student Association, founder of the international online forums Art Therapy Students Associated and Queer Creative Arts Therapies, and a member on the Multicultural Committee and the Membership Committee of the American Art Therapy Association. He also serves as a volunteer coordinator for Expressive Media’s Film Library, an intern at the Center on Halsted, an LGBTQ+ community center in Chicago, and an intern for Special Projects at the American Art Therapy Association.