Act Two: From Environmental Entrepreneur to Art Therapist

In this series, we profile real women who have made later-in-life career changes. They share what they’ve learned from their recent career reinventions.

WHO: Stephanie Thorson, 53

WHERE: Toronto, ON

WHAT I DID BEFORE: Environmental entrepreneur and activist

“I was in the environmental field for almost 30 years. In my last role, I was self-employed for seven years doing a number of contracts — ranging from renewable energy to connecting people with nature, specifically as part of a ravine restoration project. Toward the end I was working for Pollution Probe on projects connecting the environment to health.

I suffered an injury that left me unable to type for long periods of time, so I needed to find an alternative to a desk job that was all typing.

I made a list of the things I really liked. And I had found artmaking to be therapeutic. I was in a difficult headspace because of this injury, so on my list of, ‘Jeez, what do I want to do now?’ there were only two things: art and helping people.”

WHAT I DO NOW: Art therapy

“Right now, I’m about halfway through the certification process. But because of the practicum hours required, I’ve already had the opportunity to work as an art therapist in several settings.

Art therapy is actually psychotherapy using art as a means of communication. As a therapist, you have to be able to demonstrate some artistic ability, but the clients you work with don’t need to have any art background at all. They use art to express what doesn’t necessarily come out verbally. The art doesn’t lie. Sometimes patients reveal things about themselves when you start talking about the art. For example, an art therapist will never look at a picture and do an interpretation, because you can never make assumptions. It’s very dependent on the art-maker.”

HOW I GOT THERE

“Once I learned art therapy was actually a job, I discovered the path to get there was a program at the graduate level and it was doable. All of the pieces seem to fit together. So, I applied and got in.”

WHAT I’VE LEARNED

“I will have to hustle. I was an entrepreneur before and that’s going to come in handy, because art therapy is a small, relatively unknown field and I’m going to have to create a path to business opportunities. There aren’t a ton of art therapy jobs just waiting to be snapped up. Basically, you have to create your own. Most art therapists do a combination of things (private clients, clinic work, etc.), and that requires hustling.

Also, I discovered you really need to go through the process yourself before you can help other people. You have to really dive in and examine your own life and go through some exploration and wondering. It’s about asking yourself uncomfortable questions in order to dig out answers and get some perspective. You need to learn about yourself.

So — and I know this may sound trite — it’s been a journey of discovery.”

WHAT I’D DO DIFFERENTLY

“As part of the program, I have to complete 700 hours of practical experience. So, maybe having a clearer sense of where to do practicums that aren’t so far-flung. It’s a bit hard to piece together the practicum opportunities, and I’m still working on making that a little bit more feasible.”

MY ADVICE?

“I talked to an art therapist on the faculty where I was studying before I applied, and that was helpful. In retrospect, it would have been great to talk to even more. So, my advice would be to find people working in the field and talk to them before you commit to a whole path of study and disruption. And understand what the compensation and risks are before you make the leap.”

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