Christiane Kelegher has always been passionate about art, but found herself more interested in the actual process of creating rather than the finished product. It was this interest, in part, that drew her to the MSc Art Psychotherapy course at Queen Margaret University (QMU).
Here, Christiane explains a little more about her experiences on the course, the impact the degree has had on her personally and professionally, and what she has done since graduation.
Tell us a little about yourself such as your hobbies/interests that are related or not related to your course of study.
I’ve always loved making art, and studied as an artist in my first degree. I have always been more interested in the process than the final product, and the innate therapeutic qualities of making art.
I also have a keen interest in story and narrative in its many forms including fiction, comics, video games and film. If there is an activity considered ‘geeky’, it’s probably one of my hobbies!
This combination of loving art and narrative, combined with my curiosity (or nosiness!) about other people and their lives made the idea of studying Art Psychotherapy a dream for me.
Why did you choose to study at QMU and what attracted you to the course?
The Art Psychotherapy course at QMU was highly spoken of by the art therapists I communicated with. I liked the fact that the course is an MSc and so teaches a scientific method unlike some other universities which teach the profession as an MA. I also found the international status of the course attractive and was overjoyed that this was all happening in a university within my city.
Why did you choose to study in Edinburgh?
I grew up in Edinburgh and love the city. It’s a beautiful place with something for everyone, whether you want a day at the beach on the east coast, a day hiking in the Pentland hills, or more of an urban experience in the city centre.
What have you most enjoyed about your course? What has been your highlight?
I loved the encouragement on the course to pursue your interests.
Within Art Psychotherapy, there are numerous client groups as well as theories for working within these groups. Within the supervisory and placement portion of the course, I was encouraged and supported to follow my own line of enquiry while also feeling grounded and backed by the tutors to become an ethical worker. While the final clinical project was hard work, it is now something I think of fondly as a piece of work I created from my interests which has helped me to become a better therapist.
How have your lecturers supported your learning?
As the course numbers are relatively small and you work closely with the lecturers in both supervision and in interpersonal groups, the lecturers feel approachable and are a good support for a hard but rewarding course.
Each lecturer has their own specialism so if they do not know the answer to your question, they are happy to give you the name of a different lecturer who most likely will. They are all passionate about their own specialisms as well as the subject of art psychotherapy itself, and so are really interesting to debate and speak with.
What have been some of your challenges with the course and university life? How have you overcome them?
Studying a psychodynamic course is hard work. Not only is it challenging academically, but you are also looking at aspects of yourself in a way you have never looked before. Because of this you need the support of your peers, of your tutors and of your personal therapist.
I am the sort of person who tends to look out for other people before I look after myself and I have to learn to accept and seek out this support. A major learning point in the course for me is ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’, meaning in order to look after others you need to learn how to be looked after and how to look after yourself.
Did you take part in a placement as part of your course and if so, what was your experience?
I had two very different but rewarding placement experiences. One within the charity sector with children and one within the NHS with adults. The contrast within how these two sectors work was a very good learning experience in itself, and helped me construct more of an idea in how I would like to work after graduation.
The placements are invaluable as you are treated as a working art psychotherapist, and so can see what you are learning making sense and coming alive within your placement work.
Any advice for students who might be interested in this course?
The course is hard but very much worth it. Start from a strong base. If you can, find a personal therapist before the course starts and give yourself a chance to look at yourself in a different way.
Work and volunteer with people within a care context to have an idea of the groups of people you will work with, and if you come from an arts background, try to let go of the taught idea of the finished product within your art making.
Enhancing our student learning and personal development
Have you joined any schemes/initiatives to enhance your learning and development such as a mentoring scheme, volunteering scheme, etc.?
During the summer between my first and second year, I volunteered as an art assistant in a group for adults looking at their mental health. I also attended, via the University, an art therapy conference in Freiburg, Germany, and attended as many external lectures as I could that were recommended by the lecturers. This gave me a richer learning experience and an idea of the world outside the University.
Life as a student at QMU
What’s your 'top tip’ for making the most of being a student?
This is your life and your university experience. Study what you are passionate about and use the facilities and surroundings in the way that works for you. You can learn so much from your peers and the people you meet.
What has been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned at university?
I have gained a feeling of community and learned what it feels like to be surrounded by people passionate about the same things I’m passionate about.
What have you been doing since you graduated from QMU?
Since graduation, I have volunteered for the NHS under an honorary contract. I have also returned to the University on two separate occasions as a guest lecturer.
Currently I volunteer as an art psychotherapist with a charity which works with teenagers, and I use the skills I learned at QMU working with the elderly in the charity sector. I have also received funding for an art therapy pilot I am co-running for adults dealing with stress and anxiety.
I try to involve myself with the British Association of Art Therapists as much as I can, and currently volunteer as the Scottish secretary.
In the future I want to build on the work I’ve started and hopefully become more involved within the research component of my field. Eventually, I wish to pursue a PhD in the field.
"The Art Psychotherapy course at QMU was highly spoken of by the art therapists I communicated with. I liked the fact that the course is an MSc and so teaches a scientific method unlike some other universities which teach the profession as an MA."
[Published March 2019]