Portrait of an Art Therapist

For our Master of Art Therapy alumni, art isn’t just visual, it’s a tool for healing. Alumna Xiang Li explains how her combined love for helping others and creating art led to her career as an Art Therapist.

La Trobe University's Master of Art Therapy equips its graduates with the therapeutic skills required to assist people in times of emotional distress, using art as a tool to promote the well-being of their clients. Alumni emerge with the theoretical knowledge and experience required to work as an art therapist in a wide variety of contexts.

To gain deeper insights into the diverse nature of this profession, we had the opportunity to speak with alumna Xiang Li, founder of Art Therapy Melbourne, and a renowned artist and curator.

Prior to her enrolment in the Master of Art Therapy program at La Trobe, Xiang spent nine years working in the disability sector while creating award-winning art. Recognising the potential to merge her two passions, she changed her career path and completed her post-graduate degree in 2023.

‘The Master of Art Therapy program combined my skills and experience of being a professional artist with my passion for bettering mental health for everyone.’

Art therapy in Australia continues to face misconceptions and a lack of widespread awareness and recognition. There is still confusion between "art therapy" and "art as therapy," where many people mistakenly view art therapy as a form of recreational art rather than recognising it as a unique modality of psychotherapy. However, Xiang emphasises that while engaging in the artistic process can indeed be a source of relaxation, art therapy encompasses much more than that.

‘Art therapy can support the expression and processing of emotions, understanding of trauma and PTSD, reduce anxiety and depression, and support other mental health needs.’

Moreover, there is also a belief that art therapists need to have artistic abilities. Xiang dispels this notion, emphasising that art therapy does not need any prior experience or ability in art.

‘The art making is a tool, not the end goal.’

When reflecting on her role as an art therapist, Xiang finds the most gratification in knowing that she is actively contributing to the well-being and growth of her clients.

‘An art therapy session provides clients with the time and space to focus on themselves and relax. It gives me a great sense of achievement knowing that my work is making a difference.’

Completing her Master of Art Therapy at La Trobe marked a significant milestone in Xiang's journey towards realising her passion. She attributes her positive experience to the exceptional quality of lecturers and the lasting friendships she formed during her studies.

‘La Trobe has excellent lecturers with experience in art therapy research and education. The master's degree is specially designed to gradually introduce academic learning and art therapy, so it’s a great option for anyone. The Uni also supplies so many great opportunities for art therapy placements.’

Equipped with the practical skills she acquired throughout her degree, Xiang applies them in her professional practice, focusing on establishing strong trust-based relationships with her clients.

‘In my work, I often find clients would have faster and longer-lasting therapeutic results with a strong and trusting relationship with the therapist. This is also why working with an art therapist is different from just making art. It’s the “people connection”.’

More about Xiang Li: Xiang is an art therapist (AThR), founder of Art Therapy Melbourne and an award-winning artist and curator.  Xiang worked in the disability inclusion sector for nine years and her work is centered around building an inclusive society for people with disabilities. Xiang also has a passion for supporting young university students. She was a speaker at the Victoria State Library Future Founders Festival 2020 and volunteered with Icube to support Malaysian students who were working to start businesses.

Xiang has a Master of Art Therapy from La Trobe University, as well as a Master of Project Management, a Master of Management, and a Master of Business.

Did Xiang's story help paint a picture of what your next job looks like? Check out the Master of Art Therapy here!