Creative Arts Therapists of Color (CATs of Color) is a network of creative arts therapists comprised of people of color who come together for the common purpose of encouraging professional and educational development, sharing culturally relevant practices, providing mutual support, and promoting cultural competence.
Our overarching goal is to create a thriving, multiracial, cross-disciplinary community of practitioners of color in the creative arts therapy profession in order to address the need for culturally appropriate services to people from various ethnicities and racial backgrounds. The CATs of Color network grew out of my own personal need for a community of creative arts therapists of color. The impetus for this group slowly emerged over time due to my inability to name the alienation I experienced as a biracial music therapy graduate student and as a professional post-graduation.
I spent two years working to achieve my masters in a program comprised of mostly White classmates and all White professors. As one of the few people of color in the music therapy program, I did not see myself or my community reflected around me nor did issues around culture ever get discussed. As a result, I experienced isolation and a sense of not belonging. These feelings created a need in me to prove myself as legitimate. The energy I spent during this self-deprecating mission silenced my voice and locked me in survival mode. Upon graduation, this burdened state of being followed me into my professional space. As a Latina woman struggling to prove my worth, I often squashed the overt and covert racist realities that inundated this homogeneous profession. It took nearly 7 years of internalizing the ways in which many of my White creative arts therapy coworkers often inadvertently fortified the systemic subjugation of Black and Brown clients before I decided to do something about it. It made sense to me why a person of color being treated by a therapist who was not of color might feel anxiety around the anticipation of feeling misunderstood, judged, and/or being subject to macro and micro aggressions. I often witnessed the discomfort clients of color experienced in having to make sure someone from the dominant culture was not uncomfortable by how they expressed themselves culturally. I got how these incidents alone perpetuate the trauma that many people of color experience in their daily lives. I developed a longing for other professionals who were not on the outside looking in, but instead, on the inside looking in. I was determined to connect with creative arts therapists of color and to find a way to help diversify the profession.
CATs of Color was formed in June of 2014 with 6 members at our very first meeting in my Bronx office. We now have over 100 members, made up of both students and professionals, and are growing every month. In addition to providing peer supervision, conferences, and curating a yearly exhibit at the School of Visual Arts, we hold monthly meetings. These meeting serve as a support for creative arts therapists of color. We discuss cultural and clinical issues that come up within our profession and provide support, feedback, and supervision. During these meeting, we take part in experientials led by various members from each modality.
Image from CATs of Color Meeting with Sofia Alvarez, MPS, LCAT, ATR-BC in 2014. She gave each member a blank puzzle piece and asked the group to think of a word that represented a personal strength.
One of our first experientials back in 2014 was led by Sofia Alvarez, MPS, LCAT, ATR-BC, who gave each member a blank puzzle piece and asked the group to think of a word that represented a personal strength. She then asked that we create the feeling of the word we chose and design it on our individual puzzle piece. Upon design completion, part of the group process was to find where our puzzle pieces fit together, which, unbeknownst to the group, created an actual puzzle. Each member then shared his/her word and how it was represented artistically on the puzzle piece.
In a later group, I led an experiential that explored how, as therapists, we interpret and reflect back to our clients what we hear from them. The directive was for one member to share a significant event in her life to a volunteering music therapist. After actively listening, the music therapist was to reflect back what she heard from the member using only vocalizations and a drum. The member developed a more profound understanding of the event that she initially shared as a result of the music therapist’s interpretation. Both members processed the power and significance that this experience held for them.
Since its inception, I’ve personally experienced and learned from others just how important a network of this kind is in our predominantly White profession. As therapists, we know all too well that to have your voice heard and reflected back to you in a safe space is crucial to feeling connected and valued. CATs of Color has provided a safe space where our voices are honored.
Sandra Ramos-Watt, M.A., MT-BC, LCAT, is a licensed creative arts therapist, board certified music therapist, who provides therapeutic services to children, adolescents and adults