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Art therapy needs ‘decolonization,’ academic paper argues

‘Western ideology has become the standard within the mental health field and continues to harm marginalized communities’

Art therapy is offered through a “Western ideology” lens and needs “decolonization,” according to a recently published academic paper.

Titled “Furthering the Field of Expressive Arts Therapies Through Acts of Decolonization,” the 35-page paper explores how colonialism, under the guise of “Western ideology,” not only killed “millions of Native American Indians,” but continues to negatively influence art therapy and other aspects of society.

The article is Lesley University grad student Leticia Alcuran’s capstone thesis. A pending grad of its Graduate School of Arts & Social Sciences, Alcuran examined “how decolonization can further the use of expressive arts therapies by addressing racist structures and ideologies that impact the mental health field.”

From this perspective, Alcuran, a dance instructor at a California high school, wrote that colonialism permeates expressive art therapies and gave suggestions on how to fix it.

The College Fix emailed Alcuran and asked her if decolonization is the only thing that can improve art therapies and if there are other perspectives of art therapy other than the “Eurocentric view” or “Western ideology” views. She did not respond to the requests for comment sent in the past three weeks.

In her thesis, she argued the only way to end colonialism is not by creating “an eloquent diversity statement posted on a front page of an institution’s website, and it is not a metaphor, nor is it a metonym for a social justice movement.”

Instead, the country must return to Native Americans and other “marginalized” communities their land and way of life.

She wrote colonialism has silenced and taken this away from Native Americans and other “marginalized” groups through domination, so much so that “Western ideology has become the standard within the mental health field and continues to harm marginalized communities.”

MORE:Decolonization’ student columnist calls for ‘violent resistance’

Expressive art therapy is unique from other therapies in that instead of allowing a patient to only use one mode of expressing themselves through art, expressive art therapy enables a patient to use a variety of artistic mediums simultaneously, Alcuran explained.

She wrote she experienced the oppressive effects of colonialism as “a multiracial woman of color” and a “descendant of the Indigenous Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation Tribe and Kanāka Maoli ancestors.” Even her own graduate program subjected her to “implicit biases,” she wrote.

Alcuran expands on the discrimination she and her family have experienced. Her parents “were born during segregation and were forcibly assimilated to align with Western culture.” She wrote she “experienced micro and macro aggressions, racism, discrimination, and oppression” throughout her life.

Colonialism “oppress[es] individuals seeking support for the validation of creative arts therapy practices [instead of] … prioritizing the needs of the BIPOC communities they aim to serve,” according to the paper, which added this is why Western ideology can no longer be the norm.

Alcuran is not the only scholar who sees racism in the arts. The Ohio State University named an “anti-racist dance” instructor its “artist laureate.” Associate Professor Nyama McCarthy-Brown received awards for “developing anti-racist dance curricula” and “is a nationally recognized culturally sustaining educator.”

MORE: Conservative art therapy student wins $80K free speech settlement

IMAGE: Fizkes / Shutterstock

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About the Author
Gigi De La Torre -- Franciscan University of Steubenville