An Honest Chat with Lucy
Lucy Hotchin is an art therapist, lived experience consultant and textile artist. Artmaking has gotten me through my darkest days, leading me on a similar path to Lucy.
As I approach the final year of my degree, with hopes of undertaking a Master of Art Therapy next, I’m thankful Lucy has agreed to meet me online and share her insights.
To begin with, an excellent outcome of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health Care System is the recommendation that art therapists finally become recognised as mental health professionals by the system (van Laar, 2021). What does this mean for you?
Sadly we got the news that there won't be any changes yet, but they’ll reassess once they have another look at the recommendations.
Could art therapy become bulk-billed under the Mental Health Treatment Plan as a result of the Royal Commission? It’s frustrating it’s not accessible to people who need it...
I hope so, but I don’t think so yet. There’s been so many recommendations previously that haven’t been followed, and the government has committed to doing them all before.
What needs to happen to improve access?
Funding. Many of my NDIS clients previously wouldn’t have had access. With private clients, it’s if you can afford it. Until there’s more support from the government—via Medicare ideally—you need to be able to access funding elsewhere.
What is the most challenging part of being an art therapist?
Imposter syndrome, for me.
How about your favourite thing?
What happens relationally with clients, nonverbally. I enjoy the artmaking processes as a way to process experiences and trauma, but also to form connections and discover more about yourself through creativity. Compared to talk therapy, it’s way more accessible to a broader range of people. Working with diverse people is really special.
How was your experience studying at MIECAT?
It’s an amazing place to study.
I struggled initially because I was heavily entrenched in the psychiatric system. I eventually realised I had a medical model lens—very pathologized.
MIECAT puts a lot of value on a person’s individual experience. Their push against the medical model allowed me to break away from it. I did a subject where we spent a whole day on the lived experience of one person. I originally thought it was a waste of time, but half way through had an epiphany that this person’s journey was completely valid and valued.
...I NOW HAVE A SENSE THAT I CAN WORK WITH MOST PEOPLE BECAUSE I’VE LEARNT HOW TO JUST BE IN CONNECTION WITH SOMEONE IN THE PRESENT MOMENT.
Did you go down the mental health stream?
Not originally, but I decided to challenge my internal monologue which said ‘I’m not allowed to work in mental health contexts because I’m mentally ill.’
I admire your bravery and empathy in embracing your lived experience and using it to help others. The Royal Commission has emphasised the importance of involving people with lived experience on a service and policy making level (State of Victoria, 2021). I’m curious about your role as a lived experience consultant. I believe it’s different to a peer support worker (Centre for Mental Health Learning, 2019)?
In theory, yes. It comes into play when people or services want consulting on making their organisation more accessible. However, I took that title when I started working at Rainbow Muse because I felt I needed to acknowledge my lived experience. Even with clients where I don't use my experience verbally, I’m influenced by it—as is every therapist—so currently it's a way to acknowledge that within my career.
...IT DID FEEL QUITE HARD TO STEP OUT AS SOMEONE WITH LIVED EXPERIENCE. THE FACT THAT IT FEELS RISKY AND COULD POSSIBLY AFFECT YOUR CAREER—THAT’S A PROBLEM.
Do you have any other thoughts to share about Victoria’s mental health system?
Because Victoria lacks non-crisis support, you learn that you can get support if you’re really sick. You want to get better but know if you do your support could be pulled away. That’s a problem with NDIS too. If you’re getting better, you know your funding could be cut a year later. But really, if you’re getting better that funding needs to continue or be increased—because it’s working!
There are people who experience intense emotional and relational difficulties but who aren’t psychotic or actively suicidal—but you have to be to get support. That presents a big problem in our health system.
The system shouldn’t be making people sicker. And Australia is a high-income country! Investing in services would only benefit society...
Exactly! I’m now at a level of health that I didn’t think was possible for myself, which has come through consistent care. I’m now a ‘functioning member of society’ and I got there with necessary support.
...WITH SUPPORT YOU CAN ACHIEVE A SENSE OF WELLNESS THAT YOU MIGHT NOT HAVE THOUGHT POSSIBLE. I KNOW IT’S TRUE BECAUSE IT’S HAPPENED TO ME! SO WHEN PEOPLE DON’T GET FUNDING OR ARE KNOCKED BACK FROM CARE—IT’S INFURIATING.
Compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma are common for caring professionals (Mathieu, 2012). Do you have advice on navigating this?
I had to do self care things like talk to my supervisor, establish boundaries... I developed an internal boundary as my confidence grew as an art therapist, in having a purpose, connecting authentically with people and creativity. I do creative things everyday now.
The other thing was saying to clients ‘I value you, you’re valuable’... I realised if I’m preaching this, I had to integrate it myself. A lot of women who’ve experienced the system don’t value themselves in the slightest. You’re told that you’re broken and when you go to an appointment it’s about what’s wrong. It’s a lot of internalised devaluing. Addressing that helped.
Have you ever said no to a referral?
Yes. Art therapy is not crisis support. If I got a referral from someone high risk who wasn’t supported, I’d say this person needs more support for me to be able to engage.
Do you have to be fully “healed” to take on clients with history similar to your own? Is it valuable, or too triggering?
I have a couple of clients who I feel connected to in terms of previous experiencing. It’s hard sometimes. I’ve nearly cried in sessions. I have a dialogue with some clients—acknowledging the shared experience and managing it from there.
However, I don’t have a history of ‘capital T’ trauma... It could be really triggering working with someone with similar trauma. But if they’ve got enough support and you’re in a more ‘peer’ role it could be amazing.
You mentioned self care earlier... I truly realised how important self care is whilst Victoria was experiencing some of the most extensive COVID-19 lockdowns in the world (Mercer, 2020). How else do you care for yourself, so you can help others?
I nourish my body, talk to my parents... I make a simple to-do list every night. Also—the boring self care tasks, like washing. If I let those things slide, I’ll feel crappy.
You also make beautiful, intricate embroidery. I love your embroidered short poems. Can you tell me about your creative practice and how it supports your wellbeing?
I haven't done those for a while. At the time it felt profoundly important to do because I felt like I couldn't talk about my mental health. Stitching those words helped me honour my feelings. Especially the ones that are the same colour as the fabric. Back then, it was also an active self harm avoidance mechanism.
... SO THEY WERE MORE THERAPEUTIC TOOLS THAN ARTISTIC. SOMETHING ABOUT STITCHING WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY, AND IT TAKING SO MUCH LONGER, CARRIES VALUE AND RESPECT WHICH WAS REALLY HELPFUL.
You describe your current pieces as inspired by the natural world (Hotchin, 2020). What is your relationship with nature like? Is it important for your wellbeing?
I didn’t realise I had that connection until I moved to Blackburn. I was surrounded by trees and it was glorious! I realised I do need nature. It does benefit my mental health.
What else inspires you?
I have a few hugely creative friends. Their dedication and patience in practicing has been influential. Also, texture and colour. I'm doing punch needling lately—I love the textural element of it.
You exhibited at the Dax Centre in their STIGMA: dismantled, revealed exhibition (The Dax Centre, 2019). I’d love to hear more about this experience...
One of the MIECAT teachers emailed me, saying I should apply. Back then, I didn’t say yes to anything. But they emailed me three more times, so I did an application on the final day and was selected.
That exhibition was quite a moment in my journey. You get paid... usually you have to pay to exhibit anywhere, so they truly value their artists. And I was asked what my access needs were, right from the beginning.
I exhibited numerous works. I’d only just started doing Australian flora; I was doing more English nature and word pieces. I’d been in hospital not long before the opening—my last admission. I haven't had one since. At the perfect time I had all these external things saying ‘you’re valued.’
Such a turning point in your life...
It was really special. That should be felt by more people. There’s so many artists with mental illness who’d never apply to exhibit because of self doubt, but they’d benefit from it.
Do you have any other advice or insights to share with me, as a fellow artist and aspiring art therapist with lived experience?
...TRUST YOURSELF. SAY YES TO THINGS. YOUR EXPERIENCE IS VALUABLE. YOU'RE NOT GOING TO BREAK ANYONE, OR GET BROKEN.
We fear getting sick and losing functioning, so we don’t want to do anything to risk that. But over time I’ve learnt that I don't need to be scared, which has allowed me to say yes and do more things. And have fun!