During this Women’s month we will focus on women who are contributing to the field of arts therapies. Community Art Counselling, and the work that we do, is based in the therapeutic use of the arts so we want to highlight and celebrate its value. Movement therapist, Athina Copteros, answered a few questions for us.
Describe your career path into the arts therapies. What made you choose this career?
I have always loved movement and how much bodies express beyond words. I have had both a cultural feel for the role that ‘the dance’ plays in a community as well as experience as a dancer. It took me many years and other career directions to finally return to working with body and movement. It is not an easy path because Dance Movement Therapy is currently not offered in South Africa. I was lucky enough to find an open-minded supervisor in water resource management who saw the connection between embodied practice and community engagement to offer me funding for a PhD that included a Masters in Dance Movement Therapy.
What is the most rewarding part of your work as an arts therapist? What is the most difficult/least rewarding part of it?
I always get a kick out of the immense potential of the creative act and how much bodies ‘speak’ beyond words. I find the need to constantly explain what I do and struggle to find work because there are currently no government posts nor enough awareness of arts therapies exhausting.
Where do you currently work and what does a typical day look like in the life of an arts therapist?
I currently work at a drug addiction clinic. It is a dual diagnosis facility. My day includes working with clients in one-on-one sessions as well as running groups. I also run a weekly expressive therapy session. We work with clients as a team and I enjoy my engagement with other healthcare professionals.
Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work? And why?
I think more what has influenced me most is my experience growing up as a child of immigrants. I know what it feels like when people cannot read or understand the body language of a people who are then discriminated against. I learnt from early on that people do not accept or understand difference. My work is about accepting the self as it is expressed through the body without judgement.
What do you wish other people knew about the arts therapies?
I wish there was more opportunity for people to experience arts therapies and to find their own healing that is inside them, in their hands, voice, gestures etc.
In the SA arts therapies field, there seems to be a lack of diversity. How do you think we can create more diversity and representation?
Access to training is critical as well as support for new therapists. We all need healing and becoming a therapist puts one at the forefront of doing that work for the self.
What global or South African issues do you feel most passionate about? And why?
Having grown up with a disempowered mother in a patriarchal society, I feel passionate about engaging with men and women around issues of intimacy without violence and respecting different identities. The abuse of children I also feel passionate about but I cannot find permanent work in this field because my qualification is currently not recognised.
How do you view the role of the arts therapies in changing this issue for the better?
Arts therapies can offer a non-threatening platform for engaging with sensitive and volatile topics.
As a woman, what is your personal philosophy on what should be done on prevalent issues such as gender-based violence?
Work with teachers and parents to empower them and respect all children, don’t turn away when they are suffering. Acknowledge and support the need for care in oneself so that we can offer it to the most vulnerable in our society.
What are you currently working on? And how can our readers learn more about the work you do?
At the moment with the Covid pandemic I am working on keeping my family alive. I review articles for the Journal of Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy. I can be contacted via e-mail. Thank you for the opportunity to share a bit about myself in this way.
Visit Athina’s website here.