The fog was thick as I exited the 55 south, toward Newport Beach. I was on my way to meet with art therapist Diana Shabtai of Art Therapy OC (also known as ‘Miss Dee’). In preparation for the interview, I had researched art therapy and watched a Ted Talk on the subject and so I had an inkling of what art therapy is. But, I really didn’t know the depth of what I was going to discover when on an early Thursday morning in June, I walked out of the fog and into the warmth and peace of Diana’s bright, cheerful, inspirational and enchanting art therapy studio.
As I walked into her space, the first thing I noticed was Diana’s swirling murals of warm and cool colors—reds, yellows, oranges, greens, blues, and violets—that covered one of the walls in an “under the sea” and palette logo theme. There were plants, dotted around the studio, rugs strewn about underneath the tables and chairs, and art pieces, everywhere. Everything about her studio evoked a sense of balance which had a calming effect.
Diana Shabtai is a Board Certified Clinical Art Therapist with a Doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy. She has a Master’s Degree in Clinical Art Therapy and a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Communications. In other words, she knows what she is doing. In fact, In New York she was trained by some of the pioneers in the clinical art therapy world. Diana states that her passion for her work is rooted in years of serious therapeutic education, training, practice, and experience.
From my interview with Diana, it was easy to see that her work is changing lives in a positive and meaningful way. For example, Diana creates a space for the people she works with that enables them to feel self-mastery so that if in their lives they feel a lack of control, they feel that control in her space. She explains that “they also experience comfortability to explore with encouragement, support, guidance, and inspiration.”
Why art therapy? What influenced you to become an art therapist? Art has always been a part of Diana’s life.
“I have been making art since childhood & create art daily,” says Diana. “Art has always helped me in my life, especially during hard times, for healthy creative therapeutic expression.”
Because art has always helped her in her life, she wanted to learn more about it, & share it with others. She wants the people that come into her studio to experience therapeutic care vis-à-vis art. In fact, she noted that “my passion is to introduce people to the endless imaginative world of art & how beneficial this coping mechanism of art therapy can be.”
What is art therapy? And what’s the difference between art therapy and an art class? The art therapist, unlike the art teacher, is trained in both art and psychology. Therefore, they are knowledgeable in human development, family systems, and psychological theories. For Diana, the purpose of art therapy is not to create a masterpiece, “but rather, what is most important is the mindful release you feel while doing it including the sense of accomplishment and empowerment along with self care and self love.” It is a clinical practice meant “for expression through art.” Additionally, Diana explained that art therapy focuses on the increase of self-awareness through the creative process. It can help those dealing with self-esteem, grief, stress, trauma and cognitive issues.
Is there a specific population you work with?
Diana has experience working with a diverse group of people. She really enjoys working with all kinds of various groups, youth populations, and families. Families will come into her studio, and she sees that by the time they leave they are much more bonded & connected with each other and relaxed, than from the time they entered. They have this experience, noted Diana, because art aids in healthy, fun, creative, expressive communication.
For example, sometimes, a family will come to her studio, and they are going through a divorce or a great loss. Children who are experiencing the trauma of divorce or grief of some kind come to see her. For them, Diana noted that “the art becomes their special place. I often do mommy and me (or just mom time on her own or with girl friends), as well as sibling art sessions. She has a core group of tweens who come regularly that use the time in her studio to help process the changes they are experiencing and love having a place like Art Therapy OC to come to regularly with friends or family for private art time, or for our frequent creative art workshops. For teens, Diana stated that she sees a great need to focus on self-esteem and self-love. “I focus on fostering empowerment, along with projects that include positive affirmations. I teach them ways to utilize art in their daily lives for healthy expression, such as journaling, mindful meditative self-centering art activities, such as mandalas, mosaics, yoga and art, music therapy, nature art, instructional art (all mediums/mixed-media), crafting, & so much more through our workshops, which are great for social interaction, communication, and support, and through individual/group art sessions.”
Additionally, “I’ve worked with a full spectrum of ages & populations over the past 18 years such as cancer patients and their families, psychiatric institutions & hospitals for children, various rehabilitation centers & wellness groups, grief & various support groups, youth groups, & juveniles in the OC probation system, schools, corporations for self-care & team building, and am a frequent lecturer/educator at Southern Ca universities for Masters & Doctoral students in the psychology field, to name a few.” Because art therapy focuses on the individual’s needs, “I design and tailor the art activities accordingly for each individual/group for the most beneficial & therapeutic experience, practice, & outcome.”
With the dementia/Alzheimer’s group Diana uses music during her sessions, because music aids in memory recall. For instance, during one session when she played Frank Sinatra or Cole Porter music, the patients started singing, engaging with each other more, and talked about memories of their younger years and experiences. She also noticed that when music is incorporated in a session their brush strokes and designs are more fluid. “I am a strong believer in the power of music incorporated with the art and often have creative art workshops with live music incorporated in the session.”
Describe some success stories or what you have observed as successful moments for your clients.
“The children who come to my studio are often experiencing certain levels of social anxiety in their peer relations, low self-esteem, and confidence, issues at school or homelife, or just dealing with the pressures and stress of growing up in today’s society.” One the best stories from this year is about a boy who came to her studio for his birthday.
Diana explained that he is really shy and experiences a lot of social anxiety as a result. But he wanted to have a pARTy for his special day. The studio was filled with thirty of his friends and their parents, and other family members, yet she decided to have him help her teach/lead everyone in the painting session. She trusted herself that her intuition about this child was correct, and that he would actually be able to cope with leading a group of people despite his shyness and anxiety.
Indeed, he rose to the occasion, and became really involved as the teacher. He was not shy or anxious in those moments—he was confident. He walked around the room looking at what others were painting and offered suggestions. Also the kids were consulting him for advice. “I encouraged and supported him on his skill and love for art, which he will hopefully always carry and utilize. Art was his therapy.” He really had a transformative experience in Diana’s studio.
How does your Judaism influence your work? Tikkun olam, or to repair the world, is what informs Diana’swork. She is in the practice of helping others. That is why she started an art therapy business six years ago. Diana further explains that “I have always volunteered within the Jewish community and beyond in many capacities from being a leader for youth groups, to running art therapy groups for Jewish educators and members at private schools and temples in OC, to starting a growing intergenerational Hadassah group in Newport Beach with her mother over 10 years ago.” She is community oriented, and she feels that her Judaism plays a part in what she does for my community. “I hope to see you and yours soon for fun therapeutic art time!” Here is how to reach Diana: ArtTherapyOC.com to schedule art time (Individual, Family, private groups), pARTy, and more! Visit our Insta & FB pages @Arttherapyoc
432 32nd St, Newport Beach, CA 92663 firstname.lastname@example.org (949)791-2065.
Suzette Zazueta has her Master’s degree in religious studies. Her research focuses on gender identity, sexuality and religion.