Even prior to pursuing her studies in art therapy, Nicole Yeo was passionate about working with vulnerable communities. As an undergraduate pursuing a BA in English, she hoped to provide platforms for vulnerable communities to share their narratives through stories, embarking on a final year project that looked into how trauma was represented through art.
Nicole was also travelling on humanitarian trips to Lebanon and Northern Iraq during her university study breaks, where she worked with internally displaced individuals and refugees. On one such trip to the Middle East in 2016, Nicole met an art therapist who was using art as a tool for peace-making and reconciliation in communities. She invited Nicole to be a volunteer in her sessions, which proved to be a turning point in Nicole’s life.
“The opportunity moved me because I saw art transcend language barriers and differences,” recounts Nicole. “I saw how the art therapist was a conduit for powerful work in bringing communities together to share their stories through art. It was clear to me that art was a neutral medium that any person from different communities and stages of life could use to express themselves and their stories.”
“I saw how the art therapist was a conduit for powerful work in bringing communities together to share their stories through art."
The art therapy profession resonated so deeply with Nicole that when she returned to Singapore from the humanitarian trip, she headed straight from the airport to LASALLE’s Open House, where she applied on-the-spot to the MA Art Therapy programme.
Nicole’s passion paid off as she was awarded The Red Pencil (Singapore) Scholarship during her two years at LASALLE. After graduation, she worked at Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities and the Singapore Council Of Women's Organisations as an art therapist before joining The Red Pencil (Singapore) this year as full-time staff.
We asked Nicole to share more about how it was like moving onto an MA as a fresh grad, how the MA Art Therapy programme at LASALLE was a humbling experience and why curiosity and self-reflection are critical traits in art therapists.
What did you know about LASALLE's art therapy training prior to applying?
I had spoken with an art therapist who had completed her training at LASALLE. She shared how helpful the programme had been for her. Hearing that the cohort was small and cosy appealed to me, because it encouraged peer learning and sharing. I was also drawn to the clinical placement aspect as it provided me with practical and hands-on learning experience with the guidance and supervision of the lecturers.
What were some of the highlights in the programme?
I loved how my classmates were from all walks of life and at different stages of their career. Some classmates came from mid-career switches, and others were fresh graduates like myself. I learned a lot from my peers’ experiences and perspectives.
I also appreciated the lecturers who brought in a wealth of experience from their professional careers as well as their unique expertise across different contexts. Their real-life knowledge and insights brought to fruition the seeds of art therapy concepts that were gleaned from our course readings.
Lastly, I relished having art therapists in residence at LASALLE with us. They were generous in sharing their practical knowledge and expertise from working with a myriad of populations and contexts. These expanded our understanding of how art therapy is practised internationally and how we can adapt it to our Singaporean context, which helped to keep the passion going.
How has your time at LASALLE shaped your practice as an art therapist?
The programme humbled me. It taught me to maintain a curious stance while being in a helping profession of supporting individuals through their challenges.
The modules always called on students to reflect on their own personal lives first before developing their practice as an art therapist, and I’ve found that this practice of reflexivity is key to being an effective art therapist. I came to understand my own worldview and belief systems through the personal reflections facilitated by the lecturers. This has helped me to grow as an art therapist and become more effective in my work with individuals and communities.
You’re currently working as a programme executive and art therapist with The Red Pencil (Singapore). Could you share a little of what you’re working on?
At The Red Pencil (Singapore), I have the opportunity to advocate for the accessibility of art therapy to children, youths and older adults who may not have ready access to this mental health service.
My role is dynamic and exciting as I get to work with different portfolios and projects. As a programme executive, I get to work closely with multidisciplinary teams from social service agencies and community partners like. children and youth residential homes, schools and senior activity centres to conceptualise art therapy programmes tailored to the population that they serve. As an art therapist, I have the privilege of working with individuals and groups of people. It has been a humbling experience as I learn a lot from senior art therapists and supervisors about how I can grow in my clinical practice and to be a better art therapist.
Being with The Red Pencil has also connected me to a network of art therapists who are passionate about the mission of making art therapy accessible to vulnerable communities. This is meaningful and fulfilling to me. I am thankful for being a part of the work in bridging the gaps of the social service industry by making art therapy available to more communities in Singapore.
What advice do you have for prospective applicants to the MA Art Therapy programme?
I’d say to keep an open mind about what you will learn during the programme, especially when it comes to learning about yourself. Be curious and patient with the process because it will surprise you as to what new discoveries art will lead you to.
Apply now for our postgraduate programmes.