A young man pictured outside

Ivan Lopez ‘22
Marital and Family (Art) Therapy (M.A)


How did you decide to pursue art therapy?

I decided to pursue art therapy after graduating in 2013 with an undergraduate degree in studio art. I was hesitant to apply to the program because I worried that I was not ready or skilled, so I waited six years before deciding to complete my application. During this time, I developed an art practice and identity as an art educator, using my skills to teach art.

Time after time, I witnessed how people of all ages connected to art. Art produces a sense of joy, competence, strength, curiosity, and sometimes even frustration. I became curious about the internal world, what was happening inside a person when they worked through their art process. I felt stuck as an art educator and wanted to do more beyond teaching a skill and/or art process. I wanted to learn about peoples’ stories, use art to tell these stories and make sense of them with the goal and intention of healing.

Did you have a particular experience that led you to this path? 

I have had several experiences that helped lead me to this path, one was during my time as a volunteer for a non-profit that provided free art making to children at risk of abuse. I was co-teaching with a friend (who happens to be a graduate from the art therapy program), and we asked the youth to paint themselves as a superhero describing their strengths and weaknesses.

One child, between the ages of 6-8, painted herself as a superhero and described the intentional choices she made in her representation. She described a vague experience with cancer but noted that her power would help those heal and end their pain. I was unprepared with how to respond and felt a desire within myself to do more, be more – the art tapped into something special for this child.

It was here then that I became aware of how impactful art making is in understanding pain, fear, and grief in non-verbal ways. I hold on to this memory, among others, as the driving force for what I do – help others connect to their stories, make sense of them, and offer compassion and understanding.

Tell us a little about your time at LMU! 

My first year as a graduate student at LMU was unexpected due the pandemic, which made it difficult to be involved in all the ways I would have liked. Once students were welcomed back to campus after a year of remote learning, the MFT department hosted art-making workshops for undergraduate students. I helped lead the workshops, helping students explore goals and challenges encountered learning remotely. The workshops provided a safe and relaxing space for students to ground themselves and create connections to other students and the campus.

Additionally, as part of my program requirements, I was involved in two practicum internships to help me develop my skills as art therapist and marriage and family therapist. I worked with diverse populations and navigated providing telehealth as well as adjusting back to in-person services.

What are your post-graduation plans?

I will be using the time after graduation to complete my hours and training to become a licensed art therapist and marriage and family therapist with the hopes of developing my own practice. Having my own practice will allow me to practice and prioritize the needs of clients in ways that are flexible and holistic that I think can be difficult in community mental health. Art is integral to who I am, and I want to continue to honor that in my work, whether in community mental health or other spaces.

My hope is to bring my passion for helping others into my work. I believe in the healing and transformational power of art, and I hope to share that process with clients in my work as a mental health professional. My goal is to develop a clinical practice that is centered around creativity, wellness, community, empowerment, and cultural competence to provide services for individuals that need support in their healing journey.

How do you feel your experience at LMU prepared you for this next step?

The art therapy and marital and family therapy program helped prepare me by providing me with the knowledge and skills needed to develop my art therapist identity. The program’s focus to provide students with internships helped me gain experience while learning about theory. The program helped me apply my learning and connected me with supervisors and experiences that helped me by challenging and pushing me out of my comfort zone. The added barrier of the pandemic made learning unique and difficult, but it allowed me to use my creativity and flexibility to learn how to best provide services to clients.

What will you miss most about LMU?

I will miss the department staff the most. I have never felt so encouraged and supported, yet challenged, as I have been in this program. The department faculty has witnessed my growth and continue to remind me why I chose this path for myself. The connections I made with them has helped develop my identity and I feel that as I graduate will leave knowing I have a community of support. 

Additionally, I will miss my cohort. Learning through the pandemic has created close connections with my colleagues and unforgettable memories through Zoom. I have never felt so connected with a class as I have with this one. The amount of support I had made it possible for me to continue with this program even when it felt the most challenging.

What advice do you have for new MFT grad students? 

My advice for new MFT graduate students is to remember that you are in a place of learning. Navigating something new that requires time, mental, and emotional energy, is a lot – develop and sustain a practice of self-compassion. You are here for a reason, honor that reason and let it be your guiding light when things feel the most challenging and overwhelming. It will be worth it!