College, Internships, and Career Experiences: Rachel Sansonetti

by Stasia Lopez /
Stasia Lopez's picture
Oct 16, 2014 / 0 comments

Healing Through Art Therapy and Direct Research: An Internship Story

Rachel Sansonetti is a current University of Pittsburgh student majoring in Psychology and Communication and due to graduate in April 2016. She completed a unique Expressive Art Therapy internship in Bethlehem, PA at the Cancer Support Community of the Greater Lehigh Valley. Through her experiences in research and already contemplating graduate school study, her internship experiences have confirmed that she chose the right major and her interest in the field. Read her experience below to learn more about Rachel’s journey with interning!


Rachel Sansonetti - Healing Through Art Therapy and Direct Research: An Internship Story


How did you choose your major? How did you choose the college that you chose to attend?

When I first came to Pitt, I wanted to double major in Writing and Communication. Writing because I have also enjoyed expressing myself in the written word and Communication because it is essential to know how to properly communicate your ideas and feelings to others. After this internship, however, I have decided to change my majors to Psychology and Communication. I thoroughly enjoyed what I learned from this expressive arts therapy internship. However, I have come to realize that I would be more suited for doing research in the field of expressive arts therapy and supporting the field rather than being an expressive arts therapist per se. Because of this, I changed my major to Psychology so I would have more opportunities for scientific internships and research.


How did you find your internship? What resources did you use? Was your internship for credit/not for-credit/ paid or unpaid?

I honestly found this internship by Googling “expressive arts therapy Lehigh Valley” which is the metropolitan area I am from. I scrolled through a couple pages of Google and eventually came upon an article from last summer promoting an expressive arts therapy session at St. Luke’s hospital in Easton, Pa. I clicked on the article and found the contact information for the Cancer Support Community of the Greater Lehigh Valley.

This internship was unpaid and I opted to have this internship not-for-credit. I could have gotten credit for it but that would have required me to pay for a three credit course. To me, the most important part of an internship is not the credit or the money, but the experience which will help me get into graduate school and get a good job.


What inspired you to consider art therapy as a career choice? How did you hear about it?

Again, Google was my friend in this situation. I love to write and I knew I wanted to help people. So, the question was, how do I combine my two passions? I typed “writing and helping people” into the Google search bar and I came to an article which talked about writing therapy. After delving deeper into this topic, I discovered expressive arts therapy which involves all types of art from music to writing to dance.


What is expressive art therapy and in what context is it used?

Expressive art therapy is a means to aid in the healing of a physically or mentally ill person. This form of therapy uses the arts instead of counseling or pharmaceuticals. For example, a person who has cancer benefits from expressive arts therapy when they are either distracted from their pain or can temporarily relieve it. Distraction comes from playing music, dancing, drawing, painting…etc. Pain is temporarily relieved when it comes to performing the arts because it serves as a distraction. In other words, they are not focusing on the pain, but on something else. It also has physical benefits. In one experience, I was participating in a drumming circle with some patients. Everyone was playing a hand drum and tapping their feet when one woman remarked that she was able to feel her feet which she hadn’t been able to do in years.


What were the tasks and projects that you had to complete in your art therapy internship and what skills did you gain? Please discuss your employer’s expectations of you.

As an intern, my job was to work closely with the expressive arts therapists during sessions and promote the Cancer Support Community. The music therapy session was losing participants, so to promote this program, I had to do research about the positive benefits of music therapy. This research was consolidated into a small article and published in the monthly newsletter. During the writing therapy session, the patients wrote a “Cancer Alphabet.” Every week they were given a few letters of the alphabet and had to write about their experience with cancer. For example, one of the women wrote that D is for Dog because of her therapy dog. At the end of this six-week writing session, I had to combine what the patients had written and make a Shutterfly book of the experience. I learned how to communicate with people who are undergoing struggles with which I have not had personal experience. I also learned to create and maintain the type of environment that patients need in order to fully divulge personal information about their illness.


Do you feel that you grew your network while interning? If so, how? 

I definitely feel I have a larger network after completing this internship. My supervisor and every therapist and co-worker I worked with offered to write me a recommendation when I need one. Even one of the patients said she would love to give me a positive write-up, all I have to do is ask.


Did anything surprise you about interning? Did interning inspire you academically, vocationally, or in any other way? Did it confirm that you chose the right major and the right field?  Can you discuss any challenges that you had from your internship?

This internship taught me that I am more on the research side of psychology rather than the artistic side. It has inspired me to vigorously promote the benefits of expressive arts therapy even if I am not an expressive therapist myself. I definitely feel that I am in the right major though because seeing how much positivity the therapists brought the patients inspired me to continue pursuing my desire to be a positive influence on others.


Can you share with us a memory from your internship experience as a take-away?

When one of the patients opened the Shutterfly book I had put together, she was practically brought to tears. She could not stop thanking me and complimenting me on the work I had done. She was one of the most beautiful women I met this summer during my internship. I will never forget the positive influence she had on me while I was trying to positively influence her.


Any advice for students thinking about an internship in expressive art therapy?

I would suggest going to a nonprofit organization. Even if they do not want an intern, they are almost always willing to accept volunteers. Regardless of your title as a volunteer or intern, the people you will meet and the experiences you will have are priceless.


What is up next for you? Anything you’d like to add/share?

Currently I am enrolled in Directed Research with my professor, Dr. Orehek. He is doing research on motivation and goal pursuit. This is my next attempt at building an impressive résumé for when I apply to graduate school.



Read more in our College, Internships, and Career Series



Stasia Lopez is the Global Education Editor for Wandering Educators and is also a Career Consultant at the University of Pittsburgh. She graduated with her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership in Higher Education and Student Affairs from Western Michigan University and earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management from Robert Morris University. Stasia is passionate about international education, travel,  and loves working on a college campus. She’s lived in four different U.S. states (Florida, Michigan, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania) and also studied and lived abroad in Rome, Italy. Stasia lives in the Pittsburgh area with her husband, Fernando.



Photo courtesy and copyright Rachel Sansonetti