How LIFE lead me to Art Therapy in Melbourne

to dye, watercolor, colour

Su Mei Tan

7 August 2023

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Greetings from The Tearapy Post!

I am always interested in people’s stories about how they entered our space of art therapy, either as a therapist, or as a client. The journey here to the creative healing space is often a very unique one which is seldom shared.

It has been long overdue, but I would like the start our blog series, The Tearapy Post with: 

1. a bit of an introduction of myself,

2. what I do,

3. what led me to Art Therapy


My name is Su Mei, I am a Malaysian Art Therapist, Family Art Therapist and Yoga Therapist living, breathing and creating on Kulin Land – Naarm (Melbourne), Australia. I am the Founder of a medium sized private group practice called Art Tearapy where we incorporate tea culture from all over the world in our creative and somatic therapeutic healing. I have a background in Architecture, World Heritage, Design, Education, Yoga, Social Practice and Creative Healing.


My journey in to the arts started when I was 15 years old when I left Malaysia for the first time to pursue an education in a foreign land to mine. Prior to that I was a very physically active young person, obsessed with basketball. The arts were not even on my radar one bit. However, when I moved abroad to England, I found the transition incredibly tough, struggled to understand the culture of the new place, and was very socially isolated for just over more than a year. I fell into depression without the support of the family and friends which I grew up with and started self-harming because I felt that nobody understood me. During that time, I had purposely chosen art as a subject in school as an act of rebellion to avoid music because of my mother’s wishes for me to excel at the piano. Doing art as a subject in school, helped me process some of my grief and frustration. I spent hours each day painting, sculpting, making and creating. Only to find such a sense of purpose, enjoyment and release each time I engaged in the creative process. I was able to make sense of my teenage struggles and find meaning. I left school finding a community who supported me and I let go of the resentment I had of the new country I had to assimilate to. I had a blast in my last two years of school. I learnt with art and with life, the more you let go of the need of a perfect outcome, the art work would emerge in its nature from within which was more profound than what you would try to control it end result to be.


My parents were quite traditional and despite my achievements in art in school, they refused to let me pursue a degree in fine art, so I found myself in a Bachelor of Architecture, but the pursuit of it was very different from the art I made in school. Despite having a large disconnect to the practice of Architecture, I completed the degree, and co-founded a charity called OrkidStudio with two friends, James and Julissa. Where we fundraised, designed and built buildings for orphanages in Uganda and Bolivia, with an amazing group of volunteers, some of which I am still friends with till today. While in Bolivia, I ran some art workshops with some kids, and I had an epiphany where I really did not care as much for what the buildings looked like, but rather was more concerned about what was happening internally for the people we were building buildings for and this was the trigger for my sojourning to search for a creative discipline which could touch the soul.


I did several things in between the 10 years after Architecture, including training as a yoga instructor in Goa, India, helping out behind the scenes of Paris Fashion Week, completing a Master in World Heritage at Work in Turin, Italy, working as a high school teacher in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, doing environmental Architecture in Borneo, and got involved with Malaysian activism, and design circles. Interspersed with it all having a series of tumultuous mental health episodes which eventually lead me to be diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder, leading me to be incapacitated to the extent of being unable to work and function for a prolonged time period. Where I had to really reconsider my life trajectory and decided to finally pursue the path of Art Therapy, which I had literally only found out about through a book that I skimmed through. I had been mulling over it but had not much information on it. And finally applied for the Master of Art Therapy in Melbourne, the first course I could find which started at the soonest intake, just so I could calm my parent’s anxiety for me to finally start being productive with my life again after several months of being mentally and emotionally incapacitated.


That is how I embarked on my journey in Art Therapy. I believe we each have different relationships with the arts when it calls us, for some, it might be to excel in creating something beautiful, for some it may be to produce something for sale. However, for the creative healer, it is often a deep connection of an emotional release which come with the process of creation. A process of the art work, answering some of your universal questions with a profound answer which comes from within, it is often a calling for your soul to create something so simple and pure for the purpose of yourself and no one else. Not about validation or praise from the outside world. This was my journey which led me to Art Therapy.


Fast track 8 years since I have been in Melbourne, I completed the Masters of Art Therapy, did an Honors of Social Practice at the University of Melbourne. Got employment experience in the Disability, Mental Health, Hospitals and Family Therapy fields. Started an additional training in Family Therapy, and have been running Art Tearapy for 5 years, working with clients with physical, intellectual and psychosocial varying abilities. Having a team of 3 other art therapist to work alongside. The work is fulfilling, none the less and I am grateful to have the peace of mind and mental stability, thanks to creating, movement and medication to be able to hold space and support others in my community.


If you are interested in finding out more about the creative effects of Art Therapy do not hesitate to SUBSCRIBE below or send through a REFERRAL on our website.


In my next post, I will explore what some of the reasons why someone might engage an Art Therapist for their creative healing journey, and unpack some of the reasons why our current clients choose to engage us in the process. So stay warm and stay tuned!


Without fear or favour,

Su Mei

The Tearapy Post