Marion Gordon Flower


Rehabilitation and arts therapist





Over 45

Working hours:

40 hours per week

Pay scale:

$50,000-$100,000 depending on clinical practice and responsibilities


Bachelor of Media Arts, the Waikato Polytechnic; Graduate Diploma of Secondary Teaching, the University of Waikato; Masters of Arts in Arts Therapy (Clinical), Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design The act of ... creating something visible or audible is powerful.

Describe your job

Arts therapy combines psychology with the arts and can include visual arts, drama, dance and music. As an arts therapist, I provide a safe and secure place where people can explore their aspirations and creativity, talk about problems, express difficult feelings, and make decisions about life changes and goals.

At Iris, which is a health and disability services provider, we offer individual sessions focusing on painting. We also offer group sessions that combine visual arts approaches with music and relaxation techniques, dance movement and dramatic role plays. There are also specialist drama therapy groups in the community.

The people who come to arts therapy are diverse in their interests and needs. We are funded by the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Social Development to provide the service within rehabilitation, with some clients who are self-funding.

What is your background?

I have held a long-term interest in arts therapy for health recovery, prior to there being a training course in New Zealand. This has led me into counselling and social work training, a Bachelor of Media Arts degree and a secondary teaching qualification. I was a secondary art teacher before doing the Masters of Arts in Arts Therapy (Clinical) degree at Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design. I have also worked with people who have traumatic brain injury and mental illness.

The occupation was recognised only in 2006? Why has it taken so long for it to be recognised?

Prior to the Whitecliffe Masters programme, professional training was available only overseas. Arts therapists brought their qualification here from different places around the world, establishing a fairly isolated career path. Now that arts therapists are training in New Zealand, we have gained greater professional recognition through the strengthening of our professional bodies and a collective process. We gained our official occupation status through the efforts of the Australia and New Zealand Art Therapy Association.

I discovered the potential of arts therapy while recovering from an illness and surgery during the mid-1980s. It kindled the desire to provide this for others.

How many arts therapists in the country?

We are increasing in numbers as more people train locally and in response to an increasing demand as the benefits become more widely known.

What skills do art therapists need?

Arts therapists need to be artistic, have well-developed communications skills and a knowledge of psychology. There is a high level of professional integrity and responsibility attached to the role, which is why a Masters-level discipline and supervised clinical internship is required to become fully qualified.

Why is arts therapy particularly good for people with brain injuries or mental health issues?

Using the arts for self-expression is holistic in that it requires physical action and engages the imagination as well as problem-solving processes. Research shows that there are positive benefits on a number of levels, including health, self-esteem and social well-being. Other sectors to benefit include Child Youth and Family, pain clinics, eating disorders, hospitals, alcohol and drug rehabilitation, special education and guidance counselling, refugees, sexual abuse and trauma victims.

How do your clients learn about what you have to offer?

Clients are usually referred to arts therapy by health professionals or through self-referral after hearing about it from someone who has personally benefited.

Sessions can be weekly, fortnightly or monthly, depending on the client's needs. It is individual and progress is regularly reviewed.

Why is your role important?

Anyone can participate in arts therapy, including people with physical disabilities, and it can be particularly helpful to people who have challenges with verbal expression.

The act of making a mark on a page, of making choices and of creating something visible or audible is powerful. At Iris, there are many success stories of people being able to actively push out their ring of limitations and achieve more of their true potential for independence and happiness.

The best part of your job?

Seeing the benefits that arts therapy brings to people.

The job's main challenges?

There is a collective challenge of gaining professional recognition equal to that of longer-standing health options.

Your strengths?

I love working with people to help them develop their creative and lifestyle potential. Life is an artistic process to me.

What do you want to be doing in five years?

What I am doing now and also helping new graduates to establish themselves professionally.

Advice to those interested in a similar role?

At Iris, I work in a multi-discipline team. Much can be achieved when working in effective partnerships.