Cult Feature: Trinity Chao

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Using high contrast colors and a variety of different paint techniques, Trinity Chao uses her abstract paintings as a form of therapy to tap into her viewer’s subconscious. Drawing from the concept that an individual’s psyche can be assessed through ambiguous designs, art therapy is a tool for patients who aren’t aware of or can’t expose their thinking process openly. By associating colors with emotions, analyzing line weight, and observing general subject, therapists are able to diagnose mental illnesses and explain certain behaviors.

Art therapy and therapy art are often used interchangeably. However, Art Therapy is a mental health profession that helps patients unlock emotions by facilitating verbal and non-verbal communication. Chao uses the the process of art-making to connect the human body and mind. She believes that our inner thoughts and unconscious emotions are expressed in the art we made, allowing for human growth and development. She will receive her Masters in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy in 2020. You can follow her on Instagram @trinity_chao_zhao

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CC: Can you talk about your career aspirations growing up and how they might have evolved?

Chao: I grew up in a traditional family— dad worked in office and mom was a nurse. They both wanted me to be successful in a traditional way but I was the rebellious one always wanting to break through old traditions and adopt new ideas. I worked as a financial planner over 8 years and helping others has always my biggest motivation. I felt that I was already a therapist while I was working at a bank.


What's your experience in art therapy and in what ways do you use it in your own personal life?

I haven’t really gone into an art therapy clinic yet but I’m always helpful to my family and friends when they are seeking emotional support.

I see people with mental issues who tend to keep it a secret and feel ashamed about it. I want to do something to help people feel comfortable and get help. Art therapy is a perfect way for anyone who wants to express their feelings or explore their inner thoughts. I always love talking to people and making art so art therapy is a perfect choice to me as a job.

I started to do art on my own when I started remembering things. I did pencil drawing, markers, collage, ink brush drawing, oil painting, sculpting. I felt making art has a wonderful effective therapeutic meaning in it. By doing art, it helps me relax. By observing art, I get to know people and their stories.

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I think there is sometimes a confusion between art therapy and therapeutic art, what do you think is the difference between the two?
They are not in conflict at all. Art therapy is applying creative methods to help people in a therapeutic way.

The American Art Therapy Association describes art therapy as "a mental health profession that uses the creative process of art making to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages.”

There is no difference to me.

If we're looking at art therapy as a subset of "art," how do you think “fine artists,“ who might create work for cultural, intellectual, and aesthetic purposes, would view art therapy?

Well, honestly, I don’t think art therapy is a subset of “art.” As an art therapist in the U.S. you must have a psychology or art related master’s degree and pass AATA’s exams. Most of them have strong art backgrounds and experiences in either teaching art or making art.

I think, they are artists, but a little special. They have skills not only in making art but also connecting with people in need and helping people emotionally and psychologically.


It seems like art therapy is still a less commonly used form of therapy, how do you hope to see this practice change and become more accessible in the future?

More challenge more possibility. I believe that art therapy will be huge in the future. Art can heal!

Camille Wong