Students and Alumni of the EXA Program
Banner Image: Merideth Bowen Shamszad, MFT, EXA Alum (2008)
Students of the Expressive Arts Therapy program hail from a variety of academic and professional backgrounds. Some students have degrees in psychology and/or a background working in the mental health field. Others have professional training in the arts or come from business, organizational consulting, law, or social activism, and have no formal involvement with either psychology or the arts.
All students, however, share a deep intuition about the healing power of the arts, a dedication to helping others, and a sense that there is a spiritual dimension to life. Among our students and alumni:
Kami Cheatem brings a deep connection to community mental health into her EXA studies. She is currently a peer counselor and advocate at Pathways to Discovery where she offers counseling, creative arts, advocacy and community resources to a diverse range of clients. Through San Francisco Department of Public Health's Community Behavioral Health Services (CBHS), Kami serves un-housed and formerly un-housed adults with substance use issues and/or persistent mental illness, severe income disparities, and staggering housing challenges. Historically, Kami has offered support and counseling to un-housed youth and adults struggling with severe trauma, mental illness and/or substance addiction, as well as adults with developmental challenges, elders living with dementia and chronic physical illnesses, and individuals in the advanced stages of HIV-AIDS infection. After graduation, her focus will continue to be working within the CBHS network as a Marriage and Family Therapist and Expressive Arts Therapist. She sees herself providing a creative, multi-cultural, and relational form of therapy with it's roots in the wellness and recovery model of health.
Echoing within Kami is a deep chord, continually reminding her it was not long ago when she couldn't imagine being able to walk a path towards embracing resiliency, hope and the belief that she was worthy of a life worth living. Drawing from her lived experience, Kami feels believes it is crucial to build an ongoing awareness of what it truly means to posses a strengths-based regard for consumers living with mental health challenges and/or substance addiction issues. She feels strongly that our work with others begins with the ability to see the real, vibrant survivors behind the trees of symptoms and pathology staring up from an intake form. She is an ardent supporter of helping behavioral health consumers empower themselves through collaborative charting, treatment planning and goal-setting. She is also a passionate advocate of a trauma-informed system of care in which staff members and professionals, from the most senior clinicians to receptionists and janitors, learn how to offer support, particularly in dysregulated, crisis situations.
Kami is also a visual artist with a long-time love of oil painting. In recent years, she has been featured in exhibitions at the deYoung museum, San Francisco City Hall and the San Francisco Main Library. Core themes at the heart of her artwork include living with mental illness/substance addiction, biracial identity (American Indian and African), social justice/politics and the legacies of intergenerational racial and genocidal trauma. Learn more about Kami and view her work at artslant.com.
Wendy Khai-Hoan Ngo, visual art healer and a socially-conscious business woman has long been inspired towards healing intergenerational trauma and has dreamt of becoming an influential cultural figure. Born Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam and raised by strong business people she was motivated as a child to help her community thrive. She began the MA program in Expressive Arts Therapy in the fall of 2013 and feels overwhelmed by how much the institute has to offer in the realms of psychology, social justice, and culture. She is guided by the belief that "a smooth sea never makes a skillful sailor" and enjoys some motion sickness, storms and mermaids along her way. In spring of 2014, she accepted a volunteer position with the Asian American Women Artists Association where she serves as mental health consultant and food caterer and supports the development and public relations teams. Here, she is coming to understand the everyday financial struggle behind meaningful activism in a non-profit model.
Wendy is a social butterfly, a lover of culture, and is especially proud of her Vietnamese traditional heritage. She is grateful everyday to stand on the shoulders of the brave Vietnamese women and men who fought and are fighting for the freedom of her land. You can contact Wendy at email@example.com for further information about CIIS and EXA program.
Lalo Ontiveros is a Bay Area native with a passion for the arts and higher education. Lalo has a BA in Psychology and Sociology from the University of Hawai'i, giving him a strong foundation upon which he is able to deepen his understanding of the human mind and society at large. Listening to his parents playing everything from Van Halen, to Marvin Gaye, to Celia Cruz, Lalo developed an appreciation for music at a very young age. He joined his school concert band in fourth grade and has been playing music ever since. Lalo has also explored dance, acting, poetry and creative writing. It was creative writing that helped him overcome many of his life challenges, leading to his interest incorporating the arts with therapy. Lalo's passions also include serving the many Latino and First Nation American cultures, specifically bridging existing healing methods with counseling psychology. He also enjoys working with young children in urban areas who struggle with poverty. This Fall semester, Lalo will join a team of students under the supervision of expressive arts therapy faculty to assist with a research project at Glide Memorial Church. He will be using the arts to support children in their after-school program. At the start of his second year, Lalo is bursting with love for this work and excited for what he will be bringing to the world of Expressive Art Therapy.
Peter A. Brown (2008) brings a variety of experience to the field of psychology. He is a West Point grad (Class of 1996), former Army Captain, and combat veteran with extensive personnel, operations, and planning experience spanning a decade of uniformed service. He also completed an MBA in Europe where he published a consultancy piece on the development of world-class project management and internal marketing for a German-International conglomerate. He speaks fluent German and French and is an experienced international linguist.
Peter is deeply interested in creative organizational change management and continues to explore through the arts. He has a background in performance arts and music, and studies violoncello and electronic music production. After graduation, he received a non-terminal MA in Clinical Psychology with his advancement to candidacy for the Doctorate in Psychology (PsyD) with CIIS. He is presently completing his pre-doctoral internship training at Mission Mental Health clinic alongside training to become a Lacanian psychoanalyst. The title of his dissertation is, "Research and treatment of combat veterans: An Integrative, evidence-based literature review." He also writes articles on trauma, research, and veterans issues, and is a contributing author to the forthcoming "Encyclopedia of Trauma," from Sage Publishers.
Zoë Dearborn (formerly: Edmonds) (2007) synthesizes her experiences as multidisciplinary artist, arts educator, and expressive arts therapist to help people tap into their creativity to use as a source for inspiration, growth and transformation. Having studied and performed in a variety of arts fields in her home town of NYC, including: acting & improvisation, writing, filmmaking, photography, dance, and music, Zoë brings a diverse professional background in the arts to her work. Zoë received her BA from Oberlin College in Studio Art and East Asian Studies before earning her Master's degree in Expressive Arts Therapy and Counseling Psychology from California Institute of Integral Studies. Zoë has taught creative writing, visual arts, filmmaking and acting to children and adults for the past 10 years. In 2011, Zoë launched the organization ART FOR LIFE-whose mission is to make the expressive arts accessible to people of all walks of life through its website, workshops, retreats and events. Art For Life offers ongoing workshops, including: Art Journal Lab ,"cultivating creativity workshops" and filmmaking for children. Zoë also volunteers her time by teaching the expressive arts to orphans and preschool children in her community. Starting this fall, Art For Life will be hosting two new art-infused community events in Todos Santos-"Mariposa Night," a live storytelling event and "Open Gallery Night"-an open invitation to the community to share their creativity and to be inspired by a documentary film series. Zoë also works privately as a creativity and personal development coach--helping people with: creative blocks, career development and making a commitment to living a more creative, balanced life.
In September, 2012 Zoë embarked on a one year project--ZOËLAB--a daily, multimedia self-revelatory blog that wove together past and present experiences, as well as future plans and dreams. She is currently working on recording her expressive arts based songs which will be posted on her website in the coming year. With her workshops and other projects, Zoë's goal is to create contexts that engender a perpetual cycle of mutual inspiration not only to help people each discover their own inner source of creativity through art-making, but also for the group experience to become art in itself. Zoë is realizing her dream of living "life as art," off the grid, in their homemade house in progress, with her husband and five year old son in Elias Calles, a desert community in BCS, Mexico.
Nicki Koethner MA, MFT (2003) is a Multimedia Artist and Expressive Arts Therapist specializing in spirituality, sexuality, trauma, creativity, couples work and parenting. She is a modern-day mystic who facilitates creative experiences such as mask-making for soul connection and cathartic storytelling through movement. She has led Expressive Arts workshops and performances in the US and internationally. She is an advisor to the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association and an organizer for the Northern California Dance Collective (NCDC), a non-profit organization where community and dance meet. In addition, Nicki serves as communications director and priestess at Terra's Temple, "a sacred space and a nexus for community committed to celebration and honoring of the earth mother, in all her forms." And she is on the board of Body Tales, "a creative and healing practice that integrates movement, voice and personal storytelling" (see video of Nicki performing above). Currently, Nicki has a private practice in Berkeley, California and she brings a wide variety of tools and experience to her work. By facilitating a deep inquiry of what is present in her clients' minds, hearts and bodies, Nicki helps them learn to love and accept themselves more fully and to discover more spontaneity, flow, meaning and ease in their lives. She supervises at the Pacific Center for Human Growth in Berkeley and is involved as a trainer in an Innovation Grant for the County of Alameda to help raise awareness for the LGTBQI community.
Francisca Lizana MFTI (2010), a Chilean/American graduate of EXA started her training in the therapeutic use of the arts at the Institute for Arts in Therapy and Education in London in 2001. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Chile and an MA in Design & Media Arts in England. She has worked in the addiction recovery field in London, San Francisco and Santiago, Chile since 2003.
In 2004 she began offering strength-based and culturally competent EXA approaches in Spanish and English to adults and children in a variety of community settings. In 2011 she was invited to work with refugee & migrants in Chile where she also set up her private practice. In addition, she practiced at an innovative addiction treatment center where she facilitated EXA therapy for the outpatient adult population. She has also taught in an Art Therapy graduate program and has collaborated with Gloria Simoneaux (founder of Harambee Arts).
Since 2010, Francisca has presented her clinical work & imparted workshops in Spain, USA, Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Peru. She recently presented at the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association Conference in Berkeley, California. Currently she is involved with the Bay Area Community Resources Agency (BACR) as a Bilingual School-Based Counselor.
Eric Subido MFTI (2010) has been working with children, youth and families for over ten years in San Francisco. He received his undergraduate degree in Child and Adolescent Development which created his passion for working with highly disadvantaged youth and school teachers. He has created an expressive arts program called Dance Your Art Out which provides movement-based social learning experiences for children and adults through art, play and the creative process. He teaches yoga to children in the public schools incorporating the literary arts, improvisation and theater. He also leads adult yoga classes emphasizing radical wellness and a socially conscious lifestyle. Eric has found healing in the expressive arts and has been creating Hip-Hop music for most of his life.
Additional Alumni Profiles
George Brais is a multi-disciplined artist who draws upon all modalities in his expression. He established and is currently facilitating a creative process he calls ‘Euphorah' that utilizes drama, music, imaginal language, movement, video, and visual art simultaneously within an inspiring collaborative group space that ultimately culminates in a live witnessed performance. Having experienced first hand the healing power of the arts, Brais decided to further his education in psychology and join the EXA program through which he envisions combining his passion of the arts and his natural shamanic healing abilities in the therapeutic space.
Aradhna Singh is both a spiritual healer and an artist. Originally from Calcutta India, Aradhna holds a BA in studio Art & an MFA in Electronic Art from the University of Cincinnati. She also pursued undergraduate courses at the Fashion Institute of Technology (NYC) as well as graduate courses in Electronic Visualization at Mississippi State University. Although she has dabbled with a variety of mediums, her favorite forms of expression are painting, video installation & motion capture. Over a decade ago, she started a company called Hue ‘n' I and has been conducting a series of expressive arts & energy healing workshops for people of all ages in India.
Kelly Baas (2009) has a background heavily rooted in theatre. She studied theatre performance as an undergrad and has been a member of a few theatre companies. After working for a few years with children on the autistic spectrum and with others in the disability community, Kelly saw first-hand how arts and advocacy could strengthen each other. She decided to search for a field of study that would utilize the arts for development, necessary change, and personal and creative growth.
Merideth Bowen Shamszad MFT (2008), in addition to being a licensced marriage and family therapist is also a licensed physical therapist with a certificate in complementary medicine from the Institute for Health and Healing. She is an experienced clinician with many years in clinic, hospital and hospice settings. She has provided psychotherapy, expressive arts and guided imagery to a wide variety of patients and groups with chronic and acute medical and psychological conditions including cancer, trauma, depression, anxiety and end-of-life transition.
Linda Bencangey Goldstein MA, MFT, REAT (1995) is a Registered Expressive Arts Therapist with IEATA (International Expressive Arts Therapy Association) and has a psychotherapy private practice since 1997. She graduated with a Certificate in EXA in 1995 from CIIS. Linda previously was on the Board of IEATA and REACH (Reaching with Expressive Arts for Creativity and Healing) and currently is a member of IEATA. She also was President of the Creative Arts Student Association at San Francisco State University for 2 years.
Julia Ellis (2011) arrived at the EXA program after working in the non-profit education world for nearly ten years. She brought with her a love of all of the arts and a special passion for accessing the body through movement and voice. Julia served as trainee on the Sutter Hospice Bereavement team where she facilitated grief work using the expressive arts, provided music therapy to bed-bound Hospice patients, and co-facilitated EXA & Grief groups. Julia also has extensive experience volunteering abroad in India and Israel.
Philipe L. Harrington, MFTI (2011) works with artists, activists, queers, gender variant people and couples who are longing to embody the transformation we need to create social justice. Through somatic and expressive arts therapies, Philipe's clients heal once useful, yet ultimately limiting, patterns of protection from trauma and social inequality. Philipe supports people to access more choices, creativity, and skills for personal wellness and collective liberation. For more information about Phillipe's practice visit Tiger's Eye Healing Arts.
Maia Huang MFT, REAT (2004) has been a psychotherapist since 2003 and has worked in the helping professions for the past nineteen years as a counselor and community advocate. She is the founder of Healing Arts Psychotherapy and she specializes in working with individuals, couples, and groups from diverse backgrounds and lifestyles. In addition to holistic psychotherapy, her interests in guided imagery and the arts sets the stage for a creative space of healing.
Elena Beth Hull MA, LMFT, LCAT (2004) is a licensed Psychotherapist and Creative Arts Therapist who's personal and professional paths have led her to integrate creativity and healing. She offers individual in-depth psychotherapy, couples therapy, and expressive arts groups and retreats. She has also created and facilitated Heal the Healers retreats through The Joyful Heart Foundation and developed the Darkness to Light Conference for therapists, offering them an integrative model for working with adult survivors of sexual trauma.
Jacqueline Gautier, MA, RCC (2006) is a Registered Clinical Counsellor in the province of British Columbia. She holds Certificates in Integrated Health & Healing and in Hospice Care from the California Pacific Medical Centre. Her life journey has been eclectic. Early in her career she worked for ten years as a senior administrator in the fertilizer industry in Saskatchewan, BC. This work afforded her the opportunity to travel extensively, managing financial operations in thirteen developing countries. In 1990 she was the recipient of CIDA's Professional Development Scholarship and used the award to create a documentary film on Farm Women in Indonesia.
Brima Jah (2010) immigrated to the United States from Curacao, Netherlands Antilles. The former dancer first discovered the expressive arts when, as a boy, he became fascinated with imaginative play. Brima has since become enchanted with sketching, voice, dance, and theatre. Brima has worked with children and families, queer teens and foster youth. As an EXA student at CIIS, he has harnessed the arts to facilitate growth and healing, both for himself and for others. He is now a marriage and family therapy trainee, providing both individual and group therapy services for the LGBTQQI community.
Susan Mercur (2011) draws upon many years of arts experience. Having once been a professional violinist, she also works as an instructor at The Cedars of Marin, a program for developmentally disabled adults, where she shares her multifaceted arts disciplines with the clients. Susan looks forward to beginning her practicum in September with the Women's Therapy Center where she will focus on integrating their two-year intensive psychodynamic training with expressive arts interventions.
Ali Joy Sideroff MA, LMFT (2009) has worked in the field of social services for over ten years. She received undergraduate degrees in Psychology and Feminist Studies with an emphasis in social justice issues. Ali provides therapy to LGBTQQI and straight youth and adults in San Francisco and Berkeley. Her specialties include depression, anxiety, relationships/communication, transitions, grief/loss, sex/sexuality/gender and personal growth. Ali works from a humanistic framework and combines depth-oriented and solution focused techniques such as Narrative Therapy, Expressive Arts Therapies, CBT, DBT and mindfulness based approaches.
Beja (Rebecca) Tinsley (2008) has a background in science, theatre, and activism and is passionate about radical mental health and developing strategies to counteract colonization and oppression. She worked for many years as a scenic artist and stage manager, did one to one work with transitional age autistic folks and taught art to at-risk middle school students before embarking on the path of self-discovery as an expressive arts therapist. Since graduation, Beja has been pursuing her passion as a visual artist and ecstatic dancer while working full-time in the community mental health field.
Karin von Daler, MFT, REAT, (2002) is in full time private practice in Copenhagen as a psychologist, EXA therapist, and student supervisor. She is also the co-founder of the creative and body oriented psychotherapy center Nyt Anastasis. In addition she is core faculty at the Danish Art Therapy Institute where she teaches intermodal and depth oriented expressive arts. Karin plays in harp in an ensemble with harpist Helen Davies, performing mostly in Denmark. She is working on a new online gallery Evoarte for Expressive Artists worldwide, where she will also be showing her own visual art pieces.
Alexander Warnow (2010) has been busy starting sf:Springboard, a 3-month long workshop designed to help people finish their creative projects. While at CIIS he created "I Love You Because . . .", a collaborative photo project exploring love, and found the process - and product - transformative. Additionally, he's gathering hours towards licensure by working at a small agency counseling adolescents with emotional and substance abuse problems.
Lisbeth White, MA, LMFT (2007) is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and expressive arts therapist. A dancer since the age of 6, she received her BA with a dual-degree in Creative Writing and Sociology, which inspired her to integrate both sociocultural contexts and the creative process into her art and work with children in crisis shelters. Needless to say, she felt like she hit the jackpot when coming across the EXA program at CIIS!
Marlena E. Zahm (2011), originally from Massachusetts, started dancing at age four and has not stopped since. She is a member of the first graduating class of the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter High School in Hadley, Massachusetts and she holds a BFA in Dance & Theater from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. In 2008 she moved to San Francisco to begin her studies at CIIS. Currently, Marlena works as an Early Childhood Mental Health Consultant for Edegwood Center for Children and Families. She provides mental health services to children, families, teachers, and site administrators in pre-schools within the San Francisco Unified School District.
Mena Zaminsky, LMFT (1999) is an expressive arts therapist, a trained sensory motor psychotherapist with a focus on trauma, and a certified addictions treatment counselor (CATC). Mena served as the director of outpatient services at Walden House and also has a psychotherapy private practice. She is adjunct faculty in the City College of San Francisco Drug and Alcohol Studies program, where she has taught a variety of classes, including Introduction to Drug and Alcohol Studies, Co-Occurring Disorders, Group Facilitation, and Motivational Counseling.