Ngoc Khuu began her program to become a helping professional, but quickly learned the work ultimately begins in advocacy for the mental health field within communities where mental health care is often stigmatized.
Ngoc Khuu, Art Therapy ’22, credits her time in the art therapy program with helping her to gain a deeper and more meaningful understanding of who she is and what is important to her. It also expanded her understanding of what it means to be an art therapist.
“At the start of the program, my motivation to pursue Art Therapy was to become a helping professional for others,” says Khuu. “Though this is still a motive, I learned that this work ultimately begins in advocacy for the mental health field within communities where mental health care is often stigmatized.”
She goes on to explain that the graduate school’s social justice mission was also a significant contribution to her ‘unlearning’ of systems that are oppressive, and that the incorporation of these values in the class and program strengthened her ability to advocate for more professors of color, and incorporating textbooks that are inclusive and relevant. She notes the utilization of this social justice framework within the broader field has been difficult, but worthwhile.
“It’s an ongoing battle, but a progressive battle.”
Khuu says she was also proud to bring her own unique perspective to her cohort—that of a Vietnamese-American—and to share her cultural history and background along with her own lived experiences.
“My unique experiences led to a meaningful and collaborative partnership built with faculty, giving me a voice in the continued evolution of the Art Therapy program,” she says. “The ability to advocate for student needs and implement social justice teachings is well practiced in this partnership. The faculty have been able to make accommodations, advocate for students at a higher level, and offer us support.”
Like many, Khuu’s graduate school experience was profoundly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns that ensued. She says the experience humbled her as a person and helped her recognize her own privilege and struggles.
“Covid changed everything half way through my second term as a first year student. I was alone, didn’t know anyone because I just moved to pdx, and the only thing I could do was make bread, boba balls, and dalgona coffee. I am always moving, always working, always doing school work, but never slowed down enough to recognize the small things. Covid has probably given me adjustment disorder in more ways than not, but because I am able to recognize it, I find commonality to relate with others whom I will work with in my future practice.”
Khuu found solace during those difficult times within her cohort.
“The small cohort experience provided me with new friends inside and outside of the learning space. Spending three years with a group of people has given me the ability to self-reflect, accept accountability, and overall learn better.”
When asked what she would like to share with prospective students, Khuu says: “My advice would be to be yourself and only yourself. Don’t hide under the need to be perfect because higher academia tells us we have to be. Yes, this is a master’s program, it is graduate school, but the beauty of becoming an Art Therapist at this school is that it will allow you to explore who you really are.”