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Jennifer Passanisi, 2014
HOMETOWN: VALLEY COTTAGE, NY
MAJOR: ART THERAPY
“My advisor at STAC, Carol Lagstein, really helped me along the way in my career. She inspired me, then introduced me to the perfect graduate program and dual degree in mental health counseling and art therapy at Caldwell University.”
Jen Passanisi will be the first to admit that her road to a career in mental health counseling/art therapy was an extensive, but worthwhile experience.
Unsure of what she wanted to do after graduating from high school, she enrolled at Rockland Community College as a liberal arts major. After earning her associate degree at RCC, she went to NYU to study psychology. She stayed only a semester.
“NYU didn’t work for me, so I did what I should have done from the start and went to STAC,” Jen says.
She remembered taking a course in art therapy at RCC that she really enjoyed because it blended her lifelong love of art with her interest in psychology. She enrolled as an art therapy major at STAC and, before graduating, completed an internship at a local high school, where she co-facilitated group sessions for students with the school social worker.
After graduating from STAC, and upon the advice of her academic advisor, Jen pursued her master’s degree in mental health counseling and art therapy specialization — a dual degree resulting in dual licensing — from Caldwell University.
Jen says she always wanted to work with children, but her graduate internship, at Jawonio Promise Program, gave her the opportunity to work with adults who have developmental disabilities, behavioral health challenges and chronic medical conditions. She fell in love with the work — and working with adults. She now works at the program full-time while she finishes her degree.
At Jawonio, Jen facilitates therapy groups, including those focused on art, humor and beauty. She even leads one called “Shameless Happiness.”
“My favorite group is my Zentangle group. It’s about the art of design and relaxation,” Jen explains. “You can just see everybody creating art and as a result relaxing. It’s a nice way to end the day.”
When she’s not working or studying, Jen likes to relax with her own artwork.
“My clients inspire me. Nature inspires me,” Jen says. “In my profession, you need to do your own art and practice what you preach.”