Azizi Marshall, LCPC, RDT/BCT, REAT, is Founder & CEO of the Center for Creative Arts Therapy, a full-service, arts-based psychotherapy practice and training center in the Chicagoland area. She has served on multiple boards for the North American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA) and trains fellow artists and mental health practitioners in the use of drama therapy and expressive arts therapy. Azizi has been a featured lecturer throughout the world on combining the arts and healing. Read our interview with the lovely Azizi below…
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
I had been told “no” so many times that I decided not to listen anymore. After experiencing corporate-wide layoffs, agency closings and working on a theatre program that was not accepting of other people’s emotional well-being, I decided it was time to create a safe place for people to not only acquire mental health services, but also express themselves in creative ways. I also wanted to train other people on how to use their love for the arts with their passion for healing others. So I just did it! Almost 5 years later, and I wouldn’t change a single thing along this journey.
Tell us about your business.
The Center for Creative Arts Therapy offers both a Training Center (where we train therapists on how to use the arts in their practice) and a Counseling Center (where we offer individuals, communities, schools and organizations creative arts therapy services).
At our Counseling Center, we offer support groups for new moms, first responders, and teenagers. We also offer a Therapeutic Theatre program, where we create original theatrical performances that express participants’ personal stories through dance, music and storytelling. They are the creators, directors and performers. While it is hard to pick one group over another, the one I get the most energy from is our Therapeutic Theatre program. During one of our projects at an all girls’ high school, we created an original musical based on their lives. The Illinois High School Theatre Association was so impressed by what we had done, that they invited us to be the first student-led workshop in their history. It was an empowering experience for those girls, and some have presented with me again at other conferences on how theatre is therapeutic.
At our Training Center we offer courses toward Registration as a Drama Therapist and/or a Registered Expressive Arts Therapist. Our classes are specifically customized for our students’ interests, and include Expressive Arts Therapy with War Veterans, Drama Therapy for Eating Disorders, Multi-Modal Arts Integration, Therapeutic Theatre, etc.
Are you currently running any promos/contests/giveaways that you would like our readers to know about?
The Center for Creative Arts Therapy offers a complimentary phone consultation to ensure quality of care, and discounts for trainings throughout the year. We also offer arts-based counseling on a sliding scale fee with our art therapy interns.
- Presenter, multiple conferences throughout the country on therapeutic arts-based performance, (2007-2017)
- Contributing Author, The Use of Creative Therapies with Bullying and Aggression, Drama Therapy for Aggressive Adolescents: A Performance Based Approach, Edited by Dr. Dorothy A. Miraglia, (2017)
- Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in Illinois
- Board Certified Trainer in Drama Therapy with the North American Drama Therapy Association
- Registered Expressive Arts Therapist with the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association
- Graduate of the Masters of Community Counseling Program at Northeastern Illinois University
- Graduate of the Masters of Theatre, Communications & Media Program at Northeastern Illinois University
- Bachelor of Arts recipient from Columbia College Chicago in Film Directing
- Featured Author, Illinois Counselor, Creative Arts Therapies: “Creativity Takes Courage” – Henri Matisse (2015)
- Recipient, Most Inspirational Teacher, Awarded by Western Illinois University (2013)
Where is your business based?
The Center for Creative Arts Therapy is located in the western suburbs of Chicago. We are convenient to public transportation and major US highways. While we offer our trainings at the center, we also lecture throughout the country.
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
- Developing a kick ass website. I have spent over 300 hours tweaking our website to increase SEO, make it more appealing to our customers, and provide quality content.
- Making connections. I am only as successful as the last person I come in contact with. Helping others achieve their dreams is how “networking” works best. How can I help this person? Who can I put them in contact with? I believe whole-heartedly that if you connect with others through their goals, they will remember you in the times that matter most to help your business move forward.
- Utilizing friendships. Our Executive Administrator, Photographer and Creative Producer are my best friends. My business and marketing mentor is my husband. Your existing connections can be great supports while you are just starting out.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
Pounding the pavement and making calls. While I am a staunch advocate of a strong website presence and social media platform, there is nothing like a connection with a great referral source. When I first started out, I went door to door with a small basket of muffins and business cards to pediatricians and primary care physicians. They are still some of our greatest referrals.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
Finding the right space. As a creative arts therapist, I innately move toward natural light, large open areas and a creative feeling vibe. So when we were looking to expand into a larger space, we knew we had to get out of our windowless, closet-sized offices and into a space that could house an art studio, movement space, large offices and training room.
How did you overcome these challenges?
I was using a real estate agent for a while, but was finding only corporate buildings with minimal square footage. So one day I packed my two little ones in the car, threw them each a bag of cereal and apple slices, and went on a “road trip”. We literally drove up and down every business-zoned street in Downers Grove, writing down contact information for every “for lease” sign. We finally found a space that was able to accommodate all of our needs, and it was all thanks to some good old-fashioned DIY.
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
Not to sound cliché, but I do this for my children and late father. I want to pass on the legacy that my father bestowed upon me to share. Growing up he taught me how to read people’s body language while sitting at the mall “people watching”, and express myself through the arts through our collaboration on an award-winning American Red Cross theatre performance program exploring community health issues such as AIDS/HIV and domestic violence. It was almost as if he was training me to be who I am today.
My two girls have grown up in the theatre world; watching mommy direct shows, choreograph routines, run through lines with students. My oldest daughter directs her friends in made up dance concerts and plays, reenacts “Romeo and Juliet”, and lives through her art. It is where she breathes. My youngest has the muscle definition of an Olympic gymnast. She has always sought out the unknown. She is fearless.
My ability to heal others through the arts is one way my girls will continue to know and understand their grandfather, since they will never meet him. It is a sorrowful challenge at times, yet one that keeps me going every day.
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
The Center for Creative Arts Therapy offers art therapy, music therapy, dance/movement therapy, and drama therapy. We are the only organization in the country that offers both arts-based counseling services AND training. Every July we send out a survey to our students asking them what they want to learn about in the coming year, and that is how we design the electives we offer. We also offer CEUs to licensed counselors and social workers.
What is the best advice you have received recently?
Stay true to your mission. The universe has a funny way of keeping you on track… although it may not seem funny in the moment.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
“Perfection is the enemy of done”. As I write the answers to these questions, I am covered in a fine layer of paint from a client, syrup from my 3-year-old daughter’s hands during a goodbye hug as I dropped her off at school, and pen scribbles on my hand as I slept, trying not to forget what I needed to do the next day. I have a “To Do” list that goes on for 3 pages, with additional “To Dos” attached to the other “To Dos”.
Life as an entrepreneur is messy, literally and figuratively. You never know what will happen day by day, let alone what you may be covered in. Having a plan and being able to deviate from that plan in order to push your business forward is important. You’ve go to roll with the punches, because if you wait to jump into your dreams for that “just right” moment, it will never come. I have failed so many times trying to get things perfect, because perfection does not exist. It’s just you and a dream, so go ahead and make it a reality.
What is your favorite business tool or resource?
Facebook and Wix. Facebook has been tremendous in making connections with local families looking for support, and Wix has one of the easiest website design tools to captivate our training center’s offerings.
What social media outlets do you use? List them below.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
“Full Catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
What are you currently learning about for your business or looking for help with?
I am currently learning how to use video to market our services and educate others in the work we do as creative arts therapists.
What are your goals for the next few months and how are you striving to achieve them?
Our goal is to offer online training opportunities for those that want to take their therapeutic practice to the next level. We also are expanding our therapeutic team to provide more services to the community.