Mia de Bethune wearing a white homemade mask with a black print of scissors

Mia de Bethune (STEINHARDT)

Putting Self-Care Into Action for Those on the Front Lines

By Nicole Symmonds

Mia de Bethune is a self-professed organization wonk who jumps to action when things need to happen.

This habit contributed to her success in her former career as a film editor. And it helps her even more in her current position as an adjunct faculty member and internship coordinator in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development’s Art Therapy program. Perhaps that tendency has never better served her than at the height of the pandemic.

As the virus descended upon the world and spread to New York City, closures displaced nearly all of de Bethune’s students, who had been doing art therapy work with vulnerable populations across the city in institutions such as healthcare facilities and prisons. The students were worried, not only about the pandemic and their clients but also about how they would fulfill the hours they needed to graduate.

As an artist, art psychotherapist, and practitioner of Somatic Experiencing (a therapy for treating people with PTSD), de Bethune decided that they all needed to channel their feelings through action, and a mask-making effort seemed just the thing, given the lack of personal protective equipment when COVID first hit.

“I saw it as a way to model meaningful activity for my students at a time of severe crisis,” de Bethune says, “when many people were emotionally shutting down out of fear, anxiety, and isolation”—emotions the teacher and artist herself was experiencing.

In April, de Bethune formed the Hudson Valley/NY Makers and Creators of PPE and started producing essential equipment for frontline workers alongside students and other art therapists. The effort did not proceed seamlessly; they encountered pushback because the masks did not meet the regulations for protective wear set by the CDC.

Undeterred, they changed their approach and addressed the concerns. The group then moved on to making much-needed face shields.

The PPE itself was, of course, vitally important to essential workers—the network produced 600 face masks, 300 face shields, 100 scrub hats, and 15 sets of hospital scrubs in April alone. But for de Bethune, it wasn’t so much about what they made as it was about the opportunity to organize, build community, and do some good. It was about providing people in despair with the chance to take part in something hopeful and support one another.