Faces of Cedars-Sinai: Ruth Xilomen Rios
Aug 08, 2022 Carrie St. Michel
Meet Ruth Xilomen Rios, a mental health supervisor with Cedars-Sinai Share & Care. Share & Care is a school-based mental health program that employs art therapy to help children and adolescents heal psychological wounds caused by experiencing difficult life events.
A native Angeleno, Ruth is an accomplished artist, skilled art therapist and unflappable human being. The latter characteristic was on display recently when her childcare provider was suddenly unavailable during the scheduled time for this virtual interview.
Ruth proceeded to calmly answer our questions with her 10-month-old daughter, Izcalli, tucked in a baby carrier wrapped across her chest and while keeping line of sight to her 3-year-old daughter, Tlanextli, who was watching a cartoon about dancing insects. The sisters were both welcomed into the world at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
We talked to Ruth about her intriguing career path, transitioning from clinician to supervisor and discovering the best baguettes ever.
"Art therapy is beneficial for everyone, but particularly for young kids because they often don't have the skills to communicate their feelings verbally. They may not have the vocabulary needed to express their emotions."
You've worked as an artist and as an art therapist. How did these dual career paths evolve?
Ruth Xilomen Rios: I remember coloring intently in My Little Pony coloring books as a child, moving on to sketchbooks and then majoring in fine arts at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
After graduating, I taught a children's visual arts class and then served as an artist mentor at an agency providing mental health services to kids and teens. That's when I learned about art therapy, and it resonated with me. There were creative aspects, plus these very interesting therapeutic elements.
I graduated from Loyola Marymount University's Marital and Family Therapy/Art Therapy master's degree program in 2006 and developed a specialty in using art therapy with children who've experienced trauma, particularly in immigrant communities.
I always kept one foot in the art world and went on to earn a master's degree in fine arts from the ArtCenter College of Design. I took a brief detour from art therapy and worked at a fine arts studio specializing in stained glass. I will always be an artist, but my professional preference is art therapy.
You joined Share & Care in 2016. How did that come about?
RR: The position seemed like a perfect fit. I had extensive school-based art therapy experience working with children impacted by trauma. Not only that, but I thought it would be awesome to work in a program founded by Suzanne Silverstein (founding director of the Psychological Trauma Center). She is so well known and respected in the art therapy field!
I was the clinical art therapist at Arlington Elementary School, Ritter Elementary School and West Athens Elementary School. I was at each school once a week providing Share & Care group counseling to students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
What do you like about Share & Care's approach?
RR: I really like that it's focused on prevention and early intervention, so you're equipping students with skills to navigate stressors in their lives. I also like that every session includes sharing as a group. We have a talking stick that each group of students decorate together. Every session, I would provide a prompt, such as "Tell us something positive and something not so positive about your week." The talking stick is passed from student to student, signaling whose turn it is to share. Not only did they become more comfortable talking about their lives, but they also learned to be supportive of each other.
What are the benefits of art therapy for children?
RR: Art therapy is beneficial for everyone, generally, but particularly for young kids because they often don't have the skills to communicate their feelings verbally, and they may not have the vocabulary needed to express their emotions. Trauma also can shut down communication, or they may have been told they're not supposed to talk about certain subjects.
In February of this year, you were promoted to mental health supervisor with Share & Care. What prompted your transition from a clinician to a supervisor, and what are your responsibilities?
RR: The position became available and—although this wasn't a conscious plan—I had been building my supervisory skills as president of the national Art Therapy Credentials Board and as a senior faculty member at my alma mater, Loyola Marymount University, where I'm an art therapy supervisor to graduate students. It turns out that I love supervising! I especially enjoy overseeing our three-year training program for associates who recently graduated with degrees in either social work, marriage and family therapy, or professional clinical counseling. They're not licensed yet, so they can earn the hours needed for licensure through our program. I'm looking forward to the new school year and making site visits to the schools where Share & Care is offered.
What does your typical weekend look like?
RR: Our favorite family outing is going to Manhattan Beach. We hit the sand and dip our toes in the water. Then we head to the Roadhouse Aquarium on the pier. It's small but very cute, and it's free. Our next stop is a toy store our girls love. Last, we all get an ice-cream cone at a shop near the pier. Almost every Saturday we go to the Downey Farmers Market, which is near where we live in South Gate. There's a vendor there who sells the best baguettes ever.