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CBU's Art Therapy Program Enters Into Partnership with Memphis Brooks Museum

This piece orignally appeared in the Bell Tower Magazine Spring 2016 edition.

By: Cory Dugan

art therapy \ |ärt |ˈther-ə-pē \ n : therapy based on engagement in artistic activities (such as painting or drawing) as a means of creative expression and symbolic communication especially in individuals affected with a mental or emotional disorder or cognitive impairment

That definition is explicated a little by Page Scheinberg and Sarah Hamil, teachers in the Art Therapy program at CBU, who define it as “a mental health profession in which clients, facilitated by [a master’s level, credentialed] art therapist, use art media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork to explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem.”           

“When I was at the University of Memphis doing my graduate work and teaching as an adjunct, I had so many people ask me about art therapy,” recalls Jana Travis, chairman of the Visual and Performing Arts Department at CBU. “This was years ago, and there was no interest in or information about starting a new degree program. I ended up being contacted by two nurses, who already had nursing degrees and were working as nurses, but they were very interested in art therapy. They were studying for a BFA in art, but that wasn’t really what they wanted. We talked and ended up building a degree for them through the UofM’s University College. They came to the table with a lot more psychology and medical knowledge that I had, so we looked at what courses would be needed for an equivalent degree.”          

When Travis came to CBU, she started looking at the possibility of an art therapy concentration in the new BFA program. “I looked at what’s required from graduate programs that offer a master’s in art therapy and discovered there are two ways to do it—you can major in psychology and have a minor in art, or you be an art major and have a psychology minor. And even though we don’t offer clinical psychology at CBU, we did already have the required courses that qualify for that minor that’s accepted for graduate school.”           

Art therapy basically integrates the fields of human development, visual art, and the creative process with counseling and psychotherapy. Since the late 1800s psychiatrists, psychologists, and teachers began to notice the affects art had on people with mental illnesses, as well as on other populations, such as disabled children. Art therapy is based on the belief—and, now, scientific evidence—that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior and/or mood, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight.           

According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy is beneficial to fairly wide arena of clients — survivors of trauma (combat, abuse, disaster), persons with adverse physical health conditions (cancer, traumatic brain injury, etc.), and persons with disorders such as autism, dementia, and depression. It has been demonstrated to improve and enhance physical, mental, and emotional well-being as well as help to enhance cognitive abilities and improve motor abilities.           

The therapy curriculum at CBU includes an introductory course in the subject, a course on art therapy practices, and a field study/practicum course. In addition, students take all of their fine art foundation courses plus four psychology classes. This fall, CBU will enter into a partnership with the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art for CBU students to perform their field study course with clients through the museum’s therapy program.          

“The first half of the semester the students are doing workshops, learning about how to put a lesson plan or therapy plan together,” Travis explains. “Then they test them on one another and discover what materials they might need. When they go in and actually work with a therapy group, they’ve already done it and are fully prepared.”         

Thus far CBU students have done their field study at the Ave Maria Adult Day Center, working with adults who are in need of socialization, supervision, activities and care after a recent medical event, assistance due to physical impairments, or diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or a dementia-related illness. The original field course was designed as the result of a grant from the H. W. Durham Foundation for $10,000 and was specifically for work with the elderly.           

Travis worked with Scheinberg and Hamil and wrote the course description with Ave Maria in mind, meeting with their staff and administration several times for input. “The idea was to create a course that we could continue to use, and that could be a permanent part of the program,” Travis explains.           

“CBU’s teachers and classes are excellent, but I would also recommend an internship or field study so you apply the things they learn directly,” says Alexis Blum (’16), who graduated in May with her BFA in Art Therapy. “I worked with dementia participants at Ave Maria, and decided to take it twice to get extra experience. I never thought I would like working with the elderly, but I loved it.”           

Travis says the field course has been very successful since its inception two years ago, but that the distance between CBU and Ave Maria created some logistical obstacles that some students had problems overcoming (i.e., reliable transportation, getting back to campus in time for their next class). When the department began to look for alternative locations, the Memphis Brooks Museum seemed ideal—and not only because of its proximity to campus. Hamil and Scheinberg had already worked with the Brooks on art therapy sessions, so CBU had an “in” with their administration.           

“Paige suggested the Brooks originally,” Travis says. “So we worked up a proposal wherein the museum would provide space and bring in therapy groups, and then our students and teachers would provide the classes.”

“The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art began offering art therapy programs in 2004 as an important way of reaching the museum’s mission of enriching the lives of our diverse community,” says Kathy Dumlao, the Brook’s education director. “In the 12 years that has followed, Brooks has partnered with a variety of organizations to provide art therapy to people of all ages, working with highly qualified, credentialed art therapists, Paige Scheinberg and Sarah Hamil. This new partnership with CBU is such a fantastic next step in this program because it allows the museum to continue offering art therapy to our community, while also helping train the next generation of art therapists.”           

The Brooks also provides a much-expanded field study for the students because, in addition to the elderly, they also provide therapy classes for all different age groups, including schoolchildren and patients from the VA Hospital. They also have classes for groups who are not in need of therapy, but are interested in learning more about the field.                     

“By doing field experience, you learn how diverse individuals are, and you basically get to practice using art therapy,” Blum says. “There are a lot of different exercises to do depending on the demographic you are working with, and you learn from your books, teachers, and experiences how what you are doing helps.  It’s also interesting that you often have to be flexible and change little things that you are doing during a session, and you learn a lot through each session. It’s also fun to be able to decipher some things through what the participants discussed and what was revealed through their art.           

CBU’s art therapy program is the only one in the Mid-South; the closest undergraduate programs are in Illinois, Indiana, and Florida. The BFA in Art Therapy does require a master’s degree, either in psychology or in art therapy, in order to become a practicing therapist. CBU has thus far had about ten students go through the program, and is now hoping to start spreading the word a little further about its availability.           

“Sarah and I believe that these classes and this program will help change the landscape for art therapy in Memphis and the South,” Scheinberg says. “As native Tennesseans, we both went back to school to become art therapists without knowing other art therapists, or even knowing about art therapy for less than a year. These CBU courses and this concentration program help us to raise awareness of the profession of art therapy, educate people of all ages and backgrounds, and advocate for the practice of art therapy by credentialed art therapists—as well as the responsive, ethical use of art in therapy or other professional practices with therapeutic goals and intentions.”

***UPDATE 12/9/16

"Creating Connections Through Art Therapy" Exhibit Opens at the Brooks Museum on Saturday, December 10! This exhibit will feature pieces by friends of the Alzheimer's & Dementia Services of Memphis, Inc. and CBU students. The exhibition is on display from December 10 to March 26, 2017.

Posted by Joshua Colfer at 11:22 AM