A few years ago, Carole Ann McGovern “Cam” Busch created a scholarship at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to recognize and encourage students who are pursuing a career in the field of art therapy. The stipend is a way to honor those who are working toward that goal.
DeAris Neal is excited about getting the chance to thank Busch in person for being a role model—and for the scholarship aid, too.
Neal, a member of the UTC Counselor Education Program, is on pace to receive his master’s in mental health counseling in December. In addition to his college course load, he is interning with Georgia HOPE (Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally), a community-based nonprofit providing mental health and family preservation services.
Neal has bills to pay, minimal income coming in and very little free time in his schedule. So it was a great relief when he found out in late February that he would be the recipient of the Cam Busch Art Therapy Annual Scholarship.
“Learning that news was wonderful,” said Neal, who received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from UTC in 2016. “I’ve taken out a lot of student loans. Being an intern—and that internship is for free—and going to school while working part-time and interning part-time can take a financial toll on you. This will help me focus on my studies and the internship.”
Neal said his life goal is to obtain a counselor position in the mental health field, working with children and adolescents. At Georgia HOPE, he has been counseling students at Saddle Ridge Elementary and Middle School in Rock Spring, Georgia. The students he advises range from a first-grader to several eighth-graders.
Many adults don’t want to open up to a counselor, Neal said, so imagine trying to get a young child to express emotional experiences. He has integrated the concept of art therapy into helping his young students.
“If they’re not taught to talk about things emotionally, they’ll just hold it in. And that builds a lot of internal mental stress. Counseling is therapeutic talking one-on-one, but I’ve decided to add in that twist of art therapy,” he said.
“I mainly focus on CBT—cognitive behavioral therapy. I’m trying to get them to understand themselves mentally so they can see how things can affect behavior. Since I’m dealing with kids, just talking face-to-face can get very boring for them, so I’m adding in some type of drawing aspect. They seem to like that and enjoy it.”
The goal is to get these young children out of their shells.
“It’s an excellent bonding activity,” Neal said. “When they focus on something on paper, they’re subconsciously talking, so they’re distracted in a way. But it’s stress-relieving at the same time.
“It helps them a lot. They don’t see it as being serious when they’re drawing and talking about their feelings. They’re kind of hanging out in a sense. And it helps them want to come to counseling, too, because ‘I get to go draw.’ They don’t look at it as going to talk about emotional or traumatic things.”
Without divulging any confidentiality, Neal cites one girl who made an emotional breakthrough via art.
“This one girl I have doesn’t like to talk much or answer a lot of questions, but when I pull out paper and a pencil and ask her to draw, she’ll draw a lot of traumatic experiences from her past,” he related. “She won’t talk about it, but she’s telling me her story as she draws it.
“You have to be creative in reaching some kids. Art is a way of expressing themselves. And that’s what I tell them. I let them know it’s self-expression, and there are no rules to it; it’s their drawing.”
Neal admitted he doesn’t know much about Busch, a pioneer in the art therapy field who received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UTC. In 1990, she became the first practicing art therapist to be hired in Chattanooga.
He relishes the opportunity to sit down with her and learn from her.
“I would love to learn about all of her art therapy experiences,” Neal said. “I want to hear her stories of how she related to other people and how that bettered other people’s lives. I can take that aspect and apply it to my counseling.”