Art of communication

MHS graduate breaks new ground in art therapy at hospital

Bethany Hickman sits in front of one of her paintings in the Visual Art Center at Lenoir-Rhyne University. She is a deaf student who is conducting art therapy with deaf clients at Broughton Hospital in Morganton, N.C.

Bethany Hickman sits in front of one of her paintings in the Visual Art Center at Lenoir-Rhyne University. She is a deaf student who is conducting art therapy with deaf clients at Broughton Hospital in Morganton, N.C.

Maryville High School graduate Bethany Hickman, a junior at Lenoir-Rhyne University, is participating in an art therapy internship this semester at Broughton Hospital, a state psychiatric hospital in Morganton, N.C.

That isn’t unusual. What is out of the ordinary is that Hickman and the clients she works with are deaf. Hickman, a 2007 graduate of Maryville High School, uses a sign language interpreter to communicate with most people. At Broughton, she communicates directly with her clients using American Sign Language. Robert Winter, professor of art at Lenoir-Rhyne, is supervising her internship. He said that having a deaf student participate in an internship with deaf clients is a first in his 28 years at Lenoir-Rhyne.

Hickman, who is the daughter of Wayne and Rachel Hickman of Maryville, is majoring in human and community service and minoring in art therapy. After graduation, she plans to earn a master’s degree in counseling with the goal of becoming a school counselor.

She travels to the state hospital twice a week and works with two clients for approximately an hour each time. After each session, she analyzes the clients’ work and meets with her professor. Both of her clients are over the age of 30.

“When I come in, I give them a paper and pencil and a prompt (about what to draw). Then we talk about it,” she said through an interpreter. “Basically, it’s a way they express themselves through drawing. Sometimes art can help a person heal or understand a circumstance or situation.”

Connie King, program director for deaf services at Broughton Hospital, has been supervising Hickman’s work at the hospital. King reports that the patients are very pleased to be working with Hickman. “They love that they can directly communicate and don’t have to use an interpreter,” she said. Broughton has creative arts and recreation therapy but not art therapy.

“It is exciting to watch Bethany work with our patients with this new and creative approach,” King said.

Hickman explained that there are often symbols in a person’s artwork that express their inner feelings and thoughts. For example, the size of the hands and ears in relation to the body can express feelings of being physically or verbally abused. Some colors indicate certain emotions or thoughts. “Basically, you look at everything,” she said. “Some of the symbols stand out more than others.”

Hickman is a person who does not let her deafness hold her back. She explained that she attended a school for the deaf from pre-school through seventh grade. Then she was mainstreamed in middle school and high school.

While attending the Maryville public schools, she used the services of an interpreter. However, she didn’t limit her participation in extra-curricular activities. She was feature editor for the school newspaper. She said she conducted her interviews using an interpreter, or by e-mail. She even sold advertising to local businesses.

She previously served as a 4-H counselor at Camp Sertoma in Mt. Airy, N.C. One week the campers were deaf or hard-of-hearing children, as well as children of deaf parents. Another week, she worked with hearing students who were 12-14 years old. “They were willing to communicate with me through gestures, and also they used basic finger spelling,” she said.

At one time, she considered a career in graphic design. But she later decided that she would rather be a school counselor. Whatever career path she chooses, it seems certain that nothing will stand in her way.

Established in 1891, Lenoir-Rhyne University is a private, coeducational university located in Hickory, N.C. It is affiliated with the N.C. Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and is open to students from all religious backgrounds.

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