Camelot Teacher Profile: Megan Campbell
Megan Campbell is a licensed art therapist and divides her time between two Camelot therapeutic day school campuses in Illinois; Bourbonnais and Oak Park.
This is Megan’s second stint with Camelot. She worked for Camelot for 2.5 years as an art teacher after earning her undergrad degree in Art and Art Marketing from Olivet University in Bourbonnais. In working with students, she discovered that while art was very helpful, students could benefit even more through a combination of art and counseling. She left Camelot to pursue her master’s degree at the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago. After graduating, she directed the pediatric psychology unit for children ages 3-13 at Maryville Behavioral Health Hospital in Des Plaines.
But Camelot VP for Therapeutic Day Schools Theresa Smith was able to convince Megan to come back home. She has been back with Camelot since September, and Theresa describes Megan’s work as incredible.
Camelot has always offered art, but you are Camelot’s first full-time art therapist. What does your job entail?
The clinical team refers students to me that may benefit from art therapy, and that would include kids who don’t process very well verbally or who are non-verbal. Our campus in Bourbonnais has multi-needs kids as well as those with social/emotional disorders whereas Oak Park has strictly SED students. I gather referrals and then sit with students for art therapy assessments with them. Then, they are either placed in individual art therapy or group therapy or even a dyad (two students together) and then I’ll write IEP (Individualized Education Program) goals and address their IEP goals through art-making with them. Sometimes I even take a whole caseload so instead of some students getting social work they will get just art therapy as their primary therapy. Other students will get both. It depends on their individualized needs.
How does art therapy help students?
It’s an amazing way for kids to express themselves. A lot of times younger children do not have the words to be able to express the experience they’ve had or things that are going on in school or in their lives, so art is a really good way. There is a lot of research that art bypasses the frontal lobe and goes to the back of the brain so we’re able to get a lot more information that kids are able to verbally process following art-making. It’s also a great self-soothing kind of thing. Art-making allows us to address goals at different levels. Art-making requires using different materials and engaging with the art medium all the way out to basic social-emotional or intense diagnoses like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and other disorders. A lot of what I do in sessions is choose materials that allow a student to express what’s going on, so it’s about meeting them where they are and allowing them the space to be vulnerable with the art and to be able to process with it.
How do you go about selecting appropriate candidates for art therapy?
Staff refers students to me and I do an assessment. I then prioritize kids with the higher needs. My specific background is in treating children who have experienced trauma so I take a lot of those cases as well because they tend to be very difficult, long-term cases, and you’re talking about kids who have experienced situations before they had words to put to what’s going on. Based on how many hours I have in a day, I’ll create a list. Some kids go on a wait list so when other kids have completed a goal I’ll start a new session with someone else. Every student on my caseload gets a session, whether individual or group, once a week. If we continue to have successful results we would like to build and grow the program to the point where we will need full-time art therapists at all Camelot TDS sites.
Once you identify students who art therapy will help, how do use the technique to bring the most out of these children?
There are different ways of using art to address different types of diagnoses. It depends on what the student is working on and what’s going on in their lives to help them best in the school setting, correlated to their diagnosis. For some of the more non-verbal kids, their art therapy experience would be more about experiencing the materials in a safe way as opposed to processing things that have happened to them. For example, I may use finger painting with a lower functioning student and work on being safe and following directions whereas with higher functioning students I might work on specific drawing directives.
Can you cite an example of a specific technique you are using with a student?
Sure, I’m working with a student whose story is in the middle of being written. He has been at Camelot for quite a few years and I began working with him this September. He has been seen by almost every social worker at the school and has had a really tumultuous time, and a lot of intense trauma history. The clinical team felt like he would benefit from expressive art therapy. He wasn’t talking in sessions. He would shut down. He would lie down. We’ve been talking about a mask and a personal symbol and he has been able to identify feeling like a lion and feeling protective of his family, but he has also been able to identify the negative qualities of a lion as well as the positive. He’s been making sculptures and been able to engage in the art to the point where now he can verbalize and discuss what’s going on in his life in relationship to the art. When I first met him he was completely non-verbal. He didn’t want to talk about what was going on. So we’ve made a lot of progress. He’s got a long way to go but he’s a really good example of a way that art can begin to bring someone out of their shell and inter-relate to the world around them.
It’s obvious that you love your work. What is it that causes you to be so motivated?
The thing I like the most is that I get to use what I love every day, which is art. I get to make art and share it with students every single day, and see small, incremental successes. I get to be a part of those. These students really own and make their own successes for themselves in sessions, so to be a part and to experience those successes is amazing.