Art Therapy Student Spends Fall Interning at Alabama Psychiatric Hospital

Hannah Ahearn had never lived away from her family before she decided to take a leap of faith and spend the Fall 2022 Semester interning at an Alabama psychiatric hospital. 

The opportunity allowed Ahearn, a senior art therapy major, to not only get hands-on experience in her field but to immerse herself in deaf culture in a way she never had before. 

Ahearn, a graduate of Greensburg Salem High School, is deaf and has been active in teaching American Sign Language (ASL) throughout the Greensburg community, including at her parish, Our Lady of Grace, and at the Greensburg Hempfield Library. 

“Art has always been something I’ve been fascinated with,” Ahearn said. At first, she thought she would major in art education at Seton Hill. In her senior year of high school, she discovered art therapy and realized that was a better fit. 

“Therapy is more relatable to me, and I wanted to help others improve their health through art therapy,” she said. 

When Ahearn’s mother, an ASL interpreter, heard about an internship opportunity working with deaf and hard-of-hearing patients at Bryce Hospital in Tuscaloosa, Ala., an inpatient psychiatric hospital for adults, she encouraged her daughter to apply.

She was also encouraged by her art therapy faculty, including her advisor, Assistant Professor of Art Therapy Patricia Ghubril, as well as Kimberley Bassi-Cook, Seton Hill’s Director of Disability Services.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Ahearn said. “I had to do it.”

Ahearn spent the entire fall semester in Alabama working at her internship, guiding art therapy activities for patients in the deaf unit. At the same time, she was taking a full-load of Seton Hill classes online. 

Her faculty were more than willing to accommodate her need to take online classes. 

“One of the things that I’m so proud of with Hannah is she just took it upon herself to find a site where she could work with an exclusively or primarily deaf population because she felt like that would give her some experience in an area she wants to pursue when she becomes an art therapist,” Ghubril said. “I’m so proud of her willingness to go way outside her comfort zone and take on this big challenge.”

Ahearn said she was able to take what she’s learned in the classroom and apply it in her internship but gained much more knowledge and experience by doing. 

“The patients really enjoyed the art activities, so I really enjoyed it,” she said. 

She also learned a lot about deaf culture and, in particular, deaf individuals with mental illness. 

“I didn’t grow up in the deaf community, so I learned a great deal,” she said.  “I didn’t realize there was that much of a difference.”

Ahearn will graduate from Seton Hill in May and plans to pursue a master’s degree in art therapy.

“My goal is to help people improve their lives and be able to work with more deaf people,” she said. “I also want to expand people’s knowledge of this therapy. It’s essential.”