Time to Talk to the Counselor


Thanksgiving has come and gone, and the fall semester is almost over, but students still have finals to prepare for and stress will be at its peak.

The Institute of American Indian Arts offers a wide range of therapeutic counseling for students, staff, and faculty, dealing with anxiety, depression, self-esteem, self-awareness, emotional conflicts, relationship distress, home sickness, and LGBTQ+ stress management, to name a few.

A Service Needed

Greer McSpadden, a family therapist with over 25 years of experience in recognizing and assisting with trauma commonly found in the tribal and academic environments, offers counseling, “a service needed on campuses,” she said.

Photo from Flikr.com

In her counseling sessions with students, McSpadden promotes a safe, healthy, and confidential environment.

“You can’t be a counselor and not respect confidentiality,” she said. “The healing process doesn’t work if that student or person doesn’t feel safe, comfortable, or if their words won’t stay in the room.”

Art Therapy

Because of the apparent need, the effectiveness of the program, and from having a boost in student enrollement (300-500), this year, IAIA has added another counselor, Natascha Holmes, a 1999 alumna of IAIA and an art therapist. Holmes has helped McSpadden to reach more students and help them with art therapy.

“Art therapy is a therapeutic process that uses all aspects of creativity as a part of the healing,” Holmes said. “It involves talk therapy with many different types of artistic expressions, in a judgment free zone. One of the most powerful aspects of art therapy is the client’s interaction with the materials.”

Art therapy office and materials

Holmes uses an earth-based approach, with many natural materials that can be found in her office, such as shells, stones, sand, and sand tray items, natural fibers, and a wide variety of art supplies, to name a few.

There is no typical work day, said both McSpadden and Holmes. They both regularly work 9-5 unless a stress situation on campus develops, such as suicide, PTSD, or a family crisis. McSpadden then comes to campus and helps diffuse the situation.

Helping those in Need

“Every client and every therapy session is unique; every day is different from the next which makes my job very interesting,” Holmes said.

Both Holmes and McSpadden help students to be successful by overcoming difficulties like eating disorders, homesickness, bipolar disorder, alcoholism, anxiety, PTSD, insomnia, etc.

McSpadden and Holmes’ goal is to help students succeed with their social, academic, and emotional lives. They combine Native and Western medicine in their practices. A sweat at the Hogan every other week helps students spiritually and emotionally cleanse and heal.

McSpadden also uses an Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) tool to remove trauma as the machine activates the right hemisphere of the brain and absolves the trauma locked there by pulsating and adding touch sensory.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Tool

Holmes uses touch therapy like playing the piano, painting canvases, sorting sand with objects that reminds individuals of personal memories, or touching blocks to bring out the trauma to help heal the individual.

Both McSpadden’s and Holmes’ techniques help the individual to remember trauma and teach the person how to cope, or absolve this trauma.

Focus Points

McSpadden and Holmes use three focused targets to help students, faculty, and staff.

  • The first is to help students to cope with living in a new environment, homesickness, being overwhelmed, having anxiety, depression and how to fit in at IAIA.
  • Their second focused target is to help students avoid choosing the party crowd, or avoiding certain associations that could get them in trouble, and to get them on track with their academics.
  • Their last focused target is to help students not feel overwhelmed.

McSpadden encourages students to go to the Learning Lab, the library, or even to their teachers to get help. “Everyone here wants to help students succeed,” she said.

Photo from Shutterstock.com

“The counseling program here at IAIA is a good program which offers talk therapy and art therapy as counseling options, and we’re seeing everyone who comes in for help,” Holmes said. “I’d like to thank Dr. Martin, Dean Carmen Henan and the IAIA community for supporting the art therapy program here.”

No Judgment

Both Holmes and McSpadden say any topic can be discussed in their offices.
“Nothing surprises me,” McSpadden said. She has been trained not to be triggered, to be nonjudgmental and to be grounded.

McSpadden and Holmes both say there shouldn’t be a stigma regarding counseling. “We’re here to help you succeed and heal. This service is an outlet to assist everyone,” Holmes said.

Art therapy and counseling services are here as a support for all IAIA enrolled students and their immediate family members.


If anyone has any questions about art therapy or counseling, they can contact Holmes and McSpadden any time at [email protected] or  http://[email protected].

Natascha Holmes

The counseling office is located on the bottom floor of the Center of Lifelong Education Building and the Art Therapy office is located on the top floor of the Center of the Lifelong Education Building.


(Featured photo from thebluediamondgallery.com)



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