Creating Art to Help Heal Trauma

Creating Art to Help Heal Trauma

written by: Ms. Audrey ONeal
by: Ms. Audrey ONeal
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Creating Art to Help Heal Trauma I was listening to a podcast one day which proved to be of particular interest to me as I am a creative writer and performing artist and often use expressive writing in my groups. I was curious to see how Mary Stephanou uses the arts to heal trauma in individuals. What was moving is that she works with youth who have been excluded from admission to traditional schools and also have special needs. What was also moving is the understanding conveyed that art can connect with the self and is accessible to all people as well as the potential to heal trauma endured by individuals. Mary Stephanou's own art making experience informed her work as an art psychotherapist which is quite compelling. One of her installation's included objects, actually found objects that people could project meaning to and she found that the audiences found that the objects triggered memories for them. Therefore, she realized she could create a powerfully safe space for others to heal. The youth that she treats have been labeled as challenging and may have dyslexia or ADHD as well as histories of trauma. An illustration was introduced of a young man with a history of gang violence who did not engage in making art most of the time but he felt safe in the therapy room and the therapist was present for him rather than viewing him as being challenging. In art therapy and in using the art materials the client can express what they cannot verbally express at the child's own pace and I found that moving because not all individuals are articulate, yet have a message to convey. It iseemed to be so compelling that the therapist got to the point where she understood it was critical to sit with the client as a human being first before launching into interventions or analysis. In coming into contact with another chaotic youth, she discovered he wanted to simply play board games, but he was not ready to talk and she realized he was self- regulating. It was a creative way to have the youth calm down. It reminded me what Dr. Himmelstein said about not getting caught up with behavioral outcomes but instead strengthening the therapeutic relationship. Further, I found the work of Mary Stephanou touching as she views art as a global and universal language that allows clients to express what otherwise would remain thwarted or unexpressed. I love that her advice is not to get caught up in the institutions we work for in going to meetings, or the thinking patterns, as we may lose what the our roles are which is to be present with the client. It is also to echo the voice of the client and to challenge other professionals and have trust in out own knowledge and intuition.