Monthly Archives: July 2007

For Wounds of the Mind, The Healer’s Art Is Art


October 29, 1997


On paper, with paint and pencil, Ibrahima Sory Bah says what he has not been able to say in words, the pictures unleashing long-unspeakable memories of his arrest and torture in Guinea a dozen years ago. An artist and graphic designer who fled his West African homeland and landed in the Bronx in 1990, Mr. Bah, a 47-year-old worker at a Long Island window shade factory, is only now coming to grips with his ordeal — another example of the growing use of art therapy to treat victims of extreme abuse.

The discipline, which has its own professional journal and is now widely accepted as a therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder, or psychic wounds that show up later, dates from the 1940’s and later gained favor as a way of helping Vietnam veterans cope with overwhelming ”toxic” images and regain a sense of mastery over their feelings.

Art therapy was used to treat 28-year-old Matthew Gross, who was cut down in a fusillade at the Empire State Building in February, and it is used at the Berlin Treatment Center for Torture Victims and 40 other such clinics throughout Europe. It does not require any artistic ability on the part of the patient, practitioners say.

Looking over a picture showing a gagged and crying figure last week in the Manhattan office of his art-trained psychotherapist, Ani Buk, Mr. Bah said that picking up a paintbrush and pencil again after so many years had helped him confront his nightmares and banish depression, as well as quit smoking and binge drinking. ”It make me rule my courage and ability,” he said in halting, French-accented English. ”It give me a high morale so I’m not afraid to explain what happened to me.”

Ms. Buk, who is treating him without charge, said that while extreme stress suppressed the functioning of the part of the brain that orders memory, causing flashbacks and nightmares, making art helped reorder memories ”in the form of a concrete record that gives them a context.”

”You can put it down,” she said. ”You can make changes. You can literally put it away, in a folder.”

”We don’t analyze the artwork for the patient,” she said. ”Many things have to be left unspoken. The very reason art therapy works is because words are too painful.” The therapist is there largely as a ”witness,” she said, intervening to help contain the difficult emotions unleashed by the process.

Article continued here

The art of healing

Ani Buk’s troubled patients find peace of mind through drawing, painting, and sculpting.
by Elaine McArdle

photographs by John Rae

The young couple were recent immigrants from West Africa, relishing their new life in New York City, expecting their first child, and happily sharing in the American Dream. One Friday afternoon, a month before the baby was due, the woman was home alone and answered a knock at the door. A man dressed as a postal worker asked her to sign for a package from her homeland. Moments later, a phalanx of undercover police officers burst into the apartment with guns drawn. Arrested on drug charges, she was thrown in a cell with drug abusers and prostitutes and denied the requisite phone call to arrange for help.

Her husband spent a frantic weekend searching for her. When he finally found her, on Sunday evening, the couple learned that drug-sniffing dogs at customs had reacted to the package, which police then delivered in a sting operation.
It turned out the package contained harmless herbs sent by an African midwife to aid the woman’s pregnancy. The charges against her were dropped, but the emotional trauma of a weekend in jail wouldn’t fade so easily.

Article continued here

Art Therapy | Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture

Working with Children

The following is an extract from Art Therapy in Schools: Working with Children who have Experienced Political Violence and Torture; A Booklet for Teachers by MF therapists Debra Kalmanowitz (MA, RATh Arts Therapist) and Sheila Kasabova (MA Counselling Aspects in Teaching and Learning), who work with the Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy Team.

The booklet, the product of a three-year project run by the MF in six primary schools and a secondary school in north London, helping children between the ages of eight and fourteen, was devised to inform teachers and other educational workers how art therapy works, and introduce them to the realities of torture and violence. To download the full document in PDF form, click here.

The Medical Foundation works specifically with children, adolescents and families who have experienced a high level of political violence, separation, loss and change. We recognise that the specific impact of these events are cumulative and often affect the child’s capacity to deal with new situations. The development of these children may be interfered with. Some children may find it difficult to move forward while others show uneven development.
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