Category Archives: trauma

Art and the children of Darfur

Using Crayons to Exorcise Katrina

September 17, 2007

Art Therapy – New York Times

Trinity Williams, a child displaced by Hurricane Katrina, works with Karla Leopold, an art therapist, above. At right, other work by children at a FEMA trailer park in Baker, La., shows that the trauma of the hurricane has influenced thoughts of home and safety.

BAKER, La., Sept. 16 — One of the most common images in children’s art is the house: a square, topped by a pointy roof, outfitted with doors and windows.

So Karla Leopold, an art therapist from California, was intrigued when she noticed that for many of the young victims of Hurricane Katrina, the house had morphed into a triangle.

“At first we thought it was a fluke, but we saw it repeatedly in children of all ages,” said Ms. Leopold, who with a team of therapists has made nine visits to Renaissance Village here, the largest trailer park for Katrina evacuees, to work with children. “Then we realized the internal schema of these children had changed. They weren’t drawing the house as a place of safety, they were drawing the roof.”

Countless articles and at least five major studies have focused on the lasting trauma experienced by Hurricane Katrina survivors, warning of anxiety, difficulty in school, even suicidal impulses. But few things illustrate the impact as effectively as the art that has come out of sessions under the large white tent that is the only community gathering spot at Renaissance Village, a gravel-covered former cow pasture with high truancy rates and little to occupy youngsters who do not know when, or if, they will return home. Even now the children’s drawings are populated by alligators, dead birds, helicopters and rescue boats. At a session in May one 8-year-old, Brittney Barbarin, drew a swimming pool full of squiggly black lines. Asked who was in the pool, she replied, “Snakes.”The drawings, photographs and sculptures, about 50 of which went on display Sunday at the New Orleans Museum of Art, are a good indicator of how children are coping, said Dr. Irwin Redlener, the co-founder of the Children’s Health Fund, which has provided mobile mental health clinics to some families along the Gulf Coast. The art also shows that the trauma did not end with the hurricane.
Continued here…

Lancet: Healing through art therapy in disaster settings

A rare occurence an art therapy article in the Lancet!!
No fulltext available without a subscription though.

Entrez PubMed

Lancet. 2006 Dec;

Healing through art therapy in disaster settings.

Ahmed SH, Siddiqi MN.

Department of Psychiatry, Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan.

PMID: 17188987 [PubMed – in process]

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Postcards from Katrina

Postcards from Katrina TM: Sharing Stories of Hope and Help

Postcards from Katrina TM: Sharing Stories of Hope and Help

Postcards from Katrina TM is a Washington, DC-based community arts and health education program using the power of the arts to address social, emotional and mental health concerns, particularly among youth, in post-traumatic situations. Recognizing art as a healing tool, PfK invites you to share your story of hope with a homemade postcard of original art (including collage, photography and mixed media). Also PfK welcomes music and poetry to bring awareness of help and hope.

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Art therapy helps traumatized children

Art therapy helps traumatized children
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Los Angeles students who have been
traumatized because of gang violence are being helped to gain their
emotional balance through art therapy.

Suzanne Silverstein, a registered art therapist, says art therapy
is one element of the “Share and Care Program” that serves 11 Los
Angeles unified schools. Group discussion is also used to address
emotional anxieties. The program’s main goal is to give children a
place to go to express their fears and anxieties, freeing them to learn
in the classroom.

Share and Care is a service of the Psychological Trauma Center, a
non-profit organization that meets mental-health needs of traumatized
elementary school students in disadvantaged areas.

“Psychological trauma of any kind affects a child’s ability to
concentrate and learn,” said Silverstein, president and co-founder of
the Psychological Trauma Center.

“By helping children begin to cope with the violence, fear and
sadness that are all too prevalent in their homes and neighborhoods, we
hope to improve their quality of life and help them achieve their
highest learning potential. We also hope to help break the cycle of
violence as students learn healthy forms of expression and avoid
striking back with more acts of violence.”

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Art therapy allows troubled clients to express hard-to-articulate feelings

Northwest Indiana News: Healing artwork speaks to counselor

ART THERAPY: Art therapy allows troubled clients to express hard-to-articulate feelings



This story ran on on Monday, July 24, 2006 12:11 AM CDT

One colorful collage shows an image of a rifle shooting a bottle of alcohol. One screams out in bold print, “Let’s talk.”

Another shows a car hitting a tree, killing the driver’s girlfriend, followed by images of drugs and booze, then the word “sobriety.”

These crude yet insightful collages — cut out of magazines and pasted together by local residents — are just one form of art therapy. The field is being used more commonly to help people struggling with mental illness, emotional problems, or other traumatic experiences.

“These pictures really do say a thousand words,” said Amanda Wyatt, a licensed mental health counselor with Porter-Starke Services, in between clients.

“They are snapshots of where these clients were at a certain point in time,” said Wyatt, one of just 16 board-certified art therapists in the state.

Art psychotherapy emerged as a medical profession in the 1940s, but such forms of visual expression have been used for healing throughout history, according to the American Art Therapy Association.

In the early 20th century, psychiatrists became interested in the artwork created by their patients with mental illness, and also with war veterans who couldn’t express themselves in words and children who turned to art to vocalize their feelings.

Since then, the field has evolved into a distinct yet still fledgling medical discipline, which is still fighting for legislation in many states to be recognized as a valid clinical study, according to one national advocacy group.

“More professionals such as social workers, counselors and school counselors often refer students and children to an art therapist,” said Gayle Sutch, president of the Art Therapy Credentials Board.

Wyatt’s art therapy clients, who wished to remain anonymous, said art therapy is a way of speaking more than 1,000 words without ever opening your mouth.

“Art therapy helps me realize all the things that I am when I tend to think of all of the things I’m not,” one client said.

“Art therapy helps me express feelings when I can’t find the right words to express them,” another said.

Wyatt sees between 45 and 60 clients a week in her Valparaiso offices, some who first think it’s a silly notion to create artwork to help solve deep-seated problems. But then they begin to understand the healing aspects of visual expression, Wyatt said

She typically tells clients that she carries two suitcases — her traditional counseling suitcase and her art therapy suitcase, borrowing from each throughout each session.

“Art therapy doesn’t give my client a voice, but let’s their voice be heard,” Wyatt said.

Source of information HERE

New book captures the voices and art of African child refugees

New book captures the voices and art of African child refugees

16 Jun 2006 12:32:11 GMT
Source: UNHCR

As the young refugee “Jenny” read out the traumatic experiences she had faced in her journey from tribal massacres in Burundi to a new life in South Africa, her voice grew increasingly strained, faltered and then halted.For the audience assembled at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, there could not have been a better demonstration of the emotional power conveyed by the personal stories appearing in a new book, The Suitcase Stories: refugee children reclaim their identities.

The book, a by-product of an innovative programme providing art therapy to refugee children, contains both their stories and the drawings they made of their experiences.”Then my parents died. They just burned the house of my family,” reads the transcript of the story told by Jenny, who like all the participants chose the name used in the book. “All my family was living in that house – my mother, my daddy, my other aunty, my mother’s sister, my brother, my sister.

I don’t know why, still now, why they burned the house. I wish to find out.”Just three years old at the time, she survived only because she was with another aunt during the attack. In the following years she faced life in exile in both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania. One day when she was 11, she had the sudden realisation that she would never see her mother again.”I asked God: ‘Why did you take my mum away from me?’

And it was like, what can I do next? Let me do some action here that I will never forget in my life,” Jenny related. Taking her younger sister, she made her way south to a country about which she had only the vaguest knowledge.Eventually arriving in South Africa – where they did not speak the language – the two girls lived on the streets of Johannesburg for weeks before they were taken in and given shelter.

Now 20, she sells clothes in an informal market.Jenny was just one of a group of children who Glynis Clacherty, a South African child researcher, saw needed psychological help. The aim – when she first thought of the project in 2001 – was not a book, but to let the children come to terms with their experiences by speaking about and drawing them.Children were given old suitcases and told they could decorate the outsides with paintings about their lives. At the same time, Clacherty recorded long conversations with the children in which she let them tell of their experiences.

Both the artwork and their words are in the book, which was unveiled six days before ceremonies for World Refugee Day are held globally on June 20.”When I first met this group of young people, one of the young women said to me: ‘I want you to help us with a book so people will know why we came here,'” Clacherty said. “And that is what we did. Each one of these children has a remarkable story to tell.”Proceeds from sales of the book will go to fund the continued operation of The Suitcase Project for more refugee children. In addition, T-shirts inspired by the art of the project were unveiled at the book launch.

The profits from the clothing line, designed by Johannesburg-based Frances Andrew, will also go to the project.”They are not just victims, they are survivors. They have overcome difficulties with remarkable courage,” said Clacherty. “They are real human beings, they are not just refugees.”Clacherty started the project with art teacher Diane Welvering, subsequently gaining support from the UN refugee agency and other organisations. It also merged into UNHCR’s study into violence affecting refugee children, which in turn provided insights that will be used in the UN Global Study on Violence

Against Children due out later this year.The children from The Suitcase Project were included in UNHCR workshops using artwork to draw out children’s ideas and experiences on violence. Subsequently five were included in a regional UN meeting in which children not only discussed their experiences as a group, but proposed solutions to protect against further violence.Many who were children when Clacherty launched her project are now young adults and the plan is to draw in a fresh group with the resources from the book and T-shirts.

Many of those who took part joined Clacherty on the stage at the book-launch and their painted suitcases covered the tables.”None of the children want to be labelled as refugees in their present lives, so they have chosen to remain anonymous,” Clacherty wrote in an introduction to the book, “The names they chose to replace their own all have significance for them; they are names of lost parents or special friends from their home countries.”As

I have worked with these stories I have been struck by the sadness, the loss, the displacement that the children have experienced, but also overwhelmingly by their resilience, their ability to make a plan and often to see the funny side of what is happening to them.”

Further information on The Suitcase Project, the book and the T-shirts is available at: Jack ReddenIn Johannesburg, South Africa

Reuters AlertNet – New book captures the voices and art of African child refugees

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Mural depicts road to recovery at Sunrise House

New Jersey Herald

Photos by Eric Sucar/NJH
The large mural that was painted by some of the patients at the Sunrise House in Lafayette on Friday, June 9.  The mural, which took about two weeks to complete (one hour a day), is a compilation of eight different drawings patients created.

Herald Staff Writer


Step into the group room at Sunrise House and two doors open to reveal a flaming sun rising behind tall mountains. A paved road leads directly toward the sun with one road sign marking its path: The “Road 2 Recovery.”

The mural was painted by eight teens currently struggling with drug and alcohol addictions. The purpose of the brightly painted wall was to celebrate recovery — a difficult path to tread.

“The group decided the theme would be the ‘Road to Recovery,’ showing the first steps on the path to a different life,” said Katherine “Kate” Smith, clinical coordinator of Sunrise House’s adolescent drug treatment unit. “The purpose was to show them they can finish something they started.”

For more than five years, Sunrise House, an addiction recovery and treatment center in Lafayette, has helped teenagers through “Teen and Clean,” a program aimed at teens with cocaine, marijuana, heroin and alcohol addictions. About 100 youths go through the program each year, with more than one-third from Sussex County, according to Chief Executive Officer Phil Horowitz.

While in the program, which lasts 14 to 28 days, teens participate in group counseling, family therapy, 12-step support, family education, recreational activities, medical detoxification, psychological evaluation and academic tutoring.

The program also uses art therapy to help teens who have difficulty with expression cope with the recovery process, said Smith, a board-certified art therapist.

“Sometimes you need to look at something you’re feeling internally on the outside of yourself,” she said.

Art therapy also promotes group cohesion, Horowitz said.

“Part of the dynamics of adolescent substance abuse is peer pressure,” Horowitz said. “We take the synergy that leads to drug abuse and use the same power to pull them together for a positive end that’s inspiring to them.”

Colorful road signs made by the teens line the walls of the winding halls that lead to the group room.

A stop sign that stays “sobriety” and a “drug free zone” parking sign indicate the struggles the teens may face along the way.

“Recovery has to be fun for kids,” Smith said of the various art projects lining the walls.

The names of the teens who designed and created the mural were not released but the group, many of whom were admitted at the same time, is nearly finished with the program, Smith said. In fact, on Friday they were out burning letters they had written to their drugs of choice in a symbolic gesture that they were finished with their addiction, she said.

During a question-and-answer session the previous day, the teens were asked what they thought was the biggest misconception about recovery.

“That it’s easy,” was the reply.

For more information on Teen and Clean, the adolescent inpatient substance abuse unit at Sunrise House in Lafayette, call (973) 383-6300 or visit

Using the Arts to Tame Katrina’s Emotional Force

Using the Arts to Tame Katrina’s Emotional Force | Connect for Kids

Using the Arts to Tame Katrina’s Emotional Force

Published: June 12, 2006

by: Martha Pitts
[Final products of the Whole Schools/Dream Yard kite-building project take flight.] Final products of the Whole Schools/Dream Yard kite-building project take flight.

A high school sophomore in New Orleans takes a picture of the green mold covering the walls of her house and writes in her journal about the much-anticipated day she and her family can return home permanently.

A young boy from Pascagoula, Mississippi sits in an art center in Fairhope, Alabama during a “hurricane healing” workshop. He draws a picture of a face, colors it blue, and draws waves under the eyes.

And another young boy, one of many displaced children living in a trailer park in Baker, La. with their families, makes an ant out of pipe cleaners and tells a therapist the ant is scared of drowning.

In the nine months since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, many children have used art and other creative activities to express themselves and to cope with the traumatic events associated with the hurricane. The concept of art therapy rests on the idea that creative activities offer ways for children and young people to revisit a traumatic experience in ways that are healing. And in the aftermath of Katrina, there’s a whole cohort of kids who need ways to process terrible loss on a large scale.

Why Art Therapy?

“Because of its interdisciplinary qualities—art, psychology, child development, arts education—art therapy is uniquely positioned to assist children with trauma,” said Paige Asawa, therapist and co-author of the book A History of Art Therapy in the United States.

Asawa and several of her colleagues from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles have taken numerous trips to the Renaissance Village, a FEMA trailer park in Baker, La., to work with children displaced by Katrina.

And while Asawa has worked with both children and adults who’ve experienced different kinds of trauma—death in the family and witnessing violence, for example—she says the experience of Katrina was different.

“You can’t compare them,” Asawa said. “You’re talking about the displacement of hundreds of thousands of kids, and the trauma went for days, in some cases for weeks and months. Families were relocated and torn apart.”

Because the complexity of the disaster was incomprehensible to many of the children, art therapy has been especially beneficial, allowing the kids to express the inexpressible and to unlock hidden feelings.

Simply by re-telling a story, Asawa said, a child can be re-traumatized as he or she vividly remembers troubling events. However, if they have something else to do in the context of remembering—drawing, playing with clay, for example—they are less likely to become traumatized again.

Initially, Asawa and the other therapists provided art supplies to get the participants—ages 4 to 21—engaged in a creative activity. When they were ready to tell their stories, Asawa helped them do that through art.

“We sit with them, hear what they say, and take what they’re saying to a therapeutic level,” Asawa says. She explains that by asking questions about a piece, or encouraging the children to use a different art medium, the therapists help the children understand the emotions the artwork is expressing. Continued…

Schools use art to heal wounds left by violence | 05/15/2006 | Schools use art to heal wounds left by violence


Schools use art to heal wounds left by violence
Rondarius Smith, 13, sketched an image of Homestead Bayfront Park, where he goes to relax and think, as part of his school's 'Art for Peace' project.

A project at Campbell Dive Middle School confronts violence through art therapy in search for avenues toward peace and reconciliation. 

Every weekend, 13-year-old Rondarious Smith heads to the beach at Homestead Bayfront Park and gazes at the turquoise tranquility stretching before him. He sits daydreaming as the waves rush in, staring at the approaching ripples until they lap at his feet.

”It’s where I go to get away . . . It’s an escape from the violence at school and in the community,” said Rondarious, a sixth-grader at Campbell Drive Middle School.

He recreated his beach safe-haven in a painting emblazoned on a mural in the school’s media center. The artwork — and more than 100 more from other Campbell Drive students — is part of a project called Art for Peace, an exhibit that uses art therapy to address campus violence.

”Through art, the students were given an opportunity to express their intimate feelings on violence,” said Morgen Chesonis-Gonzalez, a clinical art therapist with the Miami-Dade school district. Continued…
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