Art Therapy, Art for Advocacy, Art to Combat Vicarious Trauma

I have been thinking about the many uses of art in response to violence here at Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault and the concept of the Art Therapist as Social Activist.  Art Therapists have been working as social advocates and activists for over 20 years and have had an influence on both the art therapy world and social issues.

Maxine Junge talks about the orientation of psychotherapists as sitting in their offices waiting for the client to come to them and working only with the individual in the cocoon of the office space and artists as being the force of social change by identifying the inner beat of the citizen in relation to society.  It makes sense that the role of the art therapist as being from both worlds would take a more activist role in society, using their more developed sense of the pulse of the world and the ability to envision change that would involve the individual and the group and be “a pioneering individualist”

Here is how RCASA uses art across three realms:  therapeutic response, social advocacy, and vicarious trauma.

  1. Art Therapy as a Counseling Modality for victims of trauma.  RCASA’s offers art therapy into the counseling program to work with survivors of violence in the immediate aftermath of violence as well as for survivors seeking counseling many years after the event.
  2. Art Advocacy: RCASA then works with survivors to create and utilize the creative voice recaptured within therapy sessions to become advocates, using art to raise awareness and reduce stigma of sexually violent crimes through a creative writing and art group and incorporating into the Action Alliance’s “Art of Surviving Sexual Assault”  This awareness campaign as well as RCASA’s use of creative writing and art groups for graduates of our counseling program is designed to work with survivors to access the power of visual media to diffuse violence and increase awareness of the impact of violence on our society as a constructive social action.
  3. Art to Combat Vicarious Trauma:  Internally to the agency, another type of trauma can be a factor in response to survivors and that is the providers themselves.  Here, the staff participates in creative art making sessions with the goal of metaphoric intervention within the staff group experience.   These sessions allows rape crisis providers of all types in the agency to maintain their bond in serving victims of violence, process their own experiences in dealing with victims, families, perpetrators, the legal system, and the community in general in a creative manner that combines working through metaphor, sharing space in a healing manner and sharing words of support and empowerment.

Carol Olson, ATR-BC, LPC

Executive Director at the Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault located in Fredericksburg, VA

Reprinted with permission 


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