Art to heal, art to advocate, art to activate

Recently I attended the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance Annual Retreat where I presented on the use of art for therapy, for advocacy, and to create staff bonds while dealing with vicarious trauma (see my last post on the site on May 20).  I have presented this before, in Chicago at the Art in Response to Violence International Conference.  This time I presented at the Annual Retreat hosted by the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, held at James Madison University in Harrisonburg. I brought my grants manager with me, who presented on her work with a creative writing class for those post trauma treatment.  

I feel my work as an art therapist at RCASA has been expanded beyond a focus on just clinical work, but can also incorporate activism on many levels:  personal, communal, and global. My goal in not only incorporating art therapy as a strong and recognized treatment for victims of violence but also to work toward the goal as an art therapist working in a community center to bring that voice toward and inclusive of my community.  And as an effect, bring the voice of the survivor to the community. 

It was refreshing to attend the conference and see the great interest in art therapy in anti-violence agencies.  They too are trying to bring in art as a creative tool, as a language to create change, as a means to heal for survivors of violence.  We had the participants create their own artistic responses to the violence they hear about, the violence they try to heal, and their own experiences with violence and marginalization.  The group made wonderful poems, journals, containers, and a therapeutic game for prevention. 

These types of conferences are so personal and global at the same time.  I find the participants in these sessions more likely to disclose their own stories and their own paths to healing.  Bonds are quickly developed to form supports, to provide validation of the universal experience of interpersonal violence, and to add to the healing we garner from both personal expression and the shared experience. 

And the best part….they want us to come back.  The power of art to heal, to educate, to advocate, to activate is inspiring and keeps me going in this new chapter of my life and career.

Carol Olson, LPC, ATR-BC, CSAC

Executive Director, The Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault


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