October is traditionally Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Today I am writing on art therapy with survivors of domestic violence. Art therapy is an effective means to deal with the trauma of violence in both prevention work and intervention work.
Survivors of domestic violence can be primary survivors who have experienced the abuse directly, witnesses of violence who experience trauma and fear from seeing the violence, and secondary survivors who are family members, loved ones and others who may act as a support person. For all of these people who find they are impacted by violence, a therapeutic environment needs to be considered for; stabilization, validation of emotions and fostering of expression, coping with feelings and crisis situations, reducing intense emotions such as anxiety, fear, and tension. Additionally, there are concerns regarding safety planning, need for shelter and other family changes that might result.
Art Therapy can be integral to intervention and prevention of abuse. Art Therapists need to be aware the additional needs a survivor or witness to violence might have; such as safety concerns, a need for predictability, repetition in providing information, a much more relational environment, and consistency in response.
Sensory based are therapy interventions can incorporate and provide acceptance and trust, validation of the survivors experience and feelings, incorporation of education to help normalize the trauma reactions, promote and facilitate emotional expression, and provide create means to develop coping mechanisms and manage stress.
Rapport building in the early stages of therapy is very important, working on favorite things or favorite days drawings can help the survivor identify and link to positive things in his/her life. Creating safety boxes or visual art journals can be a means to help the survivor have a place to help contain their feelings, their fears, their uncertainties while going through the therapeutic process or in the event that more time is needed before removal from a violent home can happen. The use of narrative art therapy is an excellent means to create a narrative story of ones life and help the survivor attach to reality as well as facilitate expression of difficult experiences.
Means for the art therapist to normalize the traumatic reaction requires intervention that focus on education and validation, sensory-based activities, identification and development of coping mechanisms, use of art-as-therapy and metaphor in the therapeutic process.
Carol Olson, LPC, ATR-BC – Executive and Clinical Director of the Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault.
Stephanie Brook: The Use of Creative Therapies with Survivors of Domestic Violence (2008). Art Therapy with Sexual Abuse Survivors (1997)
Ann Cattananch: Play Therapy with Abuse Children 1992.
Cathy Malchiodi: Breaking the Silence: Art Therapy with Children from Violence Homes. 1997. Using Art in Trauma Recovery with Children (2005). Creative Intervention with Traumatized Children (2008).
Gretchen Miller: Bruce Perry’s Impact: Considerations for Art Therapy and Children from Violence Homes (2008)
Bruce Perry: Applying Principles of Neurodevelopment to Clinical Work with Maltreated and Traumatized Children in Working with Traumatized Youth in Child Welfare. (2006).