The Transformative Healing Power of Art
By Kelly Moore and Jaimie Stickl, See the Triumph Guest Bloggers
Art as a form of communication has been used since the beginning of mankind. Across cultures, art has been used as a tool to express emotion and many have seen it as therapeutic and healing. People who have experienced trauma sometimes find it hard to express or verbalize their feelings.
Language can often be limiting when trying to express the magnitude of emotions that are associated with a traumatic event. Art can provide an individual with a safe place to explore the intensity of these emotions while creating a tangible product that can then serve as a catalyst for communication.
We here at See the Triumph have started to provide Healing through Art workshops for survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV)/sexual assault and have seen firsthand how art can be a powerful tool in the healing process. In working with survivors, we have come across several individuals who have felt that their voice has been taken away from them or silenced through their experience. We used art as a tool to help them reconnect with that voice and provide a way for them to share their story. We created masks and mandalas, explored broken pottery, made journals, and embellished boxes.
While there are hundreds of ways to use art in the healing process, each project we chose was aimed at exploring emotions, expressing experiences, and providing a safe place for survivors to share their story. At the end of the process, some individuals were amazed as they reflected on their artwork and saw how their product often mirrored what was going on for them or how they were feeling, whether they had meant to portray that in their piece or not.
As we processed the experience of creating something new, inevitably metaphors came alive. For instance, one project that we did consisted of painting broken pottery pieces and then putting them back together as a whole unit. One survivor commented that the process was so frustrating as her pieces sometimes didn’t seem to fit, fell apart, or she wasn’t sure she liked certain pieces. But after she had put them together and she saw the pot, she realized that the once broken pieces were put back together into a beautiful and unique whole. She saw this as a symbol of her healing process and experiences. Another survivor stated that once she was able to let go of trying to create something perfect, she enjoyed feeling the freedom and release of truly expressing herself in a new way.
While these are only a few examples of what we have seen, expressing yourself through art can be an empowering experience. You don’t have to be an artist to explore and experience the healing benefits of art. We are hoping to make the Healing through Art workshops curricula available in the spring to provide ideas of different ways to use art. In the meantime, here is an idea to get you started exploring your inner artist:
Create a Visual Journal: Try creating a journal out of an already made children’s board book. You can typically purchase them from a thrift store or used bookstore for under a dollar. Pick a shape and size that you like.
Once you have your book, you will want to lightly sandpaper each page on order to remove most of the glossy coating. Next, you’ll be ready to paint a layer or two of gesso primer or white acrylic paint as the foundation. Then, your book is ready to be transformed!
Try painting each page a different color – or a variety of colors! We have found that acrylic paints tend to work best on these books. You can also add all kinds of images and words once the paint dries.
Some creative ideas to get you started:
Or…pick up a magazine, cut out an image that you like and let your imagination run wild. Or…dig through old photos and re-create your story throughout your journal to create the life you desire.
Whatever you decide to do, have fun and be patient with yourself. Keep in mind, you do not need to create a masterpiece, rather this is for you and for your own healing. We’d love to hear about what you create, so please leave a comment below with your own artistic inspiration!
Kelly Moore is a doctoral student in the Counseling and Educational Development department at UNCG. Kelly received her Master’s Degree in Art Therapy from Florida State University and her undergraduate degree in Education from the University of Georgia. Kelly is a Licensed Professional Counselor, National Certified Counselor, and Registered Art Therapist. She has had experience in both inpatient and outpatient settings and was working as a therapist in Asheville, NC before returning to school. Through her work with See the Triumph, Kelly has had the opportunity to co-lead art therapy workshops for individuals who have experienced sexual assault/intimate partner violence. These experiences have solidified her belief that art can be an empowering avenue for survivors to share their stories.
Jaimie Stickl is a doctoral student in the Counseling and Educational Development department at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Jaimie received her Master of Arts degree in School and Community counseling from Regent University and her Bachelor of Science degree in Education from Grove City College. Jaimie is a Licensed Professional Counselor, National Certified Counselor, and Professional School Counselor. She was most recently working as a school counselor with Denver Public Schools in Colorado before returning to school to work towards her doctorate. Jaimie has been a co-leader of art therapy groups for individuals who have experienced sexual assault/intimate partner violence. She has truly enjoyed using art as a tool in the healing process and is looking forward to continuing her work with See the Triumph.
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