Art therapy, or utilizing art and materials to express one’s thoughts, feelings and emotions through creative processes, can be especially beneficial for children and adolescents.
Anyone can use art therapy to explore and manage emotional states, and it is helpful to children who may not yet be able to, or might not prefer to, communicate about issues that may be more readily expressed through various mediums. There is no right or wrong answer in art therapy, and it can be used in conjunction with or without other therapies to address a range of conditions, emotions and everyday concerns.
One great example of how art therapy is being used with children that have been impacted by trauma is called Forced to Flee: Visual Stories by Refugee Youth from Burma.
Initiating the project, creator Erika Berg is seeking Kickstarter funding in order to assemble a book containing the visual narratives of children from Burma that have had to live through unsettling and difficult experiences.
Many in Burma, commonly referred to as Myanmar, are among those who have experienced life altering events such as losing their homes and becoming refugees, as well as having suffered injustices to their human rights. In addition to family displacement, children in the area and surrounding regions are faced with imprisonment, forced labor, child soldier situations and human trafficking.
The book is to display over 200 drawings and paintings created by the exiled children in Burma.
The visual narratives were created in workshops which were set up alongside Burma’s borderland. Children from many areas including Thailand, India and Bangladesh completed individual works and contributed to the project.
Expression through artwork is a developmentally appropriate and safe way for children to examine and mediate psychological upset and traumatic events on their own terms.
Berg, who worked as an English instructor for a group of refugee children, says of her students:
“…The real teachers were my students, having survived devastating losses yet, somehow, managing to remain hopeful – even grateful.”
Forced to Flee shows the value and significance of narrative art, but even more demonstrates the courage and influence of children who, with their insight and resilience, are able to have such an impact on the world around them.
Art therapy can be used for a variety of issues, and can serve as a coping mechanism and a vehicle for communication and self-expression when spoken words are not known or are too hard to convey.
For activities and project ideas, check out the following resources:
- Art Therapy Without Borders, Inc. has humanitarian information, including art therapy organizations and a multicultural focus.
- The American Art Therapy Association also offers tools and education.
- 100 Art Therapy Exercises will generate ideas for art therapy activities.
- Dr. Cathy Malchiodi provides art therapy material with a health and psychology focused approach.
- Therapist Aid has printable worksheets and other mental health resources.
If you are a mental health professional or counselor, please share any relevant and reputable resources in the comments section below.
All images are via Erika Berg: Forced to Flee: Visual Stories by Refugee Youth from Burma.
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