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What is Art Therapy?

We are starting a new blog series on art therapy by our Art Center Director, Ally Root. Ally is passionate about the ways in which the creative arts can bring healing, and she will be sharing her thoughts here along with projects that she has completed with the children at our Care Center in Ghana.


 

Ally and Francis with art created in Connor Creative Art Center.

Ally and Francis with art created in Connor Creative Art Center.

“Art is a powerful tool in communication. It is widely acknowledged that art expression is a way to visually communicate thoughts and feelings that are too painful to put into words. Creative activity has also been used in psychotherapy and counseling not only because it serves another language but also because of its inherent ability to help people of all ages explore emotions and beliefs, reduce stress, resolve problems and conflicts, and enhance their sense of well-being.” (The Handbook of Art Therapy, Malchiodi, 2003)

Many of the children living at the Touch A Life Care Center were sold or willingly given up by their parents, sent to live in harsh conditions where their basic needs were not met. They were forced into working long hours in dangerous conditions, and often times were physically and emotionally abused. Many of the children at the center struggle with the after-effects of trauma, abuse, abandonment, loss, and unstable attachments to their primary caregivers. Touch A Life is committed to helping the children overcome some of these challenges they face in order for them to grow into healthy and productive adults. One way this goal is achieved is through art therapy. 

Art therapy can span cross-culturally and include visual, movement, musical, dance, and performance arts. The process addresses various cognitive, behavioral, and social issues. Art is a non-threatening and safe way for children to explore their emotions and identities in relation to themselves and others. Offering children who once were in bondage a chance to have creative freedom opens doors for them to have a brighter future. Particularly with children, it is challenging to reach them through traditional verbal methods of therapy. It is for this reason that art therapy can be of great value. Art is a vehicle of expression and communication that transcends verbal barriers. Studies have shown that traumatic memories are stored in non-verbal areas of the brain. In order to overcome the pain and anxiety associated with traumatic events, it is important to address traumatic topics in a sensitive way. Art has the capacity to do just that. Trauma-based art therapy allows the child to slowly tap into these painful memories and work through them by engaging the artistic process at their own pace, and with appropriate support from the therapist.

Living and working in Ghana has taught me that every child is an artist. I saw each child evolve and grow over the three-month period that that I was working with them at the Care Center. Art is universal, and all children should be able to benefit and prosper from being creative as well as receiving adequate clinical care.

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