Refuge believes art therapy helps heal children who’ve been through trauma, that’s why they incorporate it into their daily therapy sessions. Starting this fall, Refuge will have one intern solely focused on helping to improve their art therapy sessions with Southern Illinois Edwardsville University intern, Britni Spataro.
Refuge Executive Director, Erin Bickle said the intern will join their team on August 20.
“We’re excited to have a partnership with SIUE’s art therapy program,” said Bickle. “The skills and insight they will bring to the children we serve, and our program as a whole, is invaluable and we’re looking forward to having her join.”
A note from our new Intern:
I think first it's important to understand a little bit about what trauma does to the brain before delving into why art therapy is particularly useful.
Trauma disrupts the brains ability to integrate traumatic memories into consciousness. This means that the memories stay "stuck" in the areas of the brain that are sensory-based and nonverbal. These memories are not accessible to the frontal lobes - the understanding, thinking, and reasoning parts of the brain. When recounting trauma memories brain scans have shown that the Brocca's area of the brain (the part that initiates language) shuts down completely, making it very difficult for the individual to process the traumatic events verbally.
In the case of children and adolescents, who already struggle with verbal communication, trauma impacts almost every aspect of their life. From attention, decision making, bodily pain and functions, reasoning skills, and verbal/nonverbal communication. It makes sense, then, that nonverbal and sensory based therapeutic interventions are particularly helpful in treating trauma. Children often communicate through play, art, and their bodies. If you've ever tried to verbally communicate with an angry 5 year old you will see much more stomping, crying, throwing, and screaming then you will reasonable verbal communication. Add in traumatic experiences and verbal communication becomes almost impossible.
Children, depending on their age, will utilize symbols often throughout their play and artwork, but ultimately art therapists let them (the child) assign meaning to their work. If a child makes a green cloud with a frowning face, it could mean anything. In general art therapists try to avoid appointing specific meaning to specific elements of a drawing without input from the client. However, art therapists might look for energy and emphasis on a particular part of a drawing, such as a figure that is bigger and bolder than all other figures. Art therapists also look for repetition of themes, which indicate that a child is working something out with that particular memory or thought.
Art helps with recovery and healing in multiple ways. Firstly, it helps to create a strong relationship between the therapist and the child/client. It's less intimidating than verbal communication and allows the child to feel understood. Secondly, utilizing their bodies to create art can help the brain to integrate and make sense of the sensory experiences they've had. For example, creating large circles that cross the midpoint of their bodies can have a calming effect because it helps both sides of the brain to work together. Utilizing art in group sessions can also have a powerful healing effect, as children learn that they are not alone in their experiences, and they begin to build new and healthy relationships.