Art connects and communicates

by | Sep 2, 2020 | Children's Residential Center, Counseling

With cottage two reopening to tween girls this fall, the art and trauma therapy program has found a new space in the recreation center. Located next to the new music therapy program, CCHO is helping kids find their voice, process their story and learn coping skills through expressive arts therapy.

It takes time for a child (or an adult for that matter) to trust someone enough to share personal, painful experiences. This is the necessary but challenging work that we ask of our kiddos. It’s through this work and this connection with a healthy adult that healing from trauma happens.

Relationship building begins as soon as a resident arrives on campus—helping a child feel safe, asking questions to gain understanding and sharing expectations and boundaries. Children give staff meaningful insight into their needs and messages as well as how to relate with them. These are positive first steps, but sometimes a child needs more to help them open up.

Creative expression in two or three dimensions helps a child regulate their emotions and reveal their beliefs and experiences consciously or subconsciously through colors and content. Before they have the courage or ability to speak words, they have a way to communicate safely. Rather than talking face to face or making direct eye contact, the child and therapist are working side by side and the project becomes the tool for conversation.

(Watch this short video by The American Art Therapy Association to learn more about art therapy and childhood trauma.)

On their first day of art therapy, Leah Mendez, residential art and trauma therapist, invites residents to look around at the art on display and explore the colorful bins and cupboards filled with art materials such as paint, markers, chalk, toys, yarn, sand and fabric. This helps kids get comfortable in the space. The child selects the materials and therapeutic connection begins.

Art and trauma therapy usually occur near the end of a child’s stay on campus. They’ve already engaged in individual counseling with their cottage therapist. Intensive trauma therapy is a process of putting trauma in the past rather than as current lived experience. Art projects can be used to tell the client’s story and encourage them to verbalize their trauma while staying in their window of tolerance. “As disclosure of trauma becomes increasingly visual/verbal and decreasingly emotional, the traumatic memory is converted from implicit to declarative memory,” said Leah. “This change allows the client to remember the past trauma without being stuck in the instinctual response cycle that’s no longer necessary because they are safe.”

Occasionally, art therapy takes place at the beginning of a resident’s stay. If youth are struggling to engage early on, art therapy can help them regulate and engage with their treatment. With a variety of therapeutic options available on campus, we have many resources to connect residents into treatment.

CCHO is proud to be a trauma-informed treatment center. In conjunction with other therapies, art therapy is helping kids overcome their pasts and discover their true worth.

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