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[ARTICLE] Empowering the Traumatized Child Through The Use Of Art And Action
Filed Under: Wellness | Published: Sep 30, 2010 | Author: Bobbie Kaufman, ATR-BC, LCAT

When a child has been personally traumatized or is part of a family, school, or community system where trauma has been experienced, the child's sense of his or her own power is generally shaken. The trauma destabilizes the world as the child knew it prior to the event(s). The effects upon the child depend on many factors, such as the nature of the event, direct experience versus witnessing the personal impact, after-event impact such a lifetime disruption, the age of the child at the onset of the trauma, and the length of time the trauma continued.

In treating traumatized children in my practice, the combined use of various creative arts modalities such as writing and drawing, puppet making and theater, music creation and drumming, as well as sculpting and theater have proven to be effective. In particular, the use of creative art making and action for children between four years to eight years energizes them, relaxes their sadness, and helps to develop or redevelop their sense of empowerment and hopefulness.

Seven year old Rosana (pseudonym) came to see me after having been fondled on three occasions by her adored uncle. Because she, her parents, and brother were living in his house, Rosana's disclosure about her uncle's behavior created havoc. And, as a result, her family had to move.

Our initial treatment began with a series of drawings about her life, the trauma, and her profound sadness over the loss of her uncle. Since Rosana loved music, I suggested she write song lyrics about feelings. An example is I used to love to play with you and you were my favorite relative... now I don't see you... why did you do that? I am so sad. Someday we will see each other again. I know you will be sorry. I penciled the words as she said them. I suggested we put her words to music. Since I told her I am an awful musician, we decided she would teach me how to make music to follow her rhythms. Sometimes we also made the instruments. We both used an assortment of triangles, sticks, and drums to accompany her singing. We rehearsed, revised, and invited her parents and sister to join us for performances of her songs.

Through this process, Rosana put words to her feelings, and then added music. This allowed her to attach her emotions to singing, over which she had control. She also became empowered through patiently teaching me how to accompany her. With my participation lending ego support, our performances fostered her continued empowerment and healing.

Belinda (pseudonym) at age four was brought to me after she told her mother and then the police how a man from their reservation had forced her to drink his privacy. After several visits involving drawing and playing, she said she was having dreams each night that she was "drinking his privates." In our sixth session, as a way of having me enter her reality, she asked me to draw the man's face from her description and the colors she selected. Building on her suggestibility and the trust she began to feel for me, I explained that we had to catch those dreams before they got in her head. We made a dream catcher and I taught her to chant bad dreams go away. She was already displaying her hope that it would shield her. Belinda brought the dream catcher home; her mother hung it over her bed and each night reminded her to say bad dreams go away. After a week her dreams were less frequent. Since she was worried the bad man would show up she later made a headdress to wear as she performed a dance to keep away the bad man. Because of her experience with the dream catcher and her annual participation in reservation dancing, she was very excited with this project.

We invited her mother and brother into the session when it was finished. We each selected a percussion instrument and marched around the room making music and chanting bad man go away, bad man go away. Belinda and her family continued to march and chant around their house. Belinda's nightmares disappeared. Her pride in making them go away, supported by her family's participation, fostered feelings of empowerment and safety.

Joshua's (pseudonym) six year old sister was sexually abused by her older cousin. When the eight year old learned what happened he was confused, shocked, and depressed. He could not forgive himself for not protecting his sister. These feelings fed into an existing sense of helplessness with his peers. I asked him to draw himself as the animal he would like to be. He drew a tiger who roared although Joshua said he himself could not (See Figure 3). I then asked him to find or sculpt a tiger and he selected one from the toys. He built a safe house for the tiger and put the tiger in it - literally put the house on top of the tiger, fully enclosing it. When I mentioned there were no doors or windows he lifted the house off the tiger and added an armed protector.

At that point I urged him to act like a tiger and roar. I chided him that his roar was weak. We started roaring together; I began to call him tiger at subsequent sessions. We practiced roaring and role played different experiences which called for the strength and power of the tiger within him. His mother told me he would practice roaring. They both reported he had begun to interact more assertively with peers and was feeling less depressed.

These three cases demonstrate the positive changes fostered by incorporating action with art making and expressions.


References
Greenwald, R. (2005). Child trauma handbook, NY: The Haworth Maltreatment and Trauma
Press.


Author: Bobbie Kaufman, ATR-BC, LCAT maintains a private practice in Riverhead and Southampton, New York. She is the co-author of two books Silent Screams and Hidden Cries; Casualties of Childhood; and a booklet When Your Child had Been Sexually Abused: What You Need To Know.

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Version 1.0.2 (Morpheus-517) -- 30.November.2009