Exploring Safety Issues in Art Therapy

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This post is part of our 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. You can read her previous posts herehere and here.

The children at the Touch A Life Care Center have come from varied backgrounds of slavery and exploitation, but one thing they have in common is a past that was not always safe. Feeling safe in one’s surroundings is important for all human beings, specifically children. Safety can mean many things, and pertain to:

  • Physical safety: being away in proximity from immediate danger
  • Emotional/Psychological safety: free from emotional/psychological harm and abuse, the ability to develop relationships based on trust rather than fear, feelings of security in one’s surroundings

Emotional and physical safety can be compromised if a child has been in a dangerous or threatening situation. IMG_0487When a person enters art therapy, their safety situation should be assessed in order to help them surpass any obstacles they face toward living a physically and emotionally safe life.

The art therapy setting should facilitate feelings of safety for the participants. The room itself should be warm and inviting, and emotional safety encouraged through emphasis on confidentiality practices (the use of discretion by therapist when disclosing details of the treatment).

 Some of the children at the Touch A Life Care Center participated in an art therapy session focused on safety. The sessions began with a discussion about what it means to be in a safe environment vs. a dangerous environment. Some children said aloud places they feel safe.

Many children responded that the Care Center, the Connor Creative Art Center, and school are places where they feel safe. Some also expressed that they did not feel safe in their homes before they arrived to Touch A Life.

IMG_0485 - Version 2The art therapy directive introduced in these sessions was divided into two parts. For the first part of the directive, the children were asked to create an animal of their choice. For the second part, the children were asked to create a home for that animal. After the drawings were completed, the groups shared their work. Some questions that were asked were “Is the animal safe in its’ home?”, and “If not, how can it protect itself?”

Creating a home for an animal is symbolic of providing something or someone with shelter and nurturance. This can be a very powerful experience for a child who has experienced danger or emotional insecurity in the past. Before participating in this directive, the group had a discussion about safety, and the importance of safety. Many children shared their art work with the group, which created a powerful dynamic of shared support among one another.

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