Art therapy was introduced as an experiment initially in the hostel for women who had escaped from traffickers, offering both group work and individual work. It was very successful especially for women who had little spoken English, giving them a way to express what they were living through. We now provide art therapy at the hostels and day centres for the street working women. Below some of the practitioners write about their work.
Art therapist Catriona writes about art therapy with Street Talk
Art has been used as a non-verbal method of communication for thousands of years. The creative arts are becoming more widely recognised as an effective way to maintain and improve mental health and wellbeing, build resilience and ease medical conditions. They are also a gentle method of dealing with personal trauma.
While art therapy can involve talking, it is not primarily a talking therapy. Working creatively with different media can connect directly with emotions and the subconscious. Seemingly random colours and shapes can coalesce into images representative of unresolved issues, or destructive patterns and behaviours which can then be worked through. It is a gentle, but effective form of therapy. Working therapeutically with art enables the client to connect creatively with their subconscious and then work with (and through) the resulting images, making them safe, or transforming them.
Art therapy is also effective for building resilience, assisting with emotional development, helping to improve interactions, and reducing stress and anxiety.
Hannah, aged 57, has struggled for decades with PTSD caused by repeated abuse from childhood. Other therapies hadn’t helped and over time she’d developed coping strategies to survive. She self-harmed regularly with alcohol, drugs, cutting and bleach. In one session she worked through a memory of an event which was repeated regularly, which involving being multiply abused, often in the same location. She worked spontaneously, dividing the paper in half with a vertical line. The left side developed a sketch of a female head, she had no idea what this represented. On the right, the words ‘BLACK ‘and ‘HOUSE’, were written across each other to form an ‘x’shape. She didn’t know what the ‘Black House’ signified initially, but said the words were often on her mind. Realisation dawned when she stopped and we observed the image together. She became distressed and reverted to childlike behaviour as she slipped into a flashback attack. Focussing on her breathing calmed her and averted the attack, and she was then asked how she wanted to make the image ‘safe’. She quickly transformed it into a ‘green’ house by drawing over the black with green, adding flowers, door, windows, and a smoking chimney. She reflected that the black lettering was still visible underneath the green. We discussed this, and she decided that in fact this was ok, as these past events could not be erased. On further reflection she announced that the face on the left was her younger self. She continued the work, becoming more confident, resorting less to self- harm, and began to develop a positive self- image.