Therapy through art

Drawing helps children whose fathers are drug addicts to express their feelings, concludes a new study carried out at the School of Creative Arts Therapies at the University of Haifa.

"It is difficult to verbally describe a trauma, yet the body remembers it," said Head of the school Prof. Rachel Lev-Wiesel, who carried out the study alongside Revital Liraz of the Hosen Center in Beer Sheba.

People who have experienced trauma often find it difficult to describe their feelings and experiences in words. Art therapy enables the client to expose these feelings first through non-verbal symbols, and then narrate them. The Graduate School of Creative Arts Therapies at the University of Haifa is the first Israeli academic track that grants an MA degree in creative arts therapies to its graduates. There are three courses of study in the school: Plastic Art Therapy, Movement Therapy, and Drama Therapy. "The importance of therapy through the arts has increased over the past years, and as with every other discipline of therapy, much weight ought to be placed on basing therapist training on research," said Prof. Lev-Wiesel.

Participating in this study were 60 children, aged nine to fourteen, who were arbitrarily divided into two groups. The children in the first group were asked to draw their life in the shadow of a drug-addicted father and then to describe their experiences to a social worker who interviewed them. The second group was asked to describe life with a drug-addicted father without use of drawings. It was observed that already while drawing the first group of children spoke freely about their lives.

An analysis of the narratives provided by the two groups revealed that the descriptions given by those children who had been asked to draw first included more feelings and sensations, were longer, and expressed optimism for the future. The children in the second group, however, were more reluctant to talk. Their narratives were shorter, without feeling, and less coherent. "Emotional-verbal ability is crucial for growth and for social skills, so enabling a child to increase ability of expression and sharing by means of drawing pictures is beneficial in contributing to the efficiency and effectiveness of therapy," Prof. Lev-Wiesel concluded.

Therapy through art is a relatively new field, she said, there is still a lack of empirical studies. One of the goals of the new school is to expand the pool of researchers in the field.

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