How Art Therapy Can Help Children Heal from Trauma

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How Art Therapy Can Help Children Heal from Trauma
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A new method is emerging to help children heal from trauma – art therapy.

More mental health clinics, like the Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas, are beginning to use art to help children with the healing process.

Mental health professionals hope that art therapy can help children process adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), which is growing to be a public health crisis.

“Art therapy helps one process emotions and feelings that one is struggling with, so that he or she can begin healing,” said art therapist Savita Jakhar Gandash, according to The Interview Portal.

Read about what art therapy is and how Latino children can heal from ACEs and trauma.

What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is a mental health service that utilizes creativity to help people resolve psychological issues.

“Art therapy is an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship,” according to the American Art Therapy Association.

Art therapists work with people of all ages and backgrounds and can work in hospitals, schools, clinics, psychiatric facilities, and more.

At the Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas, children experience art therapy as a creative outlet to express their feelings and trauma.

Children in therapy take part in music, theater, movement, and other artistic activities that encourage creative expression.

“In one activity, kids shatter a clay pot and decorate the inside to reflect their memories and innate oppressed feelings. Months later, they come back to it and reassemble it together, then write down any feelings of ‘positive sorts of things, (such as) friendship and joy and hope,’ according to [Managing Director Blair] Thompson. ‘The possibility that children’s grief can be transformed’ is the reason behind this activity,” according to Jiawen Chen of Texas Public Radio.

How Can Art Therapy Boost Social Cohesion?

Not only can art be used to help individuals heal from trauma, but it can also be impactful to a community and boost social cohesion.

An April 2021 report, WE-Making: How Arts & Culture Unite People to Work Toward Community Well-Being, explores art and social cohesion through case studies in predominately nonwhite and rural communities.

WE-Making highlights several case studies on how arts and culture impact social cohesion, as well as the conceptual framework behind social cohesion and a literature review on previous research.

Researchers learned the following on art and social cohesion:

  • Place-based arts and cultural practices do grow social cohesion for community well-being, while presenting opportunities for further research and investment.
  • Community well-being is not restricted to mental and physical health but encompasses individual benefits, such as happiness and communal creative responses to trauma and racism.
  • Social cohesion through art is necessary in times of isolation, such as the COVID-19 pandemic that has disproportionately harmed Latinos.

“At a time when ‘social cohesion’ is challenged in new ways by ‘social distancing,’ and when ‘place-based’ art has come to mean arts participation with neighbors whom we only see at a distance or virtually, one well might ask whether resources of this nature are hopelessly obsolete…These crises have laid bare the ill effects of social isolation, social scarring, and social divides. These tools — and the lessons learned in their development — remain broadly applicable to those seeking to advances social cohesion, health equity, and community well-being,” according to the Arts, Culture, and Community Development website.

How Can Art Therapy Help Latino Kids Who Experience Childhood Trauma?

Art therapy can be particularly helpful to Latino children.

Unfortunately, Latino kids suffer from many childhood traumas.

“78% of Latino kids suffer at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE), such as poverty, neglect, abuse, household dysfunction (divorce, violence, etc.). 28% of Latino kids suffer four or more adverse experiences,” according to a Salud America! research review.

Research has also shown that this increased exposure to trauma has negative impact on future development.

“Latino kids exposed to many traumas have higher risk of obesity, future health issues, anxiety, withdrawal, aggression, and substance use. They also have lower language, literacy, and math skills, and attention in school,” according to a Salud America! research review.

Group of kindergarten kids friends drawing art class outdoors

Many systemic issues have led to a disproportionate rate of mental illness for Latinos, including a stigma against mental illness, distrust in mental health services, or lack of access to treatment.

The stigma against speaking up about mental health issues needs to be broken down, says Salud America! Salud Hero Bobby Marines.

Marines is an artist who wants to help Latinos heal from trauma and PTSD through having conversations sparked by art.

“It’s crazy, because deep down, everybody wants to talk about it. Everybody wants to share, wants to not feel alone, or not feel like they have to suppress something within themselves, and something so significant. I feel like a lot stems from PTSD. It ties into our perspective of the world and society and ourselves. What we’re capable of, our own potential, it all stems from things that tend to be psychological and traumatic, and that translates into how we navigate the world,” Marines said.

How Can We Help Latino Mental Health?

We can do our part to help Latino children and families dealing with mental health issues.

Eliminating the stigma against mental illness can be the first step.

“People tend to associate mental health with cosa de locos, I’m crazy, or there’s something wrong with me. It’s so important to normalize the experience,” said Dr. Luz Garcini, psychologist and epidemiologist at UT Health San Antonio, and a Salud America! Salud Hero.

Having more bilingual and culturally relevant mental health resources is also important.

These bilingual materials from National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) can help Latinos learn about mental health treatment.

We can also help children who witness traumatic events, like domestic violence or murder.

These kids still have to go to class or carry on while school is out for summer, holidays, or pandemics. They face a burden of stress and trauma that can interfere with their behavior and grades—and schools often aren’t even aware there’s an issue.

Download the free Salud America!Handle With Care Action Pack.”

The Action Pack helps police, school, and mental healthcare leaders start the Handle with Care program, in which police notify schools when they encounter children at a traumatic scene, so schools can provide support right away. They can virtually support kids if school is out for summer or still closed due to COVID-19.

GET THE ACTION PACK!

By The Numbers By The Numbers

28

percent

of Latino kids suffer four or more adverse childhood experiences (ACES).

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