The Arts and Trauma Healing

THI 2013On Monday, June 16th, many Ekphrasians participated in a Seminar on The Arts and Trauma Healing, held at Lehigh Valley Presbyterian Church. 

If you weren’t there, you should have been! It was a powerful event. The leader combined discussions, Scripture, and artistic activities. It was very much like a group therapy session. Here is the official description; below that are some of my thoughts and some from other participants.

This seminar followed a book and method designed by the American Bible Society to ask:

HOW CAN THE WOUNDS OF OUR HEARTS BE HEALED?

HWT 2013 EN Front Cover copyIt taught a holistic, interactive approach to engaging Scripture in the healing process for people who suffer from the mental, emotional, and spiritual effects of trauma. This workshop combined biblical truths with basic mental health principles. In it, we learned to address beliefs and emotions damaged by trauma, in their own lives and the lives of others. This session emphasized the importance of visual and performing arts in trauma healing.

The group was led by a trained facilitator, using the book pictured on the right. She guided us through conversations about why there is suffering in the world, what trauma is, what the stages of grief are and how people move through them, and the importance of bringing our traumas before the cross.

How did she do this?

* Drama!
* Visual art!
* Story telling!
* A Drum circle!
* More drama!
* Writing a lament!
* Music!

I would say that the connection between the arts and trauma healing can be summed up in the phrase Metaphor and Embodiment. Some of the activities we did were metaphorical: for instance, the evening ended with us writing our traumas in red ink on tracing paper, then putting them into water as we sang songs about the Crucifixion. The red ink came off, leaving the papers clean and the water stained. This is a clear metaphor.

Some of the other activities were ways to embody either our traumas or ways of healing from them. I found the visual art most helpful (which was a surprise; I have a huge mental block against drawing) — I ended up scattering little stick figures on a paper along with texts: quotes from poems or titles of books that seemed metaphorically connected to my own troubles.

medium_drum-circle1I also found the Drum Circle to be a wonderful activity, but it didn’t connect to trauma for me. The facilitator has found the drum circle to work for some people as a way of expressing and processing anger, kind of like hitting a punching bag. I just found it tons of fun! I haven’t made much music in the last, well, decade or so, and I’ve rarely had those moments of musical synergy when everyone in the ensemble just gets on the same vibe and something sublime takes over. This wasn’t that, certainly, but there was something in me that rejoiced at making rhythms together.

The dramatic readings, skits, and improvisations were also very powerful. There was a long, terrifying one in which four members of the group represented a family that had just lost someone in a car accident. They moved through the “villages” of anger to denial to new life. Three of the group participants in this drama are really family members and the owner/directors of a theatre group, so their performance was terrifyingly real. One of them wrote in her feedback form that the most difficult activity of the evening was: 

I think the one where we talked about grief and anger… It was difficult to do the improv regarding grief and anger. Partly because I was still processing what I was feeling from the drawings I had done. Then the music thing was very fun, but I think I was afraid of letting myself go… and I found all the clanging randomly at once to be overwhelming and chaotic.

She also said that she gained a lot from the workshop as a whole, because it tied into what she has been learning in her private life:

Working on exposing our wounds, expressing them to God, acknowledging and dealing with anger, expressing that to God, looking to Christ for healing… it just included some art handles in it.

She is preparing to start offering some art therapy sessions as a local shelter for women rescued from sex trafficking, and she said that these sessions have her “a spring board for ideas of the type of art projects to do with the women at the Truth Home.”

The evening ended with a session on forgiveness, and this turned out to be an emotional and volatile subject. We talked about what it is, what it isn’t, when it needs to happen, how it works, what it does for the victim and the offender, what happens when the offender is dead or otherwise unable to be contacted. One participant wrote that the particular conversations we had about forgiveness were “something that I haven’t spent a lot of time considering, and working through the different aspects of it was very enlightenling…. that session definitely had some difficult things to process, emotionally.” grief

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About Sørina Higgins

Sørina Higgins is a writer, English teacher, and Inklings scholar. Sørina serves as Chair of the Department of Language and Literature at Signum University and teaches English at King's College and Lehigh Carbon Community College. She has published two books of poetry, "The Significance of Swans" and "Caduceus."

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