Using Art Therapy with Survivors of Domestic Violence
We are please to bring you this guest post from Gretchen Miller, MA, ATR-BC, CTC Registered Board Certified Art Therapist, Certified Trauma Consultant
In recognition of October’s National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and SpeakArtLoud’s vision and voice for women, I am honored to have the opportunity to contribute this guest post about the benefits of art therapy to help empower women exposed to domestic violence.
Domestic violence is defined as “a pattern of abusive behaviors — including physical, sexual, and psychological attacks as well as economic coercion — used by one intimate partner against another (adult or adolescent) to gain, maintain, or regain power and control in the relationship” (National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women).
Abusers use a variety of controlling and battering tactics to frighten, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, often injure, and sometimes kill a current or former intimate partner.
For a victim of domestic violence, often the impact the abuse is too difficult to verbalize through words alone and impacted by strong feelings of shame, humiliation, guilt, and fear around speaking about the abuse (Malchiodi & Miller, 2011).
Art therapy is a way to assist survivors to safely express and contain these difficult and terrorizing feelings, cope with traumatic memories and triggers, as well as support emotional stabilization and strengthen a sense of safety.
Art therapy is the deliberate use of art-making to address psychological and emotional needs through art media and the creative process to help in areas such as, but not limited to: fostering self-expression, creating coping skills, managing stress, and strengthening sense of self (The Art Therapy Alliance). You can also find more information about how art therapy is used with domestic violence from the International Art Therapy Organization.
Working in a Domestic Violence Shelter
As an art therapist working in a domestic violence shelter with women and children exposed to and traumatized by family violence, I have witnessed the benefits, value, and power of art therapy to help provide a voice to survivors and begin on a path towards healing and recovery free of abuse, violence, and control.
Through art-making, survivors can make sense of and find their way out of chaos, frightful memories, and the raw emotion of their abuse to discover a sense of grounding, strength, safety, understanding, and hope.
Art therapy helps provide an empowering outlet for this process, where the telling of a battered women’s experience does not have to be spoken aloud, but can be communicated through the language and reflection of art expression.
This short video was created with art expressions by survivors and advocates to raise awareness and share their stories about domestic violence:
Malchiodi, C. & Miller G. (2011). Domestic Violence and Art Therapy. In C. Malchiodi (Ed), Handbook of Art Therapy (2nd Edition), New York: Guilford Press.
Gretchen Miller, MA, ATR-BC, CTC is a Registered Board Certified Art Therapist and Certified Trauma Consultant who practices in the Greater Cleveland, Ohio area. Her work specializes in children, adolescents, women, and families impacted by trauma, domestic violence, and grief & loss. Her website www.gretchen-miller.com highlights her work, interests, and passions related to art therapy and her creative practice.