How The Arts Help Children and Parents Heal

This article presented during National Creative Arts Therapy Week, (March 12 – 18) highlights 180’s Amanda’s Easel Creative Arts Therapy Program.  

By: Laura Greenstone, M.S., LPC, ATR-BC

“When my Mom and Dad fight, I draw pictures to make them stop.” Feeling responsible is a common reaction for children living in homes with domestic violence. Kids who witness one parent harm the other with words, hands or actions, often feel helpless and afraid. If you spend time with children you know that they use art, music, play and other creative activities to make sense of the world around them.

Amanda’s Easel, a program of the Monmouth County non-profit, 180 Turning Lives Around (www.180nj.org), is a creative arts therapy program designed to create a support system to help children and their non-offending parents cope with life changes precipitated by violence and abuse. The program provides art, play and music therapy that promotes healing by encouraging clients to express and understand their feelings and fears in a safe and nurturing environment, through various creative arts intervention and case management services.

Living in a stressful home can affect mental and physical health. Creative Arts Therapists are specially trained to use the arts in healing. March 12- 18 is Creative Arts Therapy week (http://www.nccata.org/cats-week). Creative Arts Therapy is an umbrella term for six professions; art, dance/movement, drama, music, poetry therapy and psychodrama. This is a perfect time to highlight the work of 180’s Amanda’s Easel Creative Arts Therapy Program (http://180nj.org/get-help/domestic-violence/amandas-easel-creative-art-therapies/) offering art, music and play therapy (a related discipline).

Parents are active participants in the program and work to understand their children’s response to domestic violence, as well as, ways to improve parenting and communication skills. Having parents and children work together on a shared experience of art, music or play becomes a metaphor for how they relate and perceive their situation. Is one family member more passive than another? Who uses the most space? Is it hard to share the art materials, musical instruments or toys? Can they agree on a theme or do they work on their own ideas? The approach to materials and the creative process can serve as a map to the family functioning and provide a positive bonding experience.

Children participate in groups and in individual creative arts therapy sessions to work on peer relationships, problem behaviors, cope with traumatic experiences and family changes. Exploring with paint, pounding on a drum or caring for a doll can be non-verbal ways to express and understand thoughts and feelings. Art therapy uses creative processes such as drawing, painting, collage or sculpture to gain awareness, cope with stress and enhance self-esteem. Music therapy uses musical experiences such as songwriting and improvisation to promote healing and growth. Play therapy uses guided free play and therapeutic sand tray work to develop and practice new skills, problem solve and confront serious, traumatic issues.

In the program children learn that violence happens in many families and that it is safe to talk about it. They use art therapy (http://njarttx.org/).play therapy (http://www.a4pt.org/) and music therapy (http://www.njmusictherapy.org/) to express how they feel.  Using all these tools and interventions while guided by Creative Arts Therapists with advanced degrees and credentials, are some of the ways children share their stories in the program. Amanda’s Easel offers creative ways to help parents and children rebuild their lives after Domestic Violence. We encourage girls to know they are strong and brave and boys to know that they can be loving and kind.

For more information on Amanda’s Easel, please call 732. 264.4360 X 4005

About the Author:

Laura Greenstone, M.S., LPC, ATR-BC

Assistant Coordinator, Amanda’s Easel Creative Arts Therapy Program at 180 Turning Lives Around

Laura Greenstone is a Board-Certified Art Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor, working in the field of trauma and domestic violence. Laura has worked for 180’s Amanda’s Easel Creative Arts Therapy Program as The Assistant Coordinator for almost 20 years. She is Past Chair of the State and National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations and serves as a Steering Committee member of The Alliance for Arts and Health NJ. She recently co-authored a chapter with Linda Gantt, Ph.D., ATR, BC on an art therapy based, neurological treatment model in J. A. Rubin (Ed.), Approaches to Art Therapy: Theory and Technique, 3rd Edition. New York: Taylor & Francis Group.