The art of healing
By Marissa, ESTN Intern
I cannot ‘officially’ call what we’ve been doing ‘art therapy’, since I have yet to graduate. That being said, there is no doubt in my mind that the art group I have held with these women has been nothing short of therapeutic. In the months I’ve been working with these remarkable women, a light has appeared in each one of them that wasn’t there in the beginning.
Art is my ‘thing’, it always has been. Art is the one aspect of myself I can freely and confidently give to others. It has always been healing for me and there is no greater feeling in the world than when I get to share its healing power with others.
When I first began the art group with survivors, I was concerned the whole process might be a flop. Although I know how therapeutic art can be, others do not always understand or envision the outcome. I had never worked with human trafficking survivors prior to my internship at End Slavery Tennessee, but I was well aware of the traumatic events they had endured. So for a moment even I, who loves art and knows of its’ healing attributes, found myself thinking “Why would they want to sit and do art with me once a week when they have much larger issues to deal with?” I could not have been more wrong.
In the beginning, only a few participated. Some thought they couldn’t ‘do’ art, and a few women were confused as to why we weren’t doing activities more similar to the other groups. It took a few sessions for all of us to become comfortable doing this together; listening to music, collaging, painting, building, etc. One day one of the women jumped out of her chair laughing hysterically. For a moment I was terrified the paint had triggered a horrible memory but then she looked at me and said, “It’s beautiful! I thought I couldn’t do it and that it was going to be terrible, but it isn’t. I turned something ugly into something beautiful.” Everyone started laughing with her. I fought back my tears until the car ride home.
During the course of these art groups, we continued to sit together and create whatever project I had planned for the afternoon. Each of us addressed the level of expression we needed in that moment. Most days we would laugh, some days cry; other days we would throw paint angrily at a canvas. In this way, each survivor was able to express exactly what they needed to. Although this was a group setting with group activities, healing is an individual process. The process can’t be scheduled with play-by-play action. Each person must move and heal at his or her own pace. I have witnessed so much progression over the past six months. These women have each been such an inspiration to everyone they have encountered. I would not trade this experience for the world.