A Utah organization is using art as a form of therapy for victims of sexual assault or abuse. Art Access's five-week art therapy program has a history of helping clients express themselves.
During each week’s meeting, survivors of sexual abuse work with different mediums to create an outlet for their thoughts and emotions. Members of the class decide for themselves how they want to approach the two-hour creative process. Then they confront their art in an exercise Elise Butterfield, programs director at Art Access, calls witness writing.
“They can have a conversation with the art they have made,” she said. “They can talk about what it was like to go through the process – whatever kind of comes up through writing – and then we share that writing aloud in the group as people are comfortable with that.”
Butterfield says the group uses a different medium each week, like acrylic paint, oil pastels and sculpture with tin foil, because each material brings out different emotions.
“So for example,” she said, “acrylic paint can be very fluid. You can make large strokes. You can paint a lot of area very quickly, whereas oil pastel, it really takes some muscle to cover a broad space. And so, those different kinds of experiences, you know, having to do a lot of strokes to cover a wide area versus being able to cover up something very quickly just might bring up different emotions or different experiences for people.”
For the third year, Art Access has organized a sexual assault therapy workshop, and in the midst of movements like #MeToo and Times Ups, Butterfield says having workshops like this are important. It creates a safe space for people to tell their stories when they feel the time is right.
“For us, it’s important to open up the space for any survivor in our community who is ready to address their experience through art therapy and to have no expectations about what that means for their life outside of our workshop,” she said.
A certified art therapist is there throughout the art therapy program. This person provides professional support but is also key in creating a safe place where victims of sexual assault or abuse can express, through art, their experiences, emotions and feelings of trauma.