Art Therapy and Sexual Abuse

In my work with both children and adults I have seen how powerful the process of making art can be. The ability of art to reach deeper levels than words has been particularly potent in the treatment of patients who have experienced sexual abuse.

I will never forget a young patient who was painting with me. She began smearing and layering dark colors across the canvas and became intensely focused in the process. On the top layer she added a vibrant splash of red, and then took the paintbrush and created a long splatter across the top of the painting. While watching her I observed out loud that her painting had many different layers and colors, and that she seemed to be expressing something in her work. She responded, “I’m putting all of my feelings onto the canvas.” When I asked her what some of those feelings might be, she said, “Feelings about my sexual abuse.”

This was the first time she had ever mentioned a history of sexual abuse to me. As she continued to paint she began to disclose the details. As she talked and painted I noticed that her style became more open and she eventually moved to working with brighter colors. When she was done with the piece she said that she wanted me to have the painting. In a way, I was symbolically taking on the emotions that she had expressed, and she was able to finish our session feeling some weight off of her chest. In addition she stated that “art helped me to express things I could not speak about so easily.”

In this young person’s life, art was an outlet that helped her greatly in processing and sharing her feelings about traumatic experiences. It did not take away her difficult past, but it helped to empower her and was a step along the way in her healing process.

Below is a link to an interesting article about children who have been sexually abused and art therapy. I think you will find it very informative and interesting.

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