Over the last fifteen years, The ArtReach Foundation® has developed a training method called the ArtReach Model® that has been helpful to thousands of children in the US and abroad.
The ArtReach Model® Overview
The ArtReach Foundation’s mission is to influence and assist through the education of creative expressive arts therapies, the growth and development of children who have experienced the traumatic effects of war, violence, and/or natural disaster.
Components of The ArtReach Model®
The gift of the imagination is an essential part of human nature. Our minds generate images, stories, and new possibilities, just as we do in our dreams. Far from being a useless activity the imagination is a way of grasping and understanding both external reality and our internal subjective world. Very often we are not able to understand or resolve challenges through rational, conceptual thought and problem solving. Instead, first attempts emerge as images that capture feelings and the earliest glimmers of understanding. The imagination creates images of hope, resilience, and new possibilities that can give fresh perspectives to the most difficult and problematic experiences. It can pull memories from earliest childhood sounds and images that precede language, logic, judgment, and traumatic experiences that may compromise creativity.
Metaphor and Safe Space
Working in metaphor allows for the traumatized imagination to approach the unapproachable, to address the unspeakable in image and story, and to shift one’s internal experience to allow for gradual illumination when the heart and mind are ready to process trauma, redefine it, and place it in a “safe place” of gone but not forgotten. ArtReach works within the metaphor with all ages and across all traumas. In addition to its power in healing the individual, working with metaphor not only protects the individual from having to “tell the secret” in words, but protects the group from having to hear others’ secrets that may be unbearable and that may create secondary trauma in those already holding their own traumas. Work in metaphor can also create safety in maintaining distance from trauma and working within the symbolic. This distance allows a group to establish connections around work within the same metaphor, while each member processes unique meaning and specific memories related to the group metaphor. This creation of “safe space” within a small group is essential to risk taking, to trying new behaviors, and to transformational growth through the creative arts.
The basic methods of art therapy can be applied to a wide range of psychological and emotional needs. When a child sits quietly looking at a sheet of paper and a set of colored pencils or paints, he or she is pulled into an internal world of feelings, concerns, wishes, and fears. Every choice he makes – color, placement, pressure on the paper, or a controlled line versus a free flowing one, etc. – may express a significant personal issue or challenge. As one draws, he is externalizing and giving form to these concerns. The very act of creating a drawing or painting is empowering and may lead to greater awareness of emerging challenges or blocks to growth and development.
I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way
– Georgia O’Keeffe
While art activities orient one towards an internal and private world, dramatic activities encourage spontaneous and directed interactions with others. Dramatic enactment is similar to the dramatic play of children. It involves playing roles, the creation of plots and their resolution, expression of feeling, and spontaneous dialogue. By engaging in activities called role play, not as oneself, but as an imagined or assigned other, one can experience a wide range of feelings, attitudes, and actions that he may not have access to within the scope of his own identity. Since everyone accepts that this action has no serious consequences, there is room for experimentation and risk taking. In drama, imagination can generate alternative positive outcomes to previous unresolved, sometimes traumatic, experiences.
A passion for the dramatic art is inherent in the nature of man.
– Edwin Forrest
Music and Music Therapy
Music can have inestimable value for those who have difficulties in hearing, seeing, moving, thinking or responding. The voice allows for deep internal resonance with one’s prenatal and preverbal self, with earliest memories of parents’ and one’s voices, lullabies, nursery and folk songs, nature sounds, and other comforting music. We explore the range of sound and ways to get attention and needs met with our voices in infancy and early childhood. A vocal solo or single instrument can possess qualities of sound and tone irresistible enough to respond in a direct, uncomplicated manner. Often children who experience severe obstacles in forming relationships with others and their environment can achieve security and joy in making music. Research shows that music aids the child’s physical and emotional health and development. By encouraging group members to participate in culturally specific activities of listening, using the voice to make sounds, song writing, performing, or exploring lyrics, the brain’s auditory processing of old and new materials in novel ways can yield a therapeutic effect. Music can also lower stress, alleviate tension, and promote calm and peace.
Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.
– Ludwig van Beethoven
Dance and Movement Therapy
Motion and gestures are one of our earliest methods of communication. Movement is our very first “language” in exploring our own body boundaries and the world. Our first sense of our self is our body image. As babies, we interact with our world through the physicality of movement and sensation, initially without self-consciousness. Dance/Movement Therapy is a process through which these early experiences are imitated in structured activities that incorporate movement and motion. In a group, this work allows for building relationships with others and trying out new roles and movements in a safe setting. This process can form a foundation for increased personal understanding, improved behavior and communication, and authentic expression. All cultures acknowledge the power of movement through a variety of dance forms. Dance in a cultural context can both express the nature of the culture as well as offer a basis for connection and a shared nonverbal experience which transcends words. Dance/Movement Therapy is a form of psychotherapy using movement, gesture, and dance to promote emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration of the individual.
Dancing is just discovery, discovery, discovery.
– Martha Graham
Creative writing, storytelling, and poetry used for healing and personal growth may be traced back to primitive man, who used religious rites in which shamans and witchdoctors chanted poetry for the well-being of the tribe or individual. In the fourth millennium B.C. in ancient Egypt, “healing” words were written on papyrus and then dissolved into a solution so that the words could be physically ingested by the patient and take effect as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, great figures in the world of medicine were recognizing the important relationship of the arts to healing. For those suffering from a traumatic event, poetry, creative writing and story-telling may provide a metaphoric opportunity to safely speak or write about difficult feelings. Warriors have used the written word to process their experiences for centuries. Sophocles, Greek General and playwright, addressed his troops on loss and war trauma through performances of his works.
Poetry comes nearer to vital truth than history.
Breathing, Meditation, and Visualization
Many studies support the beneficial effects on health of deep breathing, meditation, and visualization. This work is incorporated early in the process map of every ArtReach workshop to reduce participant anxiety, teach a skill that can be rapidly accessed if anxiety or distress emerges, help prepare for work in the metaphor, and direct the group members in visualization of specific metaphors that will be incorporated into the entire workshop experience. Breathing skills can be accessed later in private situations and public settings to achieve rapid overall stress reduction and maximize good judgment inn the face of escalating symptoms of trauma.
The ArtReach Model is structured within group process. All creative arts interventions are introduced within the safe space of the group, which acts as a microcosm of “a perfect community” in which risks can be taken and personal metaphors explored. Within the group, each creative arts intervention flows from one to another in seamless transitions to enhance personal and interpersonal connections. An illustration of the components interwoven within group process follows:
The message of ArtReach groups is one of health, community connectedness (“we are not in this alone”) and “we can have fun”. Language is crucial in labeling individuals and groups, and ArtReach groups are Trainings, workshops, camps, and retreats. We do not “do therapy” nor do we “diagnose, treat, or label” our participants. Since its beginning in 1999, ArtReach workshops have been invitations to imagination and healing, not required group therapy sessions. This differentiation in language parallels recent efforts to promote mental health within the entire community and to encourage preventive health and skills building.
Groups are led by at least two ArtReach Trainers. Workshops are as short as ½ day and may be as long as 5 days (the latter for Training workshops). ArtReach also partners with third parties to provide Training and Advisors to educators and school counselors for adaptation in school settings, and Trainers and Advisors adaptation in military family camps and retreats.