Recently, I have begun leading a support group* at Shiloh, our Domestic Violence Shelter, that concentrates completely on using art as a means for our residents to explore emotions, experiences, fears and hopes in a way that is safe, creative, and expressive. Art workshops provide a unique way to assist survivors of domestic violence in healing from the trauma of abuse, finding their voice, and building the courage to make healthy decisions for their future. For victims of domestic violence, art workshops provide a special window of support to share the complexity of their emotions, discover that they are not alone, and are not to blame for the violence. The art also helps survivors build healthy ways to handle anger and communicate non-violently.
At first, I wondered if the workshops would be well-received. Would a group of adult women really want to get together and play with colored pencils, paints, sequins, or construction paper? Would it really do that much good compared to the more “serious” groups like our domestic violence support group, or life skills? The group was set up as completely voluntary—you do not have to attend it as part of working the program at our shelter. Since it wasn’t mandatory… would anybody come? I had an image of me sitting alone in the conference room with a heap of supplies and a quietly ticking clock on the wall.
As it turns out, I shouldn’t have worried. The groups are really popular—when it comes right down to it, art can be an amazing way to build community, and safety, and even restore a sense of fun that the women who stay with us might not have felt for many years. And the results are beautiful.
* The training I received for this support group came through A Window Between Worlds, which provides training for domestic violence programs so that they can institute therapeutic art groups for women or children in their shelters.