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Creating a safe space through art
March 4, 2019
Art therapist Jane Gronow understands the effect of trauma on children and their mothers. She has worked in conflict zones such as Bosnia, Kosovo, Russia and Myanmar, seeing first-hand the effect of gender based violence on women and children. As a drug and rape counsellor, she has helped women tell their devastating stories in a bid to heal their hurt. Each experience has left Jane reaching out to the power of art therapy as one way to salve the scars.
After years of working in war zones and developing countries, Jane returned to Australia to work with the corporate sector travelling to remote and challenging areas around the world. During this time, she made up her mind to pursue a long-held dream to complete a Masters in Creative Arts Therapies, and to find work as an arts therapist.
“I’ve always painted and over time have become more interested in art and how children use art to explore their emotions,” Jane said.
It was serendipity that brought Jane to Emerge. She was looking for a student placement with other therapists who work in a trauma informed environment as part of her Masters and was put in touch with the organisation. Today, she works with Emerge as an arts therapist, spending much of her time in the two light and bright playrooms surrounded by toys and colourful quilts. And children.
“We have tried to create a safe environment where children can slowly open up, relax and begin to explain through different forms of art what has happened in their lives, and how it continues to trouble them,” Jane said.
“All our work is led by the child. We start with activities that establish safety and give time for the child to trust us and to be soothed by therapeutic art making unstructured play.” she said.
Emerge supports many very young children who don’t have the words to explain their emotions, but through art and play, they can find their ‘voice’.
Jane recalls one incident with an eight-year-old boy whose mother had left his father because of the violence.
“The little boy was missing his dad terribly, and didn’t understand why he couldn’t see him. Over 18 months, we worked together to explore his sadness and throughout our sessions I learned how he was also missing his Aboriginal culture and extended family,” Jane said.
“Together we were able to start focussing on his positive memories about his father and family so that he could remember without feeling sad and embrace his culture from afar.”
For Jane, arts therapy is one of the most effective ways of understanding the consequences of family violence and parental separation through the eyes of children.
“We can see it working, and we are measuring its impact on the children and women we support,” Jane said.