Emerge arts therapy program under the spotlight in Rome

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Emerge arts therapy program under the spotlight in Rome

August 6, 2018

The benefits and challenges of using arts therapy with infants and children who have experienced family violence were spelled out by two Emerge workers at the World Association of Infant Mental Health conference in Rome.

Bianca Morrison and Emma Hodges presented case studies about how Emerge’s arts therapy program, which has been running for a decade, is used to assist mothers and their children to bond. Emerge has always put children and infants at the centre of their services, working with mothers to find new ways of communicating with their offspring.

“Arts therapy is a natural starting point for Emerge’s work with women and children, as many coming into the refuge or who use the outreach services do not have English as a first language, and so art is a way to express themselves. Infants and children, too, can join in making art whether it is using their hands or feet to paint or draw around,” Emma said.

Central to the process is measuring how a parent-child relationship evolves, or otherwise, over the course of the program. The assessment process is used alongside clinical observations that focus on social, emotional and cognitive development.

According to Emma, there are misunderstandings about what arts therapy is and is not.

“Many people think arts therapy is just drawing a picture and talking about the content. As Emerge art therapists, who are trained in the practice, know that it is crucial to carefully select interventions which respond to the therapeutic needs of the participants,” Emma said. 

“We are working with trauma and this needs to be planned for carefully,” Emma said.

By using art, women and children are able to draw stories about their experiences. They are given space to make sense of the situation they find themselves in, and to develop strategies to move towards independence,” Emma said.

For the women and their children, arts therapy does help to unlock the door to a new life.

“The reality is that it works and for many of the women we see, it is the only option they have. Most women coming here have limited finances and could never afford to see a private mental health practitioner. Equally many of the children coming into Emerge are compromised because of family violence, and have delays in development,” Emma said.

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