From psychoeducation to emoathetic understanding of migration: unfolding the tools of an art therapy group with children
Play is crucial for healthy child development and Art is creative play per se… Art; via activation of the unconscious, provides Children with an enjoyable and empathetic learning medium, and as such, is ideally suited for psychotherapeutic learning.
Migration results in a cross-cultural encounter where Child meets Child, with similarities but also with widely different cultural and traumatic back-stages.
Grief, Deprivation and Desperation are loads that are brought along the migration path, and Restoration of the Sense of Hope and Continuity is a welcome and relieving gift that hosts can provide. Indeed, acculturation and integration are important issues to be dealt with by countries receiving refugees and mental health aspects need to be addressed from a public health perspective. Relatedly, the School, the Teacher and the Child present an ideal triad for working with concepts surrounding migration and boosting host children’s preparedness.
Inspired by our experience of an art group activity that we held with 36 fourth grade Turkish school Children who met regulary once a week over a duration of 14 sessions, our aim is to present participants with expressive art therapy tools that could possibly facilitate the host-migrant encounter and that we hope can be elaborated to be applicable for adults as well. These include a vast array of modalities such as phototherapy, painting, collage, corporal and dramatic representations, sculpture, writing and music, all of which we found have helped Children’s empathetic understanding of the Migrant situation.
To improve the integration of migrants ; there needs to be a modification in our intervention paradigm; attitudes and beliefs of the host population are crucial and should be a focus. Again, a public mental health approach is much more suited to deal with mass displacement than a clinical one. Consequently, semi-educational models in the school; targeting not only blunt acquisition of didactic knowledge; but deeper emotional learning of the concept of migration by host children can serve to modify overall perception by the host community. Empowering the child means empowering the whole familiy. Children learn best while they play. Art is a form of play. And art has the power to transform trauma trough symbolization; all these statements put together explain well the rationale behind using art therapy with children. Children were observed to be able to empathize with and understand the complex situation surrounding the migrant. Similar to a migrant child, they experienced fear of losing loved ones, the home or the school,, the despair and grief on the one hand; and the hope in the future on the other hand. Studies with similar design and methodology but otherwise varied population characteristics should be repeated and results compared.
Key take-outs from the ISHHR 2017 Conference (industry feedback, networking, peer presentations):
I made a most interesting connection with Catherine Butterfly; Consultant & Trainer Psychotherapist with Common Threads Project; who shared some of the insights that had been brought by my presentation.
Future goals — what’s next?
I am interested to work in collaboration with professionals from other nationaland ethnic backgrounds to observe transcultural variations; if there are any.
I want to continue working on prevention-focused public mental health projects.
How can local / national / international media better assist in bringing the vital issues discussed at ISHHR 2017 to light, and further encourage real, positive change and understanding?
Deaths of such children as young as Aylan Kurdi are unacceptable and despicable incidents. While prevention of such tragedies is essential; additionally there needs to be preparedness by host communities for reception and integration of young migrant children that arrive there after a long journey of deprivation. Acting on the Host’s perception of migration and the migrant is crucial for establishing a non-hostile, empathetic context for both the host and the migrants.