Healing through art therapy

Written by Luis Portillo

A picture is worth a thousand words. It uses line, shape, color, and texture to tell a story that words can’t quite convey. These are the kind of stories that are being told in the new art therapy sessions led by Valerie Hope, a counselor in her third year at SAFE.

Survivors may have trouble recalling or putting words to traumatic events. Art therapy is a healthy alternative to traditional group sessions.

Valerie’s background includes a master’s in Art Therapy from the School of Visual Arts in New York and she will be the first counselor trained in art therapy to lead a session at SAFE. In Valerie’s sessions, survivors focus on the creation and meaning of artwork with psychoanalysis and group sharing as an option.

In these hour-long sessions, survivors will see what Valerie calls an “art buffet” of materials ranging in color, texture, 2D, and 3D mediums. Survivors are encouraged to try out different materials and choose what they are most comfortable with.

Using new materials is a way to push the therapy as specific colors and textures can be keys to unlocking certain memories. These memories can be triggering and it is important for someone trained in art therapy with a trauma-informed background to lead these sessions.

The goal is to give survivors a new life skill that allows them to cope with difficult situations — a way to process outside of a session and bring it back into their therapy to retell in a new way.

Stress can be alleviated during difficult situations by turning to their materials, such as drawing stress at a restaurant, folding paper, or always carrying a container of playdough with them. This is why survivors are encouraged to take art materials with them once they have completed therapy so they can use what they’ve learned in the future.

SAFE’s art therapy sessions are held in a drop-in basis and for anyone age 16 and older.