Art Project encourages children of Van to heal

Art Project encourages children of Van to heal

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Art Project encourages children of Van to heal

Art therapists and psychologists help children of Van to heal through the art events. Children created many art works during the event week.

The Van Art Therapy Project took place between July 2 and 6, and is now preparing to exhibit the resulting works at the ENKA Eşref Denizhan Open Air Theater on July 13. The art project aims to address emotional reparation, relief, and recovery through the therapeutic art-making process for earthquake victims in Van, Turkey.

Throughout the week of July 2 to 6, the Van Art Therapy Project provided four daily structured and directive-based art therapy groups for children. In addition to the children’s art therapy groups, two adults groups were offered to provide mindfulness and psycho-education for adult caregivers.
The Van Art Therapy Project worked in partnership with VAKAD, Van Kadın Derneği (Van Woman’s Association). The team of volunteers included art psychotherapists and psychologists who work professionally in the United States and Turkey.

A written statement about the project said: “On Oct. 23, 2011, an earthquake in the Erciş-Tabanlı-Van area killed at least 534 people, injured an estimated 2,300, and destroyed or damaged 14,618 buildings and homes. Natural disasters such as this have life-altering consequences that continuously disrupt the lives of survivors. Empirical research on earthquake survivors indicates that experiencing such trauma affects not only a survivor’s socioeconomic status but their mental health as well, often resulting in the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or depression.”

The written statement continued: “Children, just like adults, can suffer from PTSD and depression as a result of trauma caused by natural disasters. This can result in significant impairments in a child’s life, not only hindering further cognitive and psychological development, but also by threatening his or her quality of life.”

According to the psychologists and art therapists on the team, art therapy intervention can provide the opportunity for survivors of the 2011 earthquake to attend to their mental health needs.

The use of art materials and the creative process has the ability to provide opportunities for reconciliation of emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, develop social skills and coping mechanisms, initiate creative thinking and problem solving, reduce anxiety, provide reality testing and increase self-esteem. Art therapy services were found to be especially instrumental in accessing a child’s internal processes and helping him or her return to normal functioning. Additionally, art therapy provides an opportunity to contain the traumatic experience within an object, create a sense of control over terrifying and intrusive memories, encourage active participation in therapy, reduce emotional numbness and enhance reduction of hyper arousal and other distressing reactions.

About the project’s events

Although the project work throughout the week was art therapy-based, the experts on the team said they had kept the projects very safe, since they were aware that they only had one week to work with the women and children of Van. The main goals included providing inspiration for the participants to create art and express feelings, to make connections with one another, to work together and to be kind and supportive to each other as a community.

The Van Art Project Team ran five groups a day: four children’s groups and one women’s group.
The women created canvas bags, and the children made paintings. On the last day, the women’s group traced and decorated hand shapes with images and words of what they wanted to give and take from their experience with the team. The women created and decorated an individual circle while thinking of a strength they bring to their families and communities. Common themes were their families, love, children, humor and happiness. They also acknowledged the reality of the struggles they faced as women.

Children worked on book-making on the last day. The project volunteers said it was important to leave them with a project that literally and symbolically reminded them that they could continue to create and express their feelings even after they left. The children strung together cardboard and paper with yarn and then decorated the covers using markers, paper, yarn, and pastels. They incorporated themes of goodbyes and pride in the group into their journals while discussing and sharing their favorite memories from the week and what they would like to take with them. The project was organized by art therapist Leyla Akca, movement specialist and psychologist Zeynep Kocaoğlu, art therapist Ashley Dorr and art therapist Samantha Tomao.